September has come and gone, and it has given us something to contemplate as we venture towards the final three months of the year.
Investigative journalism show, Vice aired an episode in September entitled: Engineering Earth.
The episode alluded to the fact that engineers and scientists are looking to a new era of geoengineering as a ‘last ditch effort' to mitigate the effects of global warming. The report asserted that a technological revolution may be necessary to curb the phenomenon of global warming.
Vice founder Shane Smith said after 50 years of research, engineers and scientists are aware that the level of carbon dioxide present in our atmosphere ‘exceeds levels that haven't been seen in three million years.' He said the world is clearly past the point of no return.
Visiting Greenland's Eagle glacier — a glacier that has experienced immense runoff — Smith spoke to Jason Box, a PhD contributor to Vice and a member of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. He said:
"On average over the last 15 years, the loss rate from Greenland would give all seven and a half billion people on the planet a bathtub of water every day. Even halting emissions now, we still have this problem of 50 per cent too much CO2 in the atmosphere. Plan A, which was conservation, has largely failed. Plan B, geoengineering, needs to become Plan A it seems. Can we technologically take control of this car that is spinning out of control and start driving in the right direction?”
So how can engineering technology and scientific endeavor work to circumnavigate the inevitable?
Engineers and scientists are considering geoengineering. It is defined as the deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming. It could also be earth’s last hope.
Applied Physics Professor at Harvard University and author of the book: A Case for Climate Engineering, David Keith, has formed an engineering startup that is dedicated to developing technology that could suck carbon dioxide out of the air.
They have been working on a direct air capture plant that removes carbon dioxide from the air since 2015. There seems to be healthy competition in the direct air capture industry too. Other companies have come out of the woodwork to design their specially crafted technology, engineered to make capturing carbon dioxide air cheaper and more efficient. One company, Climeworks, bravely announced the world's first commercial carbon removal technology in 2017.
Keith told MIT Technology Review:
“One of the reasons I’m particularly interested in developing the possibility of solar geoengineering is that it does appear that the benefits are most felt by the poorest. And that's because the biggest climate impacts — particularly impact from extreme heat and extreme precipitation events like tropical cyclones — fall on the world's poorest. There is now pretty clear evidence that solar geoengineering would be remarkably effective in reducing some of those risks, and the relative benefits would go more to the poor than to rich.”
Keith also said finding technological methods to reflect the sun off the surface of the earth is essential to work.
In Alaska, scientists are working with hollow glass microspheres hoping to exact Arctic restoration. The scientists say there has been a loss of the reflective heat shield in the Arctic. The reflective microspheres act as a reflective sand that offsets the sun beating down as hard as it usually does on the earth.
In Silicon Valley, engineers are working around the clock to find technologies that could keep the earth surface cool by brightening clouds. Armand Neukermans, engineer and physicist - and his team of engineers - are working on the technology that could improve clouds’ reflectivity at sea. The process is called marine cloud brightening, which includes spraying salt water into the sky to brighten clouds.
The engineers say an engineered nozzle could be fitted on ships at sea. These nozzles would emit salt particles and fuse with clouds hanging over the sea. The brightened cloud would reflect more sun off of it. Rising sea temperatures could be a thing of the past.
They also note that the possible adverse side effects could be less desirable. The impact of ongoing cloud brightening is being conducted by scientists around the world. That is the current balance that must be struck in geoengineering projects - the potential negatives that messing with the climate technologically could produce. Thus, the ethics behind companies who want to take on geoengineering projects need to be closely monitored.
“Engineering Earth (Preview) | VICE on HBO.” YouTube, 10 Sept. 2018, youtu.be/4iLhMV30S2o.
Temple, James, and James Temple. “This Scientist Is Taking the next Step in Geoengineering.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 27 July 2017, www.technologyreview.com/s/608312/this-scientist-is-taking-the-next-step-in-geoengineering/.