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Geo-engineering

This term was in the news earlier this month after the publication by the Royal Society of a special edition of its academic journal Philosophical Transactions on the subject.

Geo-engineering is engineering on a planetary scale to mitigate or reverse the effects of global warming and climate change. It’s far from new — it is recorded from the late 1980s, but until recently it has been the province of specialists. Schemes include seeding the oceans with iron to help plankton grow in greater abundance, so that when the organisms died they would take carbon to the sea bottom with their corpses. Another idea is to pump aerosols of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to block some of the sun’s light falling on Earth. Yet another is to reduce the sun’s radiation by a giant sunshade in space.

For a long while, such geo-engineering proposals were thought to be the stuff of science fiction; indeed, several SF writers have noted in their works that we are in such a mess that we’re going to have to terraform the Earth. Most scientists regard them as dangerous ideas that are likely to do at least as much harm as good; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dismissed the idea in 2007 as “largely speculative and unproven and with the risk of unknown side-effects”.

Though nobody is going to put sunshades in space any decade soon, in recent years the other geo-scale ideas have begun to get serious attention, almost in desperation as experts realise that political inaction is letting catastrophe overtake us by default.

Confusingly, geo-engineering has for several decades been used as a shortened form of geological engineering, a discipline that puts the skills and techniques of the geological sciences together with those of engineering to design facilities such as roads, tunnels, and mines.

Climate scientists, concerned society is not taking sufficient action to prevent significant changes in climate, have studied various “geo-engineering” proposals to cool the planet and mitigate the most severe impacts of global warming.

The Hindustan Times, 25 Apr. 2008

Humans may have to attempt planet-scale engineering of the climate because global warming is happening faster than experts have been predicting, leading scientist James Lovelock said yesterday. Safe forms of “geo-engineering” should be used if they can buy us a little time to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

The Journal (Newcastle), 1 Sep. 2008

Page created 20 Sep. 2008

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Last modified: 20 September 2008.