Solar Geoengineering Is Worth Studying But Not A Substitute For Cutting Emissions

Solar Geoengineering Is Worth Studying But Not A Substitute For Cutting Emissions Solar geoengineering could mean taking steps to alter the formation of clouds. Matt Dutcher/Getty Images

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine tackles a controversial question: Is solar geoengineering – an approach designed to cool the Earth by reflecting sunlight back into space or modifying clouds – a potential tool for countering climate change?

The report, produced by a committee of 16 experts from diverse fields, does not take a position but concludes that the concept should be studied. It calls for creating a multidisciplinary research program, in coordination with other countries and managed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, that seeks to fill in the many knowledge gaps on this issue.

The study emphasizes that such research is not a substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and should be a minor part of the U.S. response to climate change. It notes that “engineering the climate” would not address the root cause of climate change – greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. And it calls for a research program that draws on physical science, social science and ethics and includes public input.

Three options, many questions

James W. Hurrell, Professor and Scott Presidential Chair of Environmental Science and Engineering, Colorado State University

Solar geoengineering strategies are very controversial within and beyond the climate science community. It is a major step forward to have 16 experts from different disciplines agree that now is the time to establish a research program on this topic. Our committee traveled a long road to reach this recommendation, working through many complex and contentious issues to reach consensus, but we did it collegially and productively. Each of us learned a great deal.

The three options we considered raise many questions:

Stratospheric aerosol injection would increase the number of small reflective particles (aerosols) in the upper atmosphere to increase reflection of sunlight back into space. While strong evidence exists that this approach can induce cooling at a global scale, there is limited understanding of how cooling potential relates to the amounts of injected aerosols, their location and type, and the ensuing regional climate responses and impacts.

Marine cloud brightening would add materials to low clouds over the ocean to make them more reflective. Water vapor in clouds condenses into droplets when it comes into contact with particles, such as salt; adding particles produces more droplets, making the clouds more reflective.

Where and by how much the brightness of clouds can be modified, and whether feedback processes will mask or amplify some of the effects, are important research questions. Key processes occur at scales too small to include directly into the current generation of global climate models, and these process uncertainties will need to be reduced in order to develop reliable projections of climate impacts.

Cirrus cloud thinning would seek to reduce the formation of wispy, thin clouds that retain heat radiating upward from Earth’s surface. The efficacy of this approach is unknown because of very limited understanding of cirrus cloud properties and the microphysical processes determining how cirrus clouds may be altered. Existing climate model simulations have yielded contradictory results.

Given the risks of rapid warming and its impacts, it is important to consider a portfolio of response options, and to understand as quickly and efficiently as possible whether solar geoengineering could be a reasonably safe and effective option. A transdisciplinary, coordinated and well-governed research program might prove that more investment is warranted. Or it could indicate that solar geoengineering should not be considered further. The key point is that either outcome will be guided by sound science.

Solar Geoengineering Is Worth Studying But Not A Substitute For Cutting Emissions The new report examines three solar geoengineering options: stratospheric aerosol injection, marine cloud brightening and cirrus cloud thinning. NAS

A thoughtful and inclusive process

Ambuj D. Sagar, Founding Head, School of Public Policy, and Professor of Policy Studies, The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

Few climate issues are as polarizing as solar geoengineering, and for good reason. To many, even considering it could dilute efforts to cut emissions. It also reinforces the notion that as a society we are willing to place our faith in technology to solve our self-inflicted problems.

But refusing to engage with solar geoengineering also raises questions. Can we be sure that we won’t need it in the future? What if greenhouse warming generates horrendous climate impacts? And if it turns out that solar geoengineering is not technically feasible or socially acceptable, should we not learn that now?

This report recognizes that there is value in understanding more about the feasibility, acceptance, risks, ethics and governance of solar geoengineering to inform decision-making. But it also calls for a measured, nuanced and integrative approach. And it makes the point that exploring solar geoengineering should not compromise research or action on climate mitigation and adaptation.

Public engagement and participation, and insights from various disciplines, are key to carrying out effective research on solar geoengineering. At the same time, suitable expertise and institutional arrangements are needed to engage better with this complex topic. We need to understand how to effectively enhance such participation and strengthen such capacity.

Paying attention to these issues will open the door to including perspectives and researchers from the global south and other communities that often are marginalized. It also will help make the research agenda more robust and help people better understand potential risks around the world from solar geoengineering. A strong and inclusive research program should also fully involve developing countries and other relevant communities in exploring governance models for solar geoengineering.

Our panel recommended that the proposed U.S. research program be carried out in coordination with other countries. We hope this approach will spur deeper engagement worldwide, especially by developing countries that need to be part of global conversations and decisions on this issue.

Overall, I hope that perspectives and approaches presented in this report will catalyze a thoughtful and socially robust research program and equally thoughtful deliberations by scholars, policymakers and citizens on this thorny topic.

