Climate Scientist Envisions a Future Where Countries Are Going to Start Geoengineering the Earth

Countries Geoengineering the Earth

Geoengineering -- an intentional reshaping of the atmosphere -- by spraying aerosols into the stratosphere might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but Kate Ricke, a climate scientist and researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, thinks it’s in our planet’s future. Why? Because sulfate particles reflect sunlight, and could cool off the planet. As Ricke told Wired:

I'm having a hard time seeing how we're not going to do it at this point, actually, because it's so inexpensive. Already the impacts of climate change are looking to be so disruptive that I don't see in this world how such a low-expense solution doesn't get implemented by someone. There's just nothing else in the world that can cool the planet as quickly.

Why This Matters

Unlike ramping down emissions, which requires decarbonizing energy systems, geoengineering, if successful, could be cheap and fast. And, because of the movement of wind currents in the atmosphere, any one country that attempts geoengineering, would impact the whole world.

Still, the strategy comes with lots of unknowns: changing the atmosphere could lead to droughts, big storms, and their fallout. Plus, there's one big political caveat: if the potential of geoengineering, like the fiction of "clean coal," becomes an excuse to avoid decarbonization by switching to solar and wind -- it could devastate efforts to avoid perilous tipping points.

CBS: Geoengineering - A controversial solution that could help fight climate change, April 16, 2021.

BBC Earth: The Tipping Point | Climate Change - The Facts, November 13, 2021.

Geoengineering Might Be Necessary, But More Research Is Necessary First

Geoengineering has been discussed since the '60s, but the science is out. At the moment, Ricke says, the evidence for geoengineering suffers a diversity problem. "A small group of mostly elite university white dudes in North America and Europe [have done] all the research," Ricke told Wired, and in order for the project to move forward, a broader coalition of people must take part in the studies. (This problem is replicated across the climate sciences, not just in geoengineering.)

And once an aerosol program is set in motion, it would need to be maintained, which Ricke compares to treating drinking water: something that would have "catastrophic" consequences if treatment stopped, but a program that requires a manageable level of maintenance.

Rolling Stone: How Dangerous Is Solar Geoengineering? | The Climate Debates, April 16, 2021.