What do we owe ourselves?

It is kind of brilliant when you think about it. Geoengineering is a creative and proactive solution to getting the planet out of the position it is currently in. All of the reports in the news now paint a very bleak picture of our future even if emissions are cut down and eliminated. Even if we stop producing all emissions that currently affect climate, the planet is already on a course to heat up 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next 50 years. There is obviously very little change that simply abstaining from emitting more junk into out atmosphere can accomplish.

In a new dawn of human capabilities, it is incredible that we have the technological capacity to literally change the world we live in. In retrospect, through out gradual effects on climate change over the last couple decades we have already been affecting our planet through technology, but it was inadvertent. To use out intellectual capacity as a species to purposefully make a positive impact on our planet is unprecedented!

If we ever hope to continue to prosper on this planet, we are actually required to take active steps towards correcting the wrong we have inflicted on the planet. Geoengineering is our present reality that paves the way for a future we wish to be a part of.

More Manipulation of Nature?

Controlling our harmful emissions and saving the Earth from catastrophe. We should all be afraid, not just the scientists. The threat of climate change is very real and is becoming a stronger threat year after year. Sea levels are rising, many species are facing extinct and many have already gone extinct, holes are continuously forming in our atmosphere, and so many other aspects of Earth are changing at rapid rates due to the pollution/emissions/activity of humans. There needs to be some sort of urgency to our actions to combat it and its devasting repercussions. How do we get everyone on board and more aware and accepting of this very real problem?

Not every is going to be able to change their ways nor will all want to. Geoengineering could be a decent, temporary response. We have developed and learned so much that it would be a pity to see this knowledge not be put towards helping or potentially saving the Earth. That is, of course, if it works the way it is expected and desired to. We cannot depend solely our science and engineering to fix the Earth, we, the general population, must make a change. Ultimately, we will lose the battle with Mother Nature.

Nature has a way of “fixing” itself in a sense that if we implemented these geoengineering inventions, would it really correct the cascade of problems that climate change has already set off. Climatically, things will get worse before they get better, so will these inventions be able to combat this? Can those inventions alone really be enough to slow down climate change give us enough time to our act together? The thought of manipulating the environment on such a large scale and atmospherically does not set well with me for some reason. I feel like this could also trigger a cascade of unwanted repercussions that we will have no idea or time to fix, however, this does not mean I am against geoengineering. I think trying what we can to help combat climate change is necessary. I am just skeptical.

Related image

Let’s Axe bomb the atmosphere?

Upon reading the article about “geo-engineering,” I realized that this is not the first time I have come across these types of ideas about how to save the planet. For instances, I heard of the phosphorus and iron fertilization scheme to increase the population of photosynthetic phytoplankton. On paper, doing so would help decrease atmospheric CO2 levels due to the increase in aquatic photosynthetic activity. However, as with every solution, there are major drawback that must be mitigated or accepted. For instances, there could be an increase in harmful algal blooms due to the increase in nutrients. Thus, these ideas look good on paper, but the Earth is a “non-linear” system with too many variables to consider for drastic decisions to be made.

In engineering, all designs and decisions must be vetted by experienced or licensed engineers before they can be approved for industrial or public use. This involves extensive analysis of things that can go wrong along with determining what can be avoided, how they can be avoided, and what risks are acceptable. Changing the climate by cooling it down with sulphate aerosols may reduce global temperatures, but its effect is localized and temporary. Climate systems such as monsoon systems and rainfall may be affected in ways that cannot be predicted; in the long run, the effects are unknown if any harmful ones exist. If “geo-engineering” is like any other engineering discipline, then precautionary principles must also be applied to its practices. That includes not taking unnecessary risks if not much information is known about it. Otherwise, it would be just making hasty decisions that may bring more harm than good.

In the past, many examples of uninformed decisions resulting in catastrophic consequences involved the release of invasive species. For instances, the cane toad was successfully used as a pest control vector for beetle infestations on sugar cane plantations in Puerto Rico. As a result, many other regions such as Australia, Florida, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines adopted this pest control tactic for their own beetle problems. In Australia specifically, the toads could not prey on grey-back cane beetles as the beetles lived at the top of sugar canes where the toads could not climb one. The toads instead targeted several local species of lizards, snakes, and crocodile as they proliferated throughout the island. Ultimately, this was an example of how hasty “miracle solutions” can carry devastating impacts.

