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Geoengineering: A Desperate Measure Against Global Warming

Essay by   •  February 27, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  1,583 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,147 Views

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Abstract

Global warming is one of the biggest emergencies our world faces today. The impact of industrialization and growing carbon emissions on global climate change is no longer in question. On February 2, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that stated "it was more than 90% certain that human activities were the main contributing factor to global climate change and a worldwide rise in temperatures since 1950, describing the phenomenon as unequivocal" ("U.N. Panel Declares", 2007). The IPCC, a United Nations-sponsored group made up of scientists, used peer-reviewed science documentation to support the report's conclusion.

Geoengineering experiments tamper with the planet's ecosystems, and do not address the real solutions that are needed. This paper will address the use of geoengineering to reduce global warming, along with the ethical, economical, and political aspects. Geoengineering is counterproductive because it takes focus off of the real solutions. Michael MacCracken, director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, stated, "The trouble with most geo-engineering options is that it's sort of money down the drain. If you are going to go to all of this effort, why don't you just build some alternative power sources?" (as cited in R. Monastersky, 1995, 28). Climate change requires socially responsible policies that reduce carbon emissions and endorse alternate power sources to break the world's addiction to fossil fuels.

Introduction

How we as human beings combat global climate change has become an increasingly important challenge. Global warming is contributing to growing temperatures, rising sea levels, an increased range of tropical diseases, and a jump in extreme weather events. How do we face this issue and become better stewards of the planet? Scientists are researching a multitude of solutions to this problem, and there is no quick fix. One of these solutions is called geoengineering, which is defined as "the intentional and directed manipulation of the earth and its ecosystems" (Mooney, 2007, 6). Some of these experiments include dumping tons of iron into the ocean to increase plankton and algae which feed on carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, polluting the upper atmosphere with sulfur to reflect sunlight, and building a sunshade out of trillions of spaceships that weigh less than an ounce. Geoengineering is a desperate measure that could have unintended side effects, and it proverbially puts a Band-Aid on the infected wound called global warming.

The fact that this research is going on shows how desperate humans are to counter the damage that has already been done. Increased carbon emissions from industrialization and population growth have already essentially geoengineered the planet. Physicist David Keith described geoengineering is "an expedient solution that uses additional technology to counteract unwanted effects without eliminating their root cause" (as cited in Mooney, 2007, 6). The costs and possible damage done by utilizing these experiments far outweighs the costs of policy change and adapting to alternate power sources.

Ocean Iron Fertilization

Ocean iron fertilization is one of the most common geoengineering experiments. In 1980, oceanographer John Martin said, "Give me a half a tanker of iron and I will give you an Ice Age" (as cited in P. Lam and S.W. Chisolm, 2002, 1). Martin's research fueled many iron fertilization experiments. A company called Planktos calls this process "iron replenishment". Iron dust is added to the ocean to increase the population of plankton. Plankton uses iron for photosynthesis. Plankton captures carbon dioxide and stores it in the deep sea, removing it from the atmosphere.

In order to be successful, iron dust would have to be placed in an area the size of Asia and would cost between ten billion dollars and $110 billion a year (R. Monastersky, 1995). The process needs to be repeated over and over as the ocean soon returns to its natural condition. While iron naturally drains into the ocean, no studies have been done to show how adding tons of iron dust to the ocean will affect the delicate balance of marine life. As the plankton decays it could rob the water of oxygen and could kill the marine life in that location (R. Monastersky, 1995).

Documented iron fertilization experiments have yielded various outcomes. The main outcome they all have in common is "that week-long, sustained additions of iron to nutrient-rich, but iron-poor, regions of the ocean can produce massive phytoplankton blooms and large drawdowns of CO2 and nutrients" ("Climate Change", 2001). Some of the companies are already seeking to make money off of banked carbon, called carbon credits. P. Lam and S. W. Chisolm stated, "Even if iron fertilization were fully optimized to sequester the maximum amount of carbon, it will make only the smallest of dents in

atmospheric CO2 if fossil fuel burning continues to grow exponentially" (2002, 11). Since this solution is cheap in cost and easy to accomplish, this is the most dangerous geoengineering experiment of all.

Sulfate Sprays

Another geoengineering experiment being researched is based on the cooling effect that volcanic eruptions have caused. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted and released sulfate particles into the stratosphere, reflecting sunlight and subsequently lowered temperatures for about a year, (Borenstein, 2007). Scientists are now trying to find ways to artificially recreate this same scenario by spraying sulfate particles into the atmosphere. According to Crutzen, a Nobel-prize winning scientist, balloons and artillery cannons could be used to shoot sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, where it would convert into sulfate particles (as cited in Mooney, 2007, 13). These sulfates would make the clouds whiter and more reflective. Not to mention it is very costly, between $25 and $50 billion a year (Mooney, 2007). According to Crutzen, due to the one to two years that a small amount of sulfur remains in the stratosphere, "this would make it possible to reduce air pollution near the ground, improve ecological conditions and reduce the concomitant climate warming" (2006, p212, 1).

And what about the side effects of intentionally polluting the atmosphere? What goes up must go down,

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