As the planet continues to warm, as a species we face some uncomfortable truths. We are pumping into the atmosphere far more carbon dioxide and methane than the planet can remove, putting us pretty firmly on the road to massive climate change. What really needs to happen is the rapid and dramatic cut in carbon emissions, but some groups think there could be another way.
Geoengineering is the process of seeding the stratosphere with particles that do not harm either us or the environment, but at the same time reflect back a portion of the sunlight that hits the planet in a bid to help cool it down. The difficulty at the moment is identifying what substance works best for this, and considering it is such a massive and controversial undertaking in which many things could potentially go wrong, careful research needs to take place.
But in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one group of researchers claim that they may have found the right substance. By modeling the chemistry of the stratosphere, they found that calcite is both reflective and, more importantly, nonreactive. “Essentially, we ended up with an antacid for the stratosphere,” explained Frank Keutsch, who co-authored the paper.
Yet many others are concerned, arguing that geoengineering is not the route we should be taking. We live in an unsustainable way, consuming far more resources than the planet can currently replenish. By finding a techno-fix to a problem whose solution we know, we are simply ignoring a hard truth that we will one day eventually have to face up to. We simply need to use fewer resources. We need to burn fewer fossil fuels, we need to eat less red meat, and we need to realize that the days of continued unstoppable growth is unsustainable.
By artificially cooling the planet in such a way, we would simply be masking the underlying problem, something which the authors of this latest paper fully acknowledge. “Geoengineering is like taking painkillers,” said Keutsch. “When things are really bad, painkillers can help but they don't address the cause of a disease and they may cause more harm than good.”
He added: “We really don't know the effects of geoengineering but that is why we're doing this research.”