In a matter of years, we might move to the full-scale geoengineering of the planet.
Geoengineering is increasingly seen by researchers and decisionmakers alike as a possible solution to the grim realities of climate. But ethical and safety concerns will need to be considered before we embrace the technology, a new paper in Nature Climate Change suggests.
Geoengineering might be a critical tool for keeping warming below a manageable level of 2°C as per the recommendation of the Paris Agreement. It’s all a matter of scale, however. Most real-life experiments to date have been small-scale, featuring relatively negligible impacts. Meanwhile, a few larger experiments of ocean iron-enrichment have revealed that even our most advanced models have a very limited representation of actual ecosystem dynamics.
The idea we can base large-scale experiments on scientific evidence alone takes the issue of public acceptance for granted, which may turn out to be a mistaken belief, especially when it comes to larger pilot projects like the Marine Cloud Brightening Project, Ice 911 or SCoPEx.
If projects were launched without necessary public support, this may actually damage public perception of the technology and shut down whole areas of geoengineering research. Moreover, research areas like solar radiation management have the potential of transboundary impacts, possibly leading to legal complications and conflicts among nations.
On the other hand, the early success of geoengineering experiments without a wide societal understanding of the role they can play in overall climate action may lead to overly ambitious reliance on the technology. Thus, geoengineering may lead to a downsizing in necessary mitigation measures and slow down the transition away from fossil fuels.
In a matter of years, we might move from small-scale geoengineering attempts to the full-scale geoengineering of the planet. A new and technologically managed life-support system of Earth will depend on constant fine-tuning while giving fossil fuel companies a legitimate reason to stay in business and keeping the planet on the constant edge of collapse.
Considering those risks and strong resistance towards the technology within certain social circles, nothing less than wide public agreement on the role of geoengineering in securing a safe future climate is required. We also critically need an effective global governance framework to control and balance multiple interventions, the researchers argue.
Only when society understands and accepts the risks, responsibilities and unavoidable negative externalities of the technology can we start considering applying it on a large scale.