Climate geoengineering
Climate geoengineering is the intentional, large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s climate system to reduce the effects of climate change. Our climate is a result of the amount of solar radiation hitting the Earth and the amount of heat reflected and radiated back into space. This balance depends on several variables including reflectivity, cloud coverage, the amount of heat absorbed by the Earth, and the amount of heat trapped in our atmosphere by greenhouse gasses. For geoengineering strategies to succeed, at least one of these variables must be changed. Geoengineering strategies consist of either increasing Earth’s reflectance or blocking incoming solar radiation so we receive less heat, or reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere to allow more heat to radiate back into space. It is hoped that reducing the burning of fossil fuels will increase this radiant effect. Scientists worry we are not reducing the 9 gigatons of carbon dioxide we put in the air each year fast enough to avoid significant changes to our climate. They also worry about the albedo effect. As Earth warms and ice melts, this white reflective surface is replaced by dark heat-absorbing oceans and lands, creating a feedback loop that melts more ice and forces our planet to retain more and more heat.

Proposals to increase the reflectance of incoming solar radiation include the injection of sulfur particles into the stratosphere, the whitening of marine clouds and the placement of millions of tiny orbital mirrors or sunshades into space. Other geoengineering proposals are designed to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. One calls for building machines to capture CO2 in sorbent material and remove it for burial. Another involves large-scale ocean fertilization to stimulate growth of marine organisms which absorb carbon. Planting trees and painting rooftops white are examples of small-scale geoengineering. However, scientists say geoengineering by itself is not able fix our climate-change problems. These techniques are meant to complement carbon reduction efforts, not replace them.

In 2007, the UN concluded that geoengineering options for addressing climate change were speculative and unproven -with the costs, benefits and risks not well understood. For these reasons, critics claim large scale geoengineering projects have the potential to make things even worse. For example, sulfur aerosols placed in our stratosphere are known to reduce global temperatures because this gas is also ejected by large volcanic eruptions. In the past, these events have cooled the weather for several years, as these aerosols remain airborne for several years or even decades. However, no one knows how much sulfur is enough to reduce global warming, but it is known that too much could trigger a prolonged global winter. Unfortunately, all large-scale climate geoengineering research has consisted of computer modeling and laboratory testing. None of these projects have yet been attempted. Opponents say geoengineering projects should not be undertaken without the full consent and participation of those who are most vulnerable to the risks and effects of climate geoengineering experiments.

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