As the topic of climate change is frantically being discussed in every government office nowadays, a burst of solutions, some contradictory, are being constantly proposed. Sitting on the desk for a while is the solar geoengineering proposition – hailed by many, heavily criticized by others. A new study claims that solar engineering could be undertaken more effectively than previously thought, by tailoring solutions for specific regions, removing thus the global impact which has attracted so much dislike.
In principle, solar geoengineering consists of putting aerosols in the stratosphere to reflect incoming sunlight back into space, hampering radiation levels and reducing temperatures. The technology to implement such a strategy is well in place, however such a measure has a garnered widespread criticism because of the unforetold consequences. A new research however has gone about minimizing the global impact of solar geoengineering after developing a new computer model that promises to maximise the effectiveness of solar radiation management by mitigating its potential side effects and risks.
“Our research goes a step beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to explore how careful tailoring of solar geoengineering can reduce possible inequalities and risks,” says co-author David Keith (pictured at right), Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. “Instead, we can be thoughtful about various tradeoffs to achieve more selective results, such as the trade-off between minimizing global climate changes and minimizing residual changes at the worst-off location.”
“There has been a lot of loose talk about region-specific climate modification. By contrast, our research uses a more systematic approach to understand how geoengineering might be used to limit a specific impact. We found that tailored solar geoengineering might limit Arctic sea ice loss with several times less total solar shading than would be needed in a uniform case.”
The study showed that the melting of sea ice could be stopped with two to three times less radiative forcing if it is tuned specifically. The researchers go on to claim that previous solar geoengineering papers have gone about the wrong route, presenting the solution in a poorly-tuned, crude manner. Their attempt explicitly tunes the effects of solar geoengineering.
“These results indicate that varying geoengineering efforts by region and over different periods of time could potentially improve the effectiveness of solar geoengineering and reduce climate impacts in at-risk areas,” says co-author Ken Caldeira, Senior Scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
A mask for more serious issues. Is solar geoengineering really a sustainable solution?
Solar geoengineering might never be implemented, not with the current political setting. Because it’s such a delicate solution, drastic even, with potentially global effects, the world’s governments would have to agree upon it. We all know that’s not going to happen too soon, if ever. Moreover, a practical application of solar engineering has yet to be made, for obvious reasons, and computer models are far from being completely reliable.
“While more work needs to be done, we have a strong model that indicates that solar geoengineering might be used in a far more nuanced manner than the uniform one-size-fits-all implementation that is often assumed. One might say that one need not think of it as a single global thermostat. This gives us hope that if we ever do need to implement engineered solutions to combat global warming, that we would do so with a bit more confidence and a great ability to test it and control it,” the researchers note.
Some believe the idea of solar geoengineering is nothing more than sweeping the trash under the carpet. It won’t solve carbon emission levels from going down; on the contrary it might actually motivate fossil fuel usage. Ocean acidification, the most serious and grave threat currently faced by our planet at the hands of global warming, will not stop even if solar geoengineering is employed. The only solution, though not yet feasible, is to stop using fossil fuels altogether, and this translates into a global plan for sustainability. Solar geoengineering is like a gamble, only its rewards are solemnly superficial.
Findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.