Geoengineering is getting more and more attention in political discussions as well as research. I am by no means a proponent of any geoengineering scheme I have heard of and the majority of them try to address surface temperature only and therefore do nothing about “the other CO2 problem”, aka ocean acidification.
I must confess that H. E. Taylor’s article a while back went some way in convincing me that like it or not we need to be considering these perilous pathways. He basically makes the compelling argument that we are in fact now, unwittingly or not, geoengineering our global climate so best if we do it with our eyes open.
It comes up in the contrarian arguments frequently as the magic bullet reason there is no need to worry in the first place. I have always marveled at the cognitive dissonance required in that mindset that arises from despising the notion of international cooperation or governance yet sanguinely assuming that humanity can “fix” whatever we want to via geoengineering when the need arises. Somehow in the future, this miraculous cooperation is just a given though today it is impossible.
If you think agreeing to binding emissions reductions is difficult, try getting a global accord on climate manipulation, especially on who should fund and who should control it. Does the US want the UN’s hand on the control knob? Does China want the US’s? Who will host the machinary? And talk about putting our future in the hands of climate models!
And even more intractable a problem, what do we do if the effects are not uniform? After all climate is not just surface temperature. Rainfall patterns and storms are all in the mix as well. There could be winners and losers in such a brave new world.
A new study in Nature magazine by Katharine L. Ricke, M. Granger Morgan and Myles R. Allen has taken a look at just what kind of regional variation we might experience if any of the various solar-reduction geo-experiments were actually implemented. These ideas typically range from injecting SO2 into the stratosphere (as large volcanic eruptions can do) to orbiting sunshades or mirrors, but I don’t know specifically what scenarios they examined in this study or even if particular methods were relevant. They found that temperatures could indeed theoretically be lowered, but the abstract concludes:
Over time, simulated temperature and precipitation in large regions such as China and India vary significantly with different trajectories for solar-radiation management, and they diverge from historical baselines in different directions. Hence, it may not be possible to stabilize the climate in all regions simultaneously using solar-radiation management.
And while the final sentence in the abstract is definately outside of the scope of this study, it is pretty hard argue with its statement of obvious political implications:
Regional diversity in the response to different levels of solar-radiation management could make consensus about the optimal level of geoengineering difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
I think by far the easier task is to avoid this faustian bargain in the first place and just reduce our greenhouse gas emissions now.