Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Time to cool the air?

My instant reaction to this piece in the Huffington Post on 'cooling the air' to mitigate climate change- or geoengineering to give it its technical name- was that April 8th must be the US equivalent of April Fools' Day. But no, it seems that it is a genuine concept that describes the technological manipulation of the earth's atmosphere and biosphere to make the earth more habitable: for example, you shoot particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun.

John Holdren, the new Director of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has been talking about the possibility of resorting to these techniques.

Now, this is scary stuff. I can't believe that the climate change deniers won't use this as their insurance policy: climate change doesn't really exist, but if it does we can sort it anyway. But the insecurity and unpredictability of this is enormous- not to mention other negative environmental impacts. The problem is that people will want to believe that this is a solution and this could undermine the political support for policies aimed at preventing the problem in the first place. It is like someone who is obese always trusting that some new diet drug will come along to massively reduce their weight so they can carry on eating as normal.

Research does have to continue into these technologies in case others do not fulfil their responsibilities to the planet. However, to rely on these technologies would be madness given the risks. They are, and should only be, discussed in the context of an absolute final, final resort.

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