Geo-engineering Climate Change

The Tamaki Foundation

 

On our present course, carbon dioxide will increase in the atmosphere to such an extent that by the middle of this century the global food supply will be diminished by global warming through reductions in crop yields (due to increasing temperature) and decreased water security (for irrigation and consumption). These climate stresses will be greatest in the tropics and subtropics – places where today over a billion people already suffer from food insecurity, and where population is expected to almost double by 2050.

 

The real solution to global warming is to dramatically reduce the amount of fossil fuel that is burned, but that solution involves a level of international cooperation that would be unprecedented in human history and key statesmen and governments do not consider this a realistic scenario. As such, engineers and scientists in the US (who developed the Star Wars Defense System and the scenarios for how climate would be affected by a global nuclear war) are seriously considering "geoengineering" solutions to global warming, ranging from fertilizing the ocean to increase the marine food chain so that it takes up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (thereby disrupting the very foundation of the global food chain) to space-based mirrors that would deflect enough sunlight away from the Earth to cancel out the warming due to the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

 

 The most popular geoengineering solution among this group of engineers and scientists is to have regular (e.g., monthly) launches of missiles that would fly to the stratosphere and deploy tiny particles that would be mixed throughout the atmosphere and block just enough sunlight to cancel the warming of the planet due to the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I and many other scientists believe this is an extremely dangerous proposition. Many scientists believe it isn't a solution at all – that there would be drastic changes in global climate if you allowed carbon dioxide to increase in the atmosphere and deployed this geoengineering technology to try and cancel the impact of carbon dioxide. For example, it is highly likely that the net effect of increased carbon dioxide and stratospheric aerosols will make the tropics drier; it is highly likely that everyone living in the mid and high latitudes will still experience warming, and everywhere winters would still be very, very warm compared to today. Carbon dioxide will continue to be dissolved into the ocean, so the ocean will become more and more acidic (estimates suggest by the end of the century, coral reefs will not be able to form). Additional sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere will expand the ozone hole, and when the sulfur dioxide falls from the stratosphere, the plants on the land will be exposed to more acidic rains. Perhaps the most disturbing feature of this "solution" is that if carbon dioxide continues to increase, more sulfates will need to be deployed and if the system failed (by, for example, sabotage), the world would warm at a rate that would devastate the fabric of global society and it would be the greatest shock to the global ecology since the asteroid impact 65 million years ago, that led to mass extinctions.

 

Injections of sulfate aerosol into the stratosphere is the most popular and most likely geoengineering option implemented because – compared to a global shift to alternative sources of energy than fossil fuel – this option is simple and inexpensive: it could be deployed in less than two years by existing government contractors, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, who would vie for lucrative contracts to control the Earth's climate. Though most scientists are quite sure that the combination of increasing carbon dioxide and stratospheric aerosols would lead to profound changes in the climate (including those listed above), the research studies to quantify these changes have not yet been done. With inadequate science to inform a debate on this extremely dangerous proposal for a geoengineering solution to global warming, it is difficult to imagine that governments won't take the seemingly easy out and deploy this last-gasp technology to mitigate some of the global warming problem, rather than shift the global economy away from fossil to alternative clean fuels.

 

We are using state-of-the-art climate models to simulate and quantify the impact of this geoengineering "solution" on the regional and global climate, and to further quantify the impact that these climate changes will have on global food security.  Our hope is that our findings will catalyze an informed debate on whether we should pursue this 'solution' before this it becomes an uninformed fait accompli.