Scientists find that geoengineering to address climate change may do more harm than good

Categories: Nature

by Greg Beach, 09/15/15

As the tumultuous twenty-first century rolls on, it is becoming clear that simply cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to prevent catastrophic climate change around the world. Even if greenhouse gas emissions ceased completely, the momentum emissions generated thus far will be too great to stop. Advanced technologies, such as geoengineering, have been proposed as a savior from the unfolding crisis. However, recent research conducted by MIT’s climate scientists indicates that geoengineering may have negative unintended consequences for our global ecosystem.

Geoengineering is a proposed technology that would release dimethyl sulfide into the atmosphere, which would create sulfate aerosols that reflect sunlight and increase cloud cover. This would result in a global cooling effect to counteract GHG-caused global warming. This method is inspired by certain phytoplankton, which naturally absorb carbon dioxide and produce dimethyl sulfide. Ocean fertilization via mass dispersal of nutrients to encourage phytoplankton growth might be an effective method of inducing geoengineering.

Development of geoengineering technology has attracted the attention of Bill Gates and the CIA, which is reportedly interested in using geoengineering technology to weaponize the weather. This attention from high places should result in increased public interest and accountability of the project. “Discussions of geoengineering are gaining ground recently, so it’s important to understand any unintended consequences,” says Chien Wang, a co-author of the study and a senior research scientist at MIT. “Our work is the first in-depth analysis of ocean fertilization that has highlighted the potential danger of impacting rainfall adversely.”

What did the researchers conclude about the viability of geoengineering? “Generally, our results suggest that the cooling effect associated with enhanced DMS emissions would offset warming across the globe, especially in the Arctic,” says Benjamin Grandey, co-author of the MIT study. However, Grandey notes “precipitation would also decline worldwide, and some parts of the world would be worse off. Europe, the Horn of Africa, and Pakistan may receive less rainfall than they have historically.” The researchers warn that this decrease in rainfall could have disastrous consequences for ecological and human well-being. The team hopes that their work will inspire others to dive deeper into the impact of geoengineering. Certainly, drastically altering the atmosphere to correct for a previous violent alteration should be well-studied and understood before it is treated as a viable global solution.


Images via University of Notre Dame and NASA/Wikipedia

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