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Can we Geoengineer our way out of Climate Change? - TNK Green

Can we Geoengineer our way out of Climate Change?

Can we Geoengineer our way out of Climate Change?


After last year’s disastrous COP28 and record-breaking heat in 2023, it is clear that humanity won’t transition away from fossil fuels soon enough to curb the worst effects of climate change. But is it possible to engineer our way out of this problem?

Geoengineering attempts to do just that by using large-scale mitigation strategies. From direct carbon capture and storage to more complex interventions like seeding the sky with more reflective particles to lower the earth’s albedo. It might sound like a solution to some of our problems but the global and unpredictable nature of this field of study has sparked fierce debate between scientists and industry surrounding the topic.

Let’s have a look at the various strategies and quickly discuss each to better understand the impact Geoengineering can have on our planet.


What is Geoengineering

Geoengineering in the simplest terms is defined as the deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.


The types of interventions

The first of these is Carbon Removal also known as Direct Carbon Capture. This entails sucking air into a giant machine where carbon is then bound to a solvent from where it can then be separated and stored. Some academics and scholars now largely agree that we’ll need some form of DCC to avoid dangerous levels of warming but the technology is still in its infancy and its effectiveness still unproven.

The second and much more contentious branch is called Solar geoengineering. This is a blanket term for a multitude of interventions that aim to limit the solar radiation on the surface of the earth; from creating sun shields in space to releasing micro particles like sulphur into the atmosphere to scatter sunlight or manipulating the weather to dissipate heat-trapping cirrus clouds.


Unpredictable outcomes

Critics argue that openly talking about the possibility of a technological “solution” to climate change will ease the pressure to address the root cause of the problem: rising greenhouse gas emissions. And some believe that moving forward with outdoor experiments is a slippery slope. It could create incentives to conduct ever bigger experiments until we’re effectively doing geoengineering without having collectively determined to.

A technology that knows no national bounds also poses complex, if not insurmountable, geopolitical questions. Who should decide, and who should have a say in, whether we proceed with such an effort? How do you settle on a single global average temperature to aim for, since it will affect different nations in very different ways? And if we can’t settle on one, or come to a consensus on whether to deploy the technology at all, will some nation or individual do it anyway as climate catastrophes multiply? If so, could that spark conflicts, even wars?

Some argue it’s playing God to tinker with a system as complex as the climate. Or that it’s simply foolish to counteract one pollutant with another, or to try to fix a technocratic failure with a technocratic solution.

A final concern, and an indisputable one, is that modelling and experiments will only tell us so much. We can’t really know how well geoengineering will work and what the consequences will be until we actually try it—and at that point, we’re all stuck with the results.



So can we geoengineer our way out of climate change?


The risk posed by most of these supposed solutions could have unforeseen consequences on a global scale and could take years if not decades to reverse. The best thing to do is still to cut carbon emissions as soon as possible, to restore and protect natural carbon sinks like rainforests, bogs, and swamplands, and to speed up the energy transition away from fossil fuels.

It might have only taken us 100 years to upset the natural balance of the planet, and it might take us another 100 years to reverse it, but geoengineering our way out of this predicament seems to be way too risky to try.

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