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Geoengineering: fact and fantasy

chinadialogue

Readinch

In response to the global-warming crisis, some scientists advocate intentionally manipulating the earth’s climate with elaborate schemes and unusual technologies. How feasible are their proposals?

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Against a backdrop of rising carbon-dioxide emissions and increasing evidence that the world may have passed temperature “tipping points” that could accelerate climate change, some scientists have turned their attention away from traditional strategies for greenhouse-gas mitigation and climate-change adaptation, and begun to explore ways to deliberately change the planet’s temperature.

Some of these “geoengineers” hope to reduce the greenhouse effect by taking planet-warming gases out of the atmosphere, and some aim to cool the earth by reducing the absorption of solar radiation. The proposals themselves range from the relatively simple – increasing the amount of carbon-dioxide absorbed by the ocean, for example – to ideas that seem to come straight out of science fiction, such as placing trillions of reflective mirrors in space, or building millions of artificial trees to “scrub” greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Yet as crazy as they might sound, some of these ideas are being taken seriously at the highest levels. In the United States, president Barack Obama’s chief scientific advisor, John Holdren, has controversially suggested at least considering geo-engineering as an option. And although few regard geoengineering as an alternative to reducing emissions, an increasing number of scientists – including Tim Lenton, from the University of East Anglia, and Wallace Broecker, at Columbia University in New York, have suggested exploring the potential of employing such proposals if climate change began to occur faster than previously anticipated. In other words, some are starting to see geoengineering as a response system for a climate-change emergency.

But are these projects just costly distractions from the real challenge of de-carbonising our lifestyles and our economies, as many critics claim? Is geoengineering “playing God”? Could it make a bad situation worse? Some fear that such schemes would have their own, unpredictable environmental consequences, and that a “rogue actor” might cause unintentional destruction by using geoengineering. Consequently, there have been calls for if not an outright ban, then the establishment of international guidelines on the use of such schemes.

So, how are these different geoengineering schemes supposed to work? How much would they cost? How long would they take? Are they all unrealistic, science fiction proposals, or could we see some of the projects feasibly implemented? chinadialogue will examine some of the major geoengineering proposals over the coming weeks, looking the economic, environmental, political and moral arguments around this controversial scientific topic.

NEXT: using sulphur to engineer the climate


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人工树

有消息称科学家研制出一种“人工树”,较自然界的树,能吸收千倍的二氧化碳,但由于成本过高,人工树还没有得到大范围推广。从长期来看,这似乎是一个不错的方法。

Artificial trees

It is said that scientists have developed a kind of artificial tree that can absorb thousand times more CO2 than ordinary trees. However, owing to the prohibitive cost, such kind of tree isn't being widely promoted. Still, from a long-term perspective, it sounds like a good idea.


可行性

不管是在太空放镜子,还是建造能吸收二氧化碳的人工树,这些大胆的构想都需要大量的资金投入,而且人们还无法保证其后果的有效性。看来,最现实的方法还是引导人们的生活方式向更环保的方向发展。

Feasibility

Regardless of whether you're talking about putting mirrors in space or manufacturing artificial trees to suck up carbon dioxide, these kinds of radical proposals all require large amounts of investment while offering no guarantee of success. It looks like the most realistic option is to encourage people to live in a more environmentally friendly manner.


只有《地球新工程》可挽救地球人类

人类唯一可行的‘地球新工程’是最小的资金投入·最大的降温效果!······是‘京都议定书’升级的最新版本(可从根本解决全球气候变暖问题)

民间气候研究者

Only <New Geoengineering> can save the Earth and Human beings

Our only practical way-'New Geoengineering'is the minimum fund input.the maximum cooling effect!......it is the newest upgraded version of 'Kyoto protocol'(can fundamentally solve the problem of global warming) non-government climate researcher
(Translated by Liu Yaqing)


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