Expert discusses the prospects of climate engineering

phys.org | 10/31/2019 | Staff
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Climate engineering may offer a last-ditch technological solution to catastrophic climate change, but who makes the decisions on which solutions to implement, and who the beneficiaries will be? Once we start fiddling with the Earth's fundamental processes, where will it end? Schalk Mouton asks Professor Bob Scholes.

What exactly is climate engineering?

Climate - Engineering - Geoengineering - Solutions - Climate

Climate engineering, formerly known as geoengineering, are big-scale technological solutions to fight climate change if we fail in doing the obvious thing, which is to urgently and radically reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases. It includes ambitious and largely untested technologies that could keep the world liveable, if not exactly ideal.

Can you give examples of some of the ideas being researched? Are any viable?

Example - Climate - Engineering - Carbon - Capture

One example of climate engineering is Carbon Capture and Storage, which involves taking CO2 streams from industry, compressing them, and injecting them deep underground into places where they can't escape back to the atmosphere. This approach is technically possible and proven at moderate scale, but it is very expensive. Another example is the fertilisation of the oceans with iron, to promote phytoplankton growth. Phytoplankton absorb CO2, die and sink to the ocean floor, thereby burying the carbon deep in the ocean. This has been tested at small scale, but it does not work very well and has lots of unintended consequences. There are about 10 other serious contenders, such as the plan to inject shiny sulphur particles into the stratosphere to reflect some solar radiation.

Why is climate engineering controversial?

Climate - Engineering - Place - Scale - Lots

For climate engineering to work, it has to take place at massive scale, and is therefore sure to have lots of side effects which we don't yet understand. Secondly, it may seem to many to be a 'get out of...
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