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The Geoengineering Dilemma

Should geoengineering be regulated multilaterally before rogue countries experiment with our collective future?

By Evan O'Neil, William Vocke | October 13, 2010

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What if global warming can't be halted by reducing emissions?

Geoengineering projects are proposed as stopgap measures that could tilt the atmospheric balance back toward cooler temperatures.

Some call for spraying sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere to create a reflective haze, blocking solar radiation. Others propose spreading iron in the oceans to encourage the growth of marine organisms, absorbing carbon dioxide.

But is this wise? While humanity is a problem-solving species, our natural geoengineering—through fuels we burn, crops we plant, and cities we build—is part of the problem.

According to climate scientist James Lovelock, organisms that alter the environment to their own benefit are likelier to survive. A self-regulating flux has thus emerged between the plants, plankton, microbes, and fungi that keep our atmosphere livable—life makes life possible and has done so for millions of years.

Does this concept hold for relatively young and precocious humanity? Will blunt industrial methods actually control climate, or could they backfire in local and global ways?

One concern is that geoengineering presents a cheap fix that will lessen the incentive to reduce pollution. Another fear is that geoengineering will only mask the climate problem. Finally, climate modification may be weaponized to induce drought or flooding in an enemy's territory.

Global warming now makes it impossible to limit environmentalism to one country. So should geoengineering be regulated multilaterally before rogue countries experiment with our collective future? Alternatively does the problem demand research and action now despite the risks? What do you think?

By Evan O'Neil and William Vocke

For more information, see "The frightening politics of geoengineering," by Clive Hamilton, OurWorld 2.0, September 13, 2010.

Photo credits in order of appearance: Leo Reynolds, RAN, Chen Zhao, Jorge Lascar, Robert Fornal, Simon Forsyth, Brenda Anderson, Evan Lesson, Bruno Comby, David Heise, Eyesplash Mikul, NASA, Justin N, **Mary**, Georgie Sharp, Charlie Cowins.

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Read More: Diplomacy, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Innovation, Science, Sustainability, Technology, War, Global

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