Tuesday, November 10, 2009


You may or may not have heard of geo-engineering, but its increasingly becoming the buzzword around environmentally concerned people.  Some are radically against it, and others are all for it.

The concept is simple enough.  The environment is in trouble because of human activities, and so we should do something about it....  Now most environmentalists agree on that point, but most people have only suggested "negative" actions, that is we should reduce our pollution that we are putting into the environment.  If we can cease adding additional carbon into the atmosphere, then problem solved.

However, others contend that its a little too little too late for that.  Instead, we need to engage in geo-engineering, actively make the environment cooler or actively remove carbon from the environment, or both.  Carbon collectors have been proposed that would remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but most agree that its probably not enough.  Other geo-engineering ideas include putting reflective mylar on glacial sheets to reflect light and consequently cool them off, launch millions of tiny mirrors into space to reflect some of the sun's rays, or even possibly launching missles into the atmosphere to release chemicals or dust that would obscure the sun's rays.

I don't think all of these ideas are very good, and some may in fact cause more harm than good.  But it strikes me as the correct approach to global warming.  Negatively reducing our carbon emissions would rely on "natural" processes of the environment to remove the excess carbon from the atmosphere.  I think of this rather analagously to relieving a tension headache by simply removing what is causing the tension.  Sure it will work, but it will take plenty of time and things may get worse before they get better.  On the other hand, we can take a pain reliever, that would actively help make the pain go away, and in situations where we can't instantly remove the stressors triggering the tension headache, it may be the only solution.

Similarly, we can't instantly eliminate our carbon emissions.  There simply isn't the political will or the social organization to make that happen.  But a dual approach can buy us more time in combating the global warming problem. 

Now this isn't the only issue that is raised by geo-engineering.  There are some serious consequences and risks we have to consider if or when we decide to engage in geo-engineering.  I'll address some of those tomorrow.

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