When you think about climate change solutions, one might think of eco-green technologies or rows of solar panels. These are just the conventional solutions that can just reduce or even eliminate the need for fossil fuels. However, another technique that has been gaining more traction over the years: Geo-Engineering. Geo-engineering or climate engineering is a broad experimental field designed to mitigate the effects of global warming.
“The concept of climate engineering and these large-scale efforts to manipulate the ‘global thermostat’—is like a magic pill for climate change,” explains Jennie Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy at Northeastern University. “The risk, of course, is that the pill could fail, or come with unintended consequences.” Rather than transitioning society and the economy from reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy or focusing on social change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some seek to solve climate change with a sweeping technological fix by using climate engineering.
Scientists are sucking carbon dioxide from the air with giant fans and preparing to release chemicals from a balloon to dim the sun’s rays as part of climate engineering. The project that received the most attention involves injecting aerosols—or small particles—into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of a large volcano erupting. However, as Stephens points out, there are multiple risks in doing this research. “Advancing research builds momentum toward deployment and there is no international governance system to manage this,” she said.
“There is a potential for a huge power differential with regard to who’s making decisions for who,” Stephens said. And it’s “almost inevitable” that optimising the climate in one region of the world will have unforeseen consequences in another. For example, “It’s easy to imagine that the United States might want to seek outcomes that maintain favorable precipitation patterns for Midwest farmers,” Stephens said, “but in doing so, it might actually exacerbate conditions in the Sahel.” This could widen the global inequality gap even further.
“One powerful person, entity, or country could decide to do this on its own, almost unilaterally, and that would have an impact on the whole world,” Stephens said.