Solar Geoengineering Is Worth Studying But Not A Substitute For Cutting Emissions The 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines injected into Earth’s stratosphere vast quantities of aerosol particles, which scattered and reflected sunlight, reducing Earth’s average global temperature by about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the next 15 months. Afterward, however, temperatures resumed rising. Richard Hoblitt/USGS

Broadening the discussion

Marion Hourdequin, Professor of Philosophy, Colorado College

Geoengineering evolved from a fringe concept to a serious research topic less than 20 years ago, and today solar geoengineering technologies are largely in the idea stage. Computer modeling simulations and natural analogs such as volcanoes indicate that adding reflective aerosols to the stratosphere or increasing the “brightness” of marine clouds could have cooling effects. However, there are risks and uncertainties associated with these approaches, and the potential benefits – which may not be evenly distributed around the globe – are not well understood.

For example, scientists know very little about the regional effects of different solar geoengineering strategies. And researchers are just starting to explore the ecological, social, political, economic and ethical dimensions of these approaches.
What’s more, many people in the U.S. and the world are unaware that research is moving forward and outdoor experiments have been proposed. So far, discussions about solar geoengineering have been concentrated among a relatively small group of researchers, primarily from North America and Europe.

[Over 100,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]

But like climate change itself, solar geoengineering would affect everyone. The technologies that our committee considered would have global and multigenerational effects. With this in mind, now is the time for broader and more inclusive conversations about how solar geoengineering should be studied and governed – and whether or not it should be seriously considered. These conversations need to include climate-vulnerable communities, Indigenous peoples and nations of the global south.

Our committee’s report calls for a program that weaves together multidisciplinary research, public and stakeholder engagement, and thoughtful limits and guidelines for research. This program should facilitate cooperation and capacity building, support a more demographically and geographically diverse research community, enable equitable participation and prioritize strategies that build trust, transparency and legitimacy.

Geoengineering raises big technical, social and ethical questions that should be informed by research but can’t be adequately answered by a small set of experts. And regardless of what we learn through geoengineering research, one thing is clear: Reducing emissions, decarbonizing economies and supporting adaptation to current and future climate impacts need to take center stage.The Conversation

About The Author

James W. Hurrell, Professor and Scott Presidential Chair in Environmental Science and Engineering, Colorado State University; Ambuj D Sagar, Founding Head, School of Public Policy, and Vipula and Mahesh Chaturevdi Professor of Policy Studies, The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, and Marion Hourdequin, Professor of Philosophy, Colorado College

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…
What Is A Hurricane Storm Surge and Why Is It So Dangerous?
What Is A Hurricane Storm Surge and Why Is It So Dangerous?
by Anthony C. Didlake Jr
As Hurricane Sally headed for the northern Gulf Coast on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, forecasters warned of a…

LATEST ARTICLES

The US Electric Power Sector Is Halfway To Zero Carbon Emissions
The US Electric Power Sector Is Halfway To Zero Carbon Emissions
by Bentham Paulos, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory et al
So far 17 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have adopted laws or executive orders setting goals for…
Hydrogen Is One Future Fuel Oil Execs And Environmentalists Could Both Support As Rival Countries Search For Climate Solutions
Hydrogen Is One Future Fuel Oil Execs And Environmentalists Could Both Support As Rival Countries Search For Climate Solutions
by John Ballantine, Brandeis University
The 2015 Paris Agreement was a groundbreaking diplomatic effort – 196 countries committed to prevent average…
Climate Change Threatens Coffee – But We’ve Found A Delicious Wild Species That Could Help Save Your Morning Brew
Climate Change Threatens Coffee – But We’ve Found A Delicious Wild Species That Could Help Save Your Morning Brew
by Aaron P Davis, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The world loves coffee. More precisely, it loves arabica coffee. From the smell of its freshly ground beans through to…
Competition Heats Up In The Melting Arctic, And The Us Isn't Prepared To Counter Russia
Competition Heats Up In The Melting Arctic, And The US Isn't Prepared To Counter Russia
by Rockford Weitz, Tufts University
For decades, the frozen Arctic was little more than a footnote in global economic competition, but that’s changing as…
Global Farming Feels The Impacts Of Global Heating
Global Farming Feels The Impacts Of Global Heating
by Tim Radford
Global heating has already set back farming around the world, and wiped out seven years of steady advance.
Interstate Water Wars Are Heating Up Along With The Climate
Interstate Water Wars Are Heating Up Along With The Climate
by Robert Glennon, University of Arizona
Interstate water disputes are as American as apple pie. States often think a neighboring state is using more than its…
As Extreme Fires Transform Alaska's Boreal Forest, More Aspen And Birch Are Coming In And That Can Slow Fires And Their Climate Impact
As Extreme Fires Transform Alaska's Boreal Forest, More Aspen And Birch Are Coming In And That Can Slow Fires And Their Climate Impact
by Jill Johnstone, University of Saskatchewan et al
Fire is a hot topic these days, particularly when it comes to the boreal forest, the vast expanse of trees that…
Would A Carbon Tax On Imports Be The Climate Solution Officials Expect?
Would A Carbon Tax On Imports Be The Climate Solution Officials Expect?
by Timothy Hamilton, University of Richmond
The European Union is considering a new tax on imports as it tries to fight climate change, and the U.S. is raising…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.