Why we probably shouldn't geoengineer the planet

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Nov 17, 2017

Solar geoengineering may be looked at by some as the radical solution for cooling a polluted Earth whose temperatures rise and rise, but there are scientists who don’t think it’s so cool.

It sounds like a sci-fi movie at first. Aerosols would be injected into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space. Stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) artificially recreates the effect of a volcano, which blasts soot into the sky. The black clouds block out the sun, and with fewer rays reaching the surface, the planet cools off several degrees. Just think of what happened when that killer asteroid sent up immense amounts of debris during the twilight of the dinosaurs.

What scientists from the University of Exeter found out when they simulated the effect of spraying the atmosphere with aerosols was far from an insta-fix for global warming. SAI executed in the Northern Hemisphere would drastically reduce tropical cyclones (think Hurricane Katrina), but while hurricanes wouldn’t ravage the North Atlantic as much, trying to cool off the Southern Hemisphere in the same way would have the reverse effect. Below the Equator, SAI would bring monster waves crashing down—not to mention that it would plunge a massive region of sub-Saharan Africa into severe drought.

In a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, Dr. Anthony Jones and colleagues stressed that their experiment “reemphasizes the perils of unilateral geoengineering, which might prove attractive to individual actors due to a greater controllability of local climate responses, but with inherent additional risk elsewhere.”

Hurricane Katia as seen from space. Credit: NASA

Meaning, we obviously can’t sacrifice one half of the planet for the other.

While solar geoengineering was looked at as a possible (though controversial) solution to climate change in the last decade, these results alarmed the research team into contacting policymakers considering this radical idea and implored them to strictly regulate any future programs so they can avoid setting off natural disasters.  

“Our results confirm that regional solar geoengineering is a highly risky strategy which could simultaneously benefit one region to the detriment of another," said Jones. “It is vital that policymakers take solar geoengineering seriously and act swiftly to install effective regulation.”

Climate change is scary, but the side effects of messing with nature can be even scarier. The researchers suggest that geoengineering could be used at a regional rather than global level. It isn’t an optimal solution. Regional changes would still have aftereffects, but at least global catastrophe would not be one of them.

For now, just remember to recycle, take shorter showers, shut off anything with a plug that you’re not using.

(via University of Exeter News)