The Royal Society has set up a study group on geoengineering climate – looking at ways science can provide a ‘quick fix’ for climate change. The main two schemes are the use of mirrors to reflect away sunlight – and so reduce global warming, and using ‘scrubbers’ to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Lets be honest, geoengineering isnt a real solution – what we need are low carbon economies and we ned to use sustainable energy sources (not least because fossil fuels will run out one day) but geoengineering could provide a shor term and much needed respite from the damage already being caused by global warming. The idea of reflecting away sunlight isn’t new – about 30% of all sunlight is reflected away anyway and when volcanoes erupt the ask and dust in the atmosphere can produce a similar effect to mirrors. Here the idea is to use mirrors to increase the reflection rate by a few more percent – having an immediate effect on the Earth’s surface temperature. CO2 scrubbing is a longer term process and might take decades to take effect, but would go to the root of the problem – an excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The risk here is that the long term manipulation of the world’s ecosystems might have damaging side effects. So lets hope the Royal Society’s study produces some coherent thoughts for the future.
The Guardian 29 April 2009 p28