Experts were unanimous that unless we keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the earth will suffer heatwaves, cyclones and storms, entire animal and plant species will die out, and large numbers of people forced to flee their homes. To avoid such a fate there are some scientists calling for plans to cool the planet with geoengineering, looking at it as a potential means of reversing the damage. Geoengineering is a way of using technology to cancel out the environmental effects of human actions.
“There are two categories of geoengineering,” said Roland Séférian, a climatologist at France’s Meteorological Office. The first – and most controversial – involves ways of “modifying solar radiation”, Séférian noted. One such idea is to “reproduce what happens during volcanic eruptions when clouds of dust emerge in the sky and form a kind of screen between the sun and the earth, cooling the atmosphere in the process”.
Another technique is to “whiten” cloud formations by spraying salt into the atmosphere to reflect more of the sun’s rays – and consequently heat – thereby limiting the warming of the oceans. But research into this technology is still in its infancy.
As things stand, these are still just ideas scientists are thinking about. Dozens of plans have been suggested – some rather fanciful and of dubious plausibility – including putting mirrors in space and even modifying the earth’s trajectory.
One approach we’re already using a lot in trying to address climate change is projects to take CO2 out of the atmosphere such as planting lots of trees. There may not be enough arable land for planting forests.
Aside from that natural means of capturing carbon, two technologies are mentioned as potential methods of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere.
The first is called direct air capture (DCA), which involves installing kinds of vacuum cleaners to suck CO2 out of the air. The carbon is then buried underground. Some 20 such projects are already in place across the globe.
The second technology is called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This means producing energy by burning biomass – such as wood and agricultural waste – trapping the resultant CO2 and burying it underground.
Neither technology has proven its worth.
Carbon capture can only happen through the transport of CO2 – which requires pipelines and storage space; the kind of infrastructure oil companies have and stand to profit handsomely from.
Geoengineering is something only rich developed countries can afford to do and not the undeveloped and developing nations which lack the fundings yet will endure the worst effects of climate change.
Further, since geoengineering technologies still at an embryonic stage, researchers do not know what unintended consequences they might create.
“Even with the best scientific models, it’s hard to see exactly what would happen if people tried to absorb or bounce back solar radiation,” Séférian said. “CO2 capture and storage also raises questions: What would happen if the carbon leaks during transport? How long could it stay buried?” Séférian added, “It’s certainly something that we should be talking about, but it’s not a priority at these stage. The important thing is reducing CO2 emissions. Geoengineering comes later.”
Capitalists will seek any answer that does not threaten their profit margin and especially solutions which will make money for them. The simplest remedy to the climate crisis, ending market expansion and profit accumulation but those will not be on any COP26 agenda