Carbon Clean: Geoengineering

Now, to be clear, geoengineering is not a service we provide or an activity in which we participate. However, we wanted to address many of the questions regarding the topic of geoengineering.

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What is geoengineering? 

Geoengineering is a proposed solution to current environmental concerns. It involves the deliberate manipulation of process that affect our planet's climate in an attempt to ward off the effects of increased greenhouse gas concentrations. 


The suggestion has been around for a number of years, but due to concerns about feasibility and ethics (detailed below), it has yet to truly be implemented. That said, geoengineering proposals have, historically, fallen into two classes: one attempts to reduce the amount of climate change produced by an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and the other tries to remove greenhouse gases that have already been released to the atmosphere.


Several companies have attempted, or at least proposed potential geoengineering methods. One company tried (without proper authority) to fertilize the ocean with iron, to encourage the growth of algae to absorb excess carbon dioxide. Other scientists have suggested spraying clouds with seawater to increase their reflectivity, with hopes of bouncing warming light back out to space. The U.S. government has even considered sun-blocking mirrors in outer space.


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Geoengineering limitations

The cost of proposed geoengineering technologies is prohibitive, and many are less cost-effective than existing green energy technologies. If scientists remain unable to bring down the cost of geoengineering, its implementation will remain unlikely. 


Given how much we don't know about the environment, embarking on an intentional plan to re-engineer it could easily lead to unintended - and unexpected - consequences. Namely, intentionally pumping millions of tons of aerosols into the atmosphere is an experiment for which we have no precedent. Researchers have noted that deploying sulfates into the stratosphere could cause ozone depletion, trigger drought, alter cloud formation and might even counterintuitively cause more warming.


One common suggestion in the realm of geoengineering is to replicate the effects of a massive volcanic eruption. Such eruptions can trigger several years of global cooling because they by suspend sulfur aerosols and other particulate matter high enough in the atmosphere where they linger for years, blocking sunlight. 


Of course, there remain concerns about the ethics of geoengineering, which we detail in the section below.


Ethical Concerns About Geoengineering

As we mentioned above, geoengineering has not gained widespread implementation yet due to doubts regarding its feasibility, its estimated cost, and the ethical concerns that come with it. We've detailed the most pressing ethical concerns raised by the topic of geoengineering.

  • Environmental damage: While the idea behind most geoengineering technologies is to help cool the planet, there is a chance that those technologies may cause an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, harm the ozone layer, or otherwise work against climate preservation efforts.
  • False sense of safety: Advocates of geoengineering will admit that it is not a solution to climate change but is more of a stopgap remedy. The concern is that the temporary measures may induce a false sense of safety and reduce motivation to cut down fossil fuel use.
  • Need for international cooperation: The climate doesn't respect national borders, which means that countries of different backgrounds and beliefs will have to work closely together. This raises concerns of commitment and implementation.
  • Long-term commitent: many of the proposed geoengineering technologies will require a long-term commitment, and once underway, it may prove dangerous to abandon the technology before its estimated effectiveness.

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