Climate Change and Geoengineering

Climate Change, a phenomenon where a region’s climate is observed for approximately 30 years and variations in its daily weather are combined and produced as a result whether the climate has become warmer or colder or poses any other variation. While this phenomenon is not unique, Earth has experienced extreme climatic changes over millions of years due to small variations in its orbit altering the solar energy received by the planet, with drastic implications on ecology and biodiversity. However, it is oddly a matter of concern this time because of various reasons:

  • Levels of Carbon Dioxide is at all time high (recently reached 415ppm while usual upper limit has been up to 300ppm) and if the current trend continues, it is expected to reach 700ppm.
  • Temperature rise over the past 100 years has been over 0.26-degrees Celcius and is expected to rise in between 1.8 to 4.0-degrees Celcius (UCAR)
  • World population is expected to rise to 9.4 billion by 2050 (UN)
  • Loss of Antartic land ice sheets since the 21st century has been almost 1800 gigatonnes – an all-time low (Climate, NASA).
  • Ultimately, it is all due to anthropogenic activities and unlike previous incidents of climate variability, not an outcome of natural cycles.

 

Source: https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/
Global Temperature Rise by 1945, Climate NASA
Global Temperature Rise by 2015, Climate NASA

Broadly, climate change is said to be addressed by two methods: Adaption and Mitigation. While adaptive strategies include building resilience towards climate variance, altering our infrastructure to adjust to the impact of climate change and reduce vulnerability; mitigating strategies focus on reducing the carbon footprint or GHG emissions and enhancing carbon sinks.

Geoengineering is a human-induced climate intervention which aims to reduce the effects of climate change. It is an adaptive measure which seeks to control temperature rise and its effects through atmospheric intervention. Some of the adaptive geoengineering activities are cloud seeding, solar radiation management, Greenhouse gas removal and iron fertilization of the oceans.

Cloud Seeding: It is a technique which alters the weather conditions by disturbing the chemical properties of the cloud, thus, increasing or decreasing rainfall or hailstorm in regions. Some of the chemicals used in the process are silver iodide, dry ice, and potassium iodide.

Solar Radiation Management: This technique aims to reflect sunrays so as to reduce the warming of the planet by introducing sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere which will reflect back excessive sunlight.

Greenhouse Gas Removal: It refers to the removal of excessive greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, etc. from the atmosphere thereby reducing the cause of global warming. The process sims to remove carbon directly from the atmosphere or induces a process in the air which indirectly lowers GHGs.

Iron Fertilization: Iron is artificially introduced in iron-deficient areas of oceans to facilitate the growth of phytoplankton which is known to be efficient in sequestration of atmospheric carbon.

While these measures have been conducted in small pockets over the world but have mainly remained within experimental boundaries. There are various reasons why geoengineering has not graduated as trustworthy and omnipresent strategies for climate change.

First, there is a high degree of uncertainty of its effectiveness and lack of understanding of its repercussions.

Second, these processes, though they are designed to bring balance in nature, will, in fact, defy present natural cycles and induce artificial processes for the desired outcome. It includes chemicals and altering natural molecule properties. It is quite evident that climate as today is a result of the disturbance of natural cycles and we do not know to what extent this disturbance will benefit the Earth.

Third, these methods are very expensive and cannot be afforded by each and every country.

Fourth, the atmosphere is no boundary space. Actions taken over a region will not necessarily affect that particular region alone. It may also lead to undesirable consequences for nearby areas. In a ‘weather war’ between India and China in 2018, China announced to conduct cloud seeding over the Tibetan Plateau to increase fresh water supply and meet its water demand, whereas this step meant causing floodlike situations in neighboring Indian states.

 

Source: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/43534-weather-war-a-latest-addition-to-the-sino-india-conundrum/

Fifth, none of these strategies encourage responsible consumption or production among people. It is an alternative to meet current requirements without ensuring that the root cause for climate change mitigates with time. Scientists, academicians, and experts have been wary of this intervention because they fear that instead of sensitizing the public to switch to sustainable practices and lower the cause of global warming, it will allow for unbridled activities assuming that there exist processes to clean the waste produced or imbalances caused by such activities.

On the contrary, there are advocates in favor of this technology who through their miniscule experiments guarantee that the negative impact on the environment will be negligible but the intergovernmental panels and global agencies do not want to risk exacerbating the current situation. After all, no one ever thought what coal could do when it was first used in a steam engine or for generating electricity, yet here we are.

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