Geoengineering: The necessary answer to climate change

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Contrails fill the sky above York, England. The risk of climate change is such, some warn, that society must consider engineering the planet - such as seeding the sky with light-reflecting particles - to avoid the worst impacts. Photo by Jasmic/flickr.

April 3, 2013

High school students in Sherman Oaks, Calif., make the case in an international debate contest that adapting to climate change is folly. The better solution? Geoengineering.

Also from the Daily Climate: Adaptation: The most urgent response to climate change

By Daniella Mikhael-Fard, Noella Park, Jackie Sandoval, Connor Smith, and Riordon Smith
Notre Dame High School
For the Daily Climate

Editor's note: Each year, the Bickel & Brewer/NYU International Public Policy Forum directs a policy position at high schools worldwide for debate, pro or con. This year, organizers issued a climate-related challenge: "Resolved: Adaptation should be the most urgent response to climate change." 213 teams from 34 states and 29 countries responded, each writing 2,800-word essays making the case for their position. The Daily Climate has excerpted two essays that survived the first round. The IPPF World Champion will be named on April 13, following oral debates in New York City.

SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. – The debate comes down to which response is the most urgent and necessary reaction to climate change. 

Climate change is reversible and can be solved through mitigation efforts. Adaptation strategies leave families and friends in lesser developed regions to slowly wither away. Mitigation is global and long term while adaptation is local and short term. Mitigation is permanent. Adaptation must be constantly adjusted to address current damage.

Examining the scientific consensus about the origins of warming and the rate of change concludes that it can be mitigated in the short term.

Examining the scientific consensus about the origins of warming and the rate of change concludes that it can be mitigated in the short term.

Richard Muller, founder and scientific director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study, released a peer reviewed study concluding that climate change trends are due entirely to human carbon dioxide emissions. George Monbiot, former professor of environmental politics at Oxford University, proves that we can reduce carbon dioxide emissions to safe levels.

Any natural forces balance natural sources of climate change. Anthony Watts, president of weather data company Intelliweather Inc. and winner of the American Meteorological Society’s Seal of Approval (see note, below), shows that clouds have an extremely large cooling effect on the world. These forces create a zero-sum advance as natural forces cancel each other out. 

Thus, only human-made emissions, such as factory and car secretions, could cause runaway global climate change because they lack natural negative feedbacks to balance them.

Reverse course

Geoengineering provides the real answer to climate change, reversing its course permanently.

First, carbon sequestration, as described by Columbia University geophysics professor Klaus S. Lackner, takes CO2 from our atmosphere, securing it in permanent storage. Columbia University physicist Peter Eisenberger created an effective model that proves, through real world testing, that carbon sequestration can be used on a global scale and can prevent the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide from ever exceeding 450 ppm, below dangerous levels. It would also bring levels down to below pre-industrial levels by 2100 and keep it there permanently.

Solar radiation management, according to the Copenhagen Consensus on Climate, would reduce climate change effectively. Forms of solar radiation management, such as marine cloud whitening, lower environmental temperatures and reverse global warming’s effects.  

This preemption – that global warming is reversible and that geoengineering staves off harmful effects entirely – makes adaptation obsolete.

Destined to fail

Adaptation might be appealing, but it is destined to fail. Many countries, especially developing ones with large, vulnerable populations, will not be able to afford adaptation measures. With no accurate data to forecast climatic impacts, nations will not be able to adapt in time, which leaves them unprotected to disasters. 

Adaptive measures for developed countries may be implemented in time, but many nations in the world will be vulnerable to runaway climate change.

The Copenhagen Consensus and the United Nations has estimated the cost of adaptation be around $140 billion to $170 billion. However, after thoroughly assessing the costs of adaptation, European ministers and climate and economy experts from Oxford and Cambridge universities have reported that the true cost of adaptation is about $500 billion dollars each year. 

Adaptation projects worth $500 billion are not a feasible option for developing countries nor a cheap option for developed ones. This fiscal reality leaves many countries unprotected to the negative impacts of climate change, including droughts, famine, and ecosystem loss.

Furthermore, cities with greater land surface and populations, such as Los Angeles or Miami, will be much more vulnerable because the timeframe to implement necessary modifications is elongated. This added obstacle would result in a failure to adapt and a significant waste of time and money. Adaptive measures for developed countries may be implemented in time, but many nations in the world will be vulnerable to runaway climate change. The shifting nature of adaptation targets will prevent timely minimization of climate effects.

Lastly, maladaptation is where the human response actively undermines the capacity of society to cope with climate change or contributes to the problem and increases the vulnerability to it. In cases of coastal zones, adaptive practices like inappropriate coastal-defense schemes and coastal-habitat conversions are maladaptive.

In cases of agriculture, drought-resistant crops proved to have a negative impact as well. Drought-resistant genes can be passed onto weedy populations, creating a new species of weeds that can reduce crop quality, interfere with harvest, serve as hosts for crop disease, and produce chemical substances that are toxic to crops. These adaptive measures have proven to hinder the ability to respond to climate change.

The first priority

Mitigation should be the first priority because, without it, the costs of adaptation would spike dramatically. Many of these adaptation mechanisms needed for Third World countries require implementing tools that can override natural disturbances caused by global warming. Leading nations have an egocentric mindset that leads them to make empty promises when vowing to contribute funds to Third World countries, as New Zealand's NewsDay opined in 2012. 

If the world is focused on adaptation, Third World countries will suffer the catastrophes caused by climate change while "rich countries will muddle through with dikes, crops redesigned to survive drought, more air conditioning and the like," Peter Passell wrote in the news magazine Foreign Policy.

Mitigation not only permanently removes greenhouse emissions from the atmosphere, it provides a worldwide solution that does not exclude any country. By having an international solution to climate change, not a single human would be in danger of extinction. 

© Daniella Mikhael-Fard, Noella Park, Jackie Sandoval, Connor Smith and Riordon Smith, 2013, and used with permission. All rights reserved.

Daniella Mikhael-Fard, Noella Park, Jackie Sandoval, Connor Smith and Riordon Smith are juniors at the Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif. and members of the school's debate team. Coach Christina Tallungan assisted them with this essay.

Note: Anthony Watts is a climate change denier and blogger who runs the website WattsUpWithThat.com. According to Source Watch, he has no climate credentials beyond being a radio weather forecaster. The American Meteorological Society Seal of Approval is a discontinued credential that did not require a bachelor's or higher degree in atmospheric science or meteorology from an accredited university or college.

The Daily Climate is an independent, foundation-funded news service covering climate change. Views expressed are those of the authors and not the Daily Climate. Email editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] DailyClimate.org.

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