The Intersection

The Turn Towards Geoengineering

Eric Berger blogs that leading climate researchers are increasingly turning towards the idea that there’s going to have to be some sort of backup plan, in case our societies don’t (or can’t) dramatically cut emissions. This is basically what I said in my Wired feature last year: Geoengineering is starting to win over serious climate scientists because 1) political inaction keeps making the problem worse; 2) new scientific findings keep suggesting that the problem is worse anyway; 3) one geoengineering solution, stratospheric sulfate infusion, is definitely going to work and can be done right away.

The only thing that can change this dynamic will be if Obama and the Democratic Congress take really strong action to curb global warming, and soon. However, there are already signs they’re beginning to balk at the massiveness of the problem….and it’s also possible that we might cap emissions but still need to geoengineer if # 2 above continues to shock and worry climate scientists, and global warming worsens still faster than expected.

So, yeah: Geoengineering has a very good chance of being in our future. What will be interesting is to see how and when this fact makes its way into mainstream political discourse.


  1. #1 Philip H.
    January 8, 2009

    Geoengineering may interest climate scientists, and I know engineers love such things. But instability in ecosystems, and climate change is instability in ecosystems, can’t really be solved by adding other types of instability. It may work to lower temperatures or reduce existing climate trends, but has anyone asked an atmospheric scientist what that might do? Is there an understanding of how all that sulfur, once it is sequestered terrestrially or in the oceans, will effect ecosystems? Absent those sort of answers, you will likely cause all sorts of other problems.

  2. #2 Dunc
    January 8, 2009

    Has everybody forgotten why we eliminated high sulphur content fuels in the first place?

    I’m reminded of a children’s song about an old woman who swallowed a fly…

  3. #3 Ashutosh
    January 8, 2009

    Chris, in light of your excellent Wired article, I wonder what you think of the research cited in the following Real Climate post:

  4. #4 Oakden Wolf
    January 8, 2009

    Quick geoengineering note: ocean iron fertilization doesn’t work. It doesn’t actually remove a significant amount of carbon from the atmosphere/surface ocean system. It basically stimulates increased use of available carbon in the upper ocean and overlying atmosphere. Organisms are great recyclers; very little carbon ultimately “drops out” of the trophic web as detritus (dead organisms or pieces of organisms) or fecal matter. It might be good for whales and pelagic fisheries, thought, and neither of those ecosystem entities is doing very good at this point in time, either.

    Have to go with orbiting sunshades, I believe.

  5. #5 brc
    January 9, 2009

    Hi Chris, I am compelled to link to this again, “Mother Earth Is Going to Have Her Face Lifted!,” suggesting my skepticism about the enterprise of geoengineering. Ben

  6. #6 Eric the Leaf
    January 9, 2009

    Sounds like the geoengineers are pretty darn clever, but they don’t seem to be very smart.

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