Geoengineering. Now there’s a word to make you shiver.
We’ve had an unhappy history of manipulating our environment for our own benefit – or rather, successful for us in the short term. The shift from shortsighted plundering of natural resources to informed scientific trials – the exciting new field of applied ecology – has been a painful one, littered with devastating blunders that are still going on. But will it allow us to correct those mistakes?
This week a report from the England’s University of East Anglia, led by Tim Lenton, Professor in Earth System Science, concluded that the myriad methods of geoengineering could complement conservation techniques around the globe, although they alone couldn’t halt global warming. These techniques could include: the use of oceanic algae blooms to absorb C02 and the artificial stimulation of other natural carbon sinks; solar radiation management such as increasing the amount of reflective – or at least non-absorbing – material on and above the planet’s surface, such as making clouds reflect more sunlight by using fine water sprays, or most exotically, using space mirrors; and the creation of highly fertile soils by lacing them with charcoal, nicknamed “biochar“.
It’s a controversial topic, and to many hardline environmentalists, a very hard sell. Hasn’t anthropogenic climate change caused all our problems in the first place? Aren’t the stakes too high, the results too unpredictable? Or do the Earth sciences and our industrial ingenuity hold some of the answers we so desperately need?