Research suggests that geoengineering should be used in conjunction with abatement to reduce climate change
A recent report conducted by Canadian and American researchers from six universities, including SFU assistant professor of resource and environmental management Jonn Axsen, analyzed several climate engineering strategies and their potential for minimizing climate change.
The team found that some climate engineering options were decidedly poorer choices than others, given the assessment of other criteria, such as ecological risk, public perception, and the abilities of governments to control technology.
They looked at the advantages, disadvantages, and limitations of some approaches already widely in place, such as forest and soil management, as well as more controversial ideas, such as ocean fertilization and solar radiation management.
The proposed climate engineering strategies use direct, large-scale actions to reduce the carbon already present in the atmosphere or actively lower the Earth’s temperature by reflecting the solar energetic input — better known as the heating effect of the Sun.
On the other hand, these approaches may bring about undesirable consequences. In one approach, misplaced forest regrowth in high altitude, snow-covered regions could potentially darken the Earth’s surface. In another, reforestation of previously non-forested locations, could change the surface roughness and increase water transpiration into the atmosphere, thereby altering weather patterns.
One example of an ‘extreme’ solution is solar radiation management, also called ‘global cooling.’ This strategy aims to reduce solar energetic input by increasing albedo through the use of technologies such as stratospheric aerosols, outer-atmosphere reflectors, and whitening of the surfaces of cities, oceans, and deserts.
Axsen told The Peak that such an extreme solution “paints a pretty dreary picture of a future world,” continuing, “I really hope that the negative impacts of climate change don’t become so extreme that solar radiation management becomes a desirable option.”
“In light of the limitations and risks, climate engineering strategies would be best served as a complement — rather than replacement for — abatement, and the latter should remain a focus of climate-change policy for the foreseeable future,” explained the study.
Presently, several climate emissions abatement strategies serve to aid in reducing carbon emissions made by human activities. These strategies include turning off the lights upon leaving a room, using energy efficient light bulbs, or switching to hybrid vehicles, all of which attempt to decrease energy consumption.
Other abatement strategies that are still under debate include policies surrounding low-carbon fuels, including the possible implementation of emission limits and taxes on carbon or fuels.
“Emissions reduction should remain the primary efforts. More extreme strategies should be avoided, such as ocean iron fertilization and solar radiation management,” said Axsen.
According to Axsen, the only solution to climate change would involve a massive rejection of toxic fossil fuels, vastly improved energy efficiency and substantially altered human behaviour.
“We need stringent climate policy,” Axsen stated. “As much as we can get.”