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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Engineering Solutions for Climate Change Mitigation

Despite mounting evidence of global climate change, the depth of scepticism and global inaction is worrying.

Segments of the scientific community are now turning their focus on intentional large scale alteration of our planet’s climate system. Scientists in the techno-fix precincts believe that massive scale alternations now commonly referred to as geo-engineering could be a substitute for comprehensive mitigation action.

Geo-engineering solutions under consideration fall into two categories: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM) which modify the earth’s albedo. CDR solutions would remove the cause of climate change through direct air capture or ocean fertilization. The big questions around CDR relate to large-scale deployment and the long delays in climate response.

Possible SRM interventions include stratospheric aerosols and enhancement of cloud brightness that would reduce Insolation and cool the planet. Natural experiments through volcanic eruptions have demonstrated the rapid impact potential of aerosols. It is tempting to make the case that such solutions are technically feasible substitutes for mitigation.

However, climate variability and complex feedbacks will be difficult to attribute impacts and unintended consequences to any SRM tests or experiments.

If Copenhagen is anything to go by, scientific and public interest in the possibility of geo-engineering the climate will grow.

See article by Blackstock and Long in Science (327) p. 527

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