What happened?

A recent study found that solar geo-engineering may, possibly, provide a relatively harmless means of fighting climate change. Previous studies concluded that reflecting a small fraction of sunlight back into space (e.g. by releasing sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere) could result in an overall reduction of global warming, but would lead to dangerous changes in local weather patterns (e.g. hurricanes). This recent paper argues that modest forms of geo-engineering, aiming for a halving of globalwarming, would have far fewer of such side-effects.

What does this mean?

As it would greatly reduce the need for other kinds of action (e.g. building capacity for renewable energy generation), this kind of geo-engineering would be the ultimate technical fix to our climate problem. It is thus no wonder that scientists have been working on this option from the moment we knew about climate change. In fact, quite a lot of knowledge was already available from experiments with weather control (e.g. cloud seeding). However, there is still no agreement on the best approach (several are available) and much more research is needed into potential negative side-effects. All in all, the actual application of solar geo-engineering, if it ever becomes possible, is at least 10-20 years away.

What’s next?

If granted approval, solar geo-engineering would give us a third, and highly appealing, option to deal with climate change, along with reducing GHG emissions and adapting to climate change (e.g. building dams). However, many scientists (including geo-engineering “believers”) argue that it can only be part of the solution. It can only be done safely in a modest fashion (i.e.complementary GHG reduction is still needed) and once we start injecting this “climate medicine” into the atmosphere, we will be hooked on it until we reduce carbon levels after all. Regardless of these limitations, momentum for this option is likely to grow in the near future, if only because it plays into the hands of climate skeptics and others who seek to stall climate-related action.