“What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years,” an expert says.
Scientists at Cambridge University have a new plan to heal the planet: they want to refreeze ice at the poles, suck vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air, and spray clouds with salt to reflect more sunlight back to space. The aim is to keep the planet cooler in the face of rising temperatures.
The scientists are in the process of setting up the Centre for Climate Repair to be tasked with finding radical new geoengineering ways to combat climate change. The research lab will be the first such institution of its kind in the world with the mandate to focus solely on carbon emissions reduction and new geoengineering concepts aimed at reversing climate change.
“What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years,” says Prof. David King, a chief scientific adviser. “There is no major centre in the world that would be focused on this one big issue.”
A idea offered by Cambridge scientists envisions refreezing ice at the poles by brightening clouds over them. They would seek to do so by pumping seawater into clouds through fine nozzles mounted on tall masts aboard ships in order to create tiny particles of salt that are seeded into the clouds. The clouds would become more reflective as a result, bouncing sunrays back into space and so keeping the ice beneath cooler.
Another proposed solution would aim to green the oceans so that they could absorb more CO2 from the air. One way of doing so would involve fertilizing the water with iron salts to promote plankton blooms. The planktons could then suck up more CO2 and reduce the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere.
Experts caution, however, that there is no guarantee that such schemes would work sufficiently well to make a difference. Large-scale geoengineering projects could also have unforeseen consequences and upset the fragile equilibrium in local ecosystems.
Yet doing nothing, or not enough, could be even worse for the planet and life on it. That is why drastic scientific interventions might be necessary.
“Early in my career, people threw their hands up in horror at suggestions of more interventionist solutions to fix coral reefs,” Prof. Roberts observes. “Now they are looking in desperation at an ecosystem that will be gone at the end of the century and now all options are on the table.”