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Climate geoengineering: Is cooling the planet worth the risk?

New research is underway examining the potential costs and benefits of climate geoengineering to combat global warming.

Geoengineering is certainly a controversial issue, as it requires the purposeful manipulation of climate to mitigate the effects of climate change, which some argue could have devastating side effects.

But according to one Popular Science piece, it’s a way to “press pause” on the worsening impacts of global warming.

One of the more probable methods of climate hacking involves using aerosols sprayed into the stratosphere to create a sort of cloud cover that reflects harmful UV rays back to the sun and, in, turn, cools the planet.

This method could potentially be a quick and efficient way to get climate change under control, but it could also cause catastrophic effects if the system were to fail or immediately and permanently shut down, causing many to question whether it’s a suitable option to even consider.

If the system were to shut down, experts have said it would cause extreme warming at wild rates, known as “termination shock.”

Two researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany and the John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University examined this worst case scenario to prove that the chances of termination shock are unlikely and simple measures could prevent it.

The results were published in the journal Earth’s Future.

“Most studies so far have focused on the extremes, like in a large-scale deployment that’s ended instantly and permanently,” said Peter Irvine, one of the co-authors of the study in a video explaining the research.  

The two researchers examined all the different necessary factors that would cause termination shock.

The team investigated several hypotheticals, including how long the system could be shut down before termination shock and how large the cooling effect would have to be to cause substantial extreme warming in the event of failure.

The results showed that termination shock is unlikely and easily avoided with a few simple, safe holds in place. According to Irvine, it would be easy to implement given the cost of creating the aerosol system and the consequences that would happen if it failed.

“Overall, our analysis suggests that the risk of a termination shock is much less likely than it superficially appears,” concludes Irvine.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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