White House Officials Discuss the Viability of Climate Geoengineering
Using technology to control the climate – it sounds like something out of a bad sci-fi film, but it may be closer to reality than you think.
As global warming continues to push the planet towards the brink of climate disaster, even radical ideas like using technology to cool the planet must be discussed. John Holdren, the new science adviser to President Obama, told the Associated Press that the White House has already engaged in discussions about the viability of such a plan.
The concept of controlling the climate is called climate geoengineering. It isn't a new idea (who among us hasn't wished for the ability to decide what days will be sunny), but it hasn't been feasible at any point in the past. Though it's generally considered to be an unrealistic "last ditch" option, some form of climate geoengineering may be necessary if the effects of global warming are to be reversed. Currently, efforts around the world to slow global warming aren't having enough of an effect to prevent a climate crisis.
Approaching "Tipping Points"
Attempting to explain the dire situation we all face, Holdren likened global warming to driving "in a car with bad brakes … toward a cliff in the fog" We're inching closer to certain events, called "tipping points" by scientists, that could have disastrous effects around the globe. One example of such as event is the loss of Arctic sea ice in the summer months. For the first time in recorded history, there's a very real possibility that the Arctic ice shelf will completely melt. This would be catastrophic for more than just polar bears – climate scientists suggest that it would alter the jet stream and affect climates around the globe.
Holdren reported that he's already had discussions with White House officials and the heads of NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency about the feasibility of climate geoengineering. In particular, two main possibilities were discussed:
- Introducing sulfur particles into the upper atmosphere. This would mimic the effect of a volcanic eruption. Essentially, it would act as a tinted window for the earth, blocking out some of the incoming sunlight.
- Building large artificial trees. These wouldn't look much like real trees (they would be large towers) but they would serve the same purpose – removing carbon dioxide from the air.
Holdren made it clear that attempting to tinker with the climate carries the risk of unexpected side effects. He reiterated that any attempt to do so would only take place in an emergency situation and that cutting down on energy use and emissions is still a far preferable course of action.