The idea that anthropogenic emission of carbon into the atmosphere has reached a point where not only will it soon be harmful to people, but also that any actions taken by society to slow or stop the emission of carbon dioxide will be insufficient, has promoted the idea that drastic man-made efforts to reverse global warming should be considered as a solution. The options presented include simulating the cooling witnessed after volcanic eruptions through pumping the stratosphere with sulfate [1], carbon sequestration, ocean iron fertilization, giant mirrors that would reflect incident solar radiation and painting rooftops white.

The idea of sulfur injections was proposed by Paul Crutzen, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry. Although having a scientist who won the Nobel Prize in atmospheric chemistry adds credibility to this issue, it does not relinquish responsibility from policy makers to determine if geoengineering is the appropriate action. It is a drastic human-induced change to our environment with unknown consequences. Then again, so is global warming. What is a policy maker to do? While scientists come out with more articles and reports detailing the scope of global warming, public awareness and concern over global warming grows. It is shifting from a topic to debate into a time-sensitive issue requiring prompt action. The Kyoto Protocol has failed to meet the goals necessary to reduce emissions to the level climate scientists have set as needed to reverse the trend [1]. And although Americans view themselves as environmentalists, it is seen that we are unlikely to support legislation or change our actions to promote environmental sustainability [2]. Policy makers must take into account economic, societal, quality of life and other practical concerns in addition to the scientific concerns. The root challenge of the geoengineering policy issue is its unknown nature. The world has never been faced with such a problem, and the actual outcomes for any action taken (including no action) are unpredictable to an extent.

In future posts I will attempt to unravel the issues surrounding geoengineering and ascertain the role of the scientist towards the policy maker. I will also post news about geoengineering science and policy.

[1] Crutzen, Paul J. “Albedo Enhancement by Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: A Contribution to Resolve a Policy Dilemma?” Climatic Change 77, 211, 2006.
[2] Jamieson, Dale “An American Paradox” Climatic Change 77, 97, 2006.