Shaping the future
If you've been keeping track of our collective struggles with climate change mitigation over the last few decades, it would be understandable to feel jaded with the whole process. After all, the climate change fight is perpetually stuck on a runway, crippled by a lack of collective action or reach towards any discussion of responsibility. Even the urgent flurry of actions being undertaken on the international stage now are more short-term reactionary than they are about defined long term solutions. The 'hope' is that something can be worked out. Something that can reconcile the need for our current lifestyles with the realisation that the climate crisis will likely be the most challenging hurdle that humanity has ever faced. But until we wait for collective good sense to kick in, something must be done to buy us time. It is here that an idea like geoengineering comes in. Geoengineering has rightly been described as mad science by those who see it as too dangerous to even consider. In regards to climate change, the proponents of geoengineering essentially want mankind to deliberately interfere with the global climate system, in this case for cooling the earth. It is not hard to see why the whole thing seems almost diabolically problematic. After all, even the scientists who have touted the use of geoengineering have been upfront in stating that there could be severe unintended consequences if humanity decides to take such direct control of the climatic systems. After all, it is hard to say that humans fully understand the ins and outs of complex weather systems. But such foolhardy and fantastical solutions always have a time and place, especially if the situation they are meant to address grows more and more desperate. Many within the scientific community are now increasingly open to the idea of using geoengineering as they believe our conventional methods will not be enough to slow down climate change in time before it becomes apocalyptic. Several prominent institutions and research organisations are now urging funding for studies or carrying out studies themselves to understand how geoengineering could save the planet. The idea got a further boost this week when the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine urged the US government to spend at least $ 100 million researching the solution and what its side effects could be. There are plenty of ideas to test out like spraying light-reflecting aerosols into the atmosphere and the idea has had bipartisan support in Congress as well. There are however many critics as well. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator is a noted sceptic of the technology and has labelled it as a false solution, a way to distract from making hard changes necessary to combat climate change. Indeed the academies themselves have highlighted several potential risks. Some of them include relaxing public attitudes towards climate change mitigation, creating a risk of concentrating the side-effects of geoengineering in poorer nations, etc. The latter is particularly significant as a 'social-risk' of the whole plan. The fear is that if geoengineering becomes necessary to research, political will may push aside scientific caution in pursuing this technology regardless of the risk of such inequitable side-effects. This is why geoengineering is not suggested as an actual alternative to climate change mitigation. It has only been suggested as a possible stand-in measure, one that is meant to complement the effort or buy it more time. The last year has definitely shown that we could really use the time. The signs of climate change are all around us and approaching faster now than ever before. Consider that Kyoto just recorded its earliest cherry blossom bloom in 1,200 years on March 26. The Kyoto cherry blossom blooming record is a good indicator of the onset of climate change as it represents an unbroken line of record-keeping that dates back quite some time. And there is no denying that climate change is indeed behind this early bloom as temperatures rise much earlier than expected for this time of the year worldwide. All this is simply a beautiful reminder that our time for 'safe', widely acceptable solutions to this problem is running out as well.