Tinkering with climate change through climate “engineering” won’t help us avoid what we have to do to stop global warming, says a new report by researchers at six universities.
After assessing a range of possible climate-altering approaches to reducing warming, the team concluded there’s no way around it: those approaches may enhance our other efforts, but we have to reduce the types of emissions responsible the warming. Emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases through human activities are considered the culprits behind the warming.
“Some climate engineering strategies look very cheap on paper. But when you consider other criteria, like ecological risk, public perceptions and the abilities of governments to control the technology, some options look very bad,” said researcher Jonn Axsen of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
The assistant professor in the university’s School of Resource and Environmental Management is a co-author of this study, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. It describes itself as the first scholarly attempt to rank a wide range of approaches to minimizing climate change in terms of their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, risk, public acceptance, governability and ethics.
It states that the most effective way of confronting climate change is reducing emissions through some combination of switching away from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and changing human behavior. The authors added that strategies such as forest management and geological storage of carbon dioxide may be useful complements to emission reductions.
Other climate engineering strategies are less appealing, the authors said, such as fertilizing the ocean with iron to absorb carbon dioxide or reducing global warming by injecting particles into the atmosphere to block sunlight. “Take the example of solar radiation management, which is the idea of putting aerosols into the stratosphere, kind of like what happens when a large volcano erupts,” Axsen explained. “This is a surprisingly cheap way to reduce global temperatures, and we have the technology to do it. But our study asked other important questions. What are the environmental risks? Will global citizens accept this? What country would manage this? Is that fair? Suddenly, this strategy does not look so attractive.”
Working under the auspices of the National Science Foundation, the authors spent two years evaluating more than 100 studies that addressed the various implications of climate engineering and their anticipated effects on greenhouse gases.