I am not completely against geoengineering as it can have positive effects on a small scale. However, I kind of agree with the article about how it could be a so called “ethical hazard.” People could become more complacent with their carbon-intensive lifestyle when easy solutions like pumping sulphate aerosols exists. It is similar to how pedestrian fatalities increase at crosswalks and how ABS in modern cars increased reckless driving. So rather than just engineering schemes such as these, we need to slowly shift everybody’s lifestyle to a more sustainable one as their current ones may negate any positive effects of geoengineering.

A snowstorm does not mean climate change is fake

“Geo-engineering” is a concept that I had never heard of before reading these two articles. All things considered, it seems like a really cool idea unless it actually got implemented into society. The fact that we are even considering pumping sulfur into the air over reducing our emissions blows my mind. People would rather change anything else over their own habits. Like the “Re-Engineering the Earth” article said, “It’s like taking aspirin for cancer.” I didn’t even know solutions like that existed, and that they would be terrifyingly cheap.

The fact that 38 people in the world are rich enough to make drastic changes in the climate is crazy. No one would even be able to stop them, and they could completely change the way the world works. Everybody thinks they know everything about climate change, and I’m afraid that people will act irrationally.

I appreciate that they gave more reasonable solutions; one I liked was the carbon towers. The article suggested that big towers be constructed around the globe that can absorb carbon in sheets, and then be transported and put back into the ground. Genetic engineering of trees to absorb more carbon also sounded like a creative idea that could potentially work, but I don’t know enough about the science around that.

The biggest point I’ve taken away from this class is that no matter how much evidence we push at people or how many solutions we come up with, it won’t make a difference unless people believe it. Climate change is not a political position to take. It’s not an opinion, scientific data has backed up that it is happening. We need to make a decision now, or someone or something else will make it for us.

Image result for earth overheating clip art

Why have one when you can have both

I felt that the article on geo-engineering was incredibly interesting. Creating mechanisms to change the environment has always seemed like science fiction to me, being an idea that is often played around within pop culture. However, this article has definitely shown me that there are valid methods to create solutions for Earth’s CO2 problem.

On that note, I do feel like the optimal solution is a combination of geo-engineering and cutting down on CO2 consumption.  Geo-engineering, although clearly a great solution, does have its downsides like how the sulfur idea would likely cause acid rain and different environmental issues. But, ideas like the CO2 collectors would be a great system to use alongside with CO2 cutbacks. 

As an engineer, this conversation has made me look at my engineering potential a lot more. I have always been interested in sustainability and green solutions and feel that geo-engineering is something I would like to pursue more.

Geo-engineering is chopping off a few branches in the forest of climate change

With all the damage that’s already been done to the environment, hopes for reversing climate change are increasingly diminishing recently. As fossil fuel companies refuse to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and people all over the globe continue to drive everywhere they go, seemingly not a lot of progress is being made ecologically. It is because of this that some scientists have begun to consider alternative options to simply trying to cut worldwide carbon emissions.

One of the upcoming ideas is titled “geo-engineering.” I had heard the term before these readings but hadn’t known what it was really about. In essence, geo-engineering describes deliberate, large-scale intervention in the climate system to counter global warming or offset some of its effects—and not in the way you might think. Instead of focusing on cleaning up the globe, or reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, geo-engineering attempts to mask the warming of the earth in a dangerous but surprisingly cheap way.

My big problem with geo-engineering, one I’m sure others share with me, is that it isn’t really a solution to the problem. It might make the earth cooler short-term, but as the article Re-Engineering the Earth states, “geo-engineering is so risky that the cure might be worse than the disease.” I agree with this statement. Although a last-ditch effort to save the planet may become necessary sometime in the future, I believe that it shouldn’t be necessary now. If people around the world stepped up and cared more about the future than their jobs or money, we might be able to make a substantial change purely because of the amount of people on earth that could direct an effort. Ideas such as pumping sulfur in the air to reflect the sun are only going to make problems worse the second we stop doing that and acid rain and years’ worth of accumulated carbon pour down.

But, the fact remains—as long as carbon emissions remain constant, the atmosphere will fill with more and more greenhouse gases. Blocking the sun will do absolutely nothing to stop the buildup. A solution to climate change lies in political changes that will influence the masses to make a lifestyle change that could greatly reduce our emissions. It also lies in green technologies being improved and expanded. To save the planet we need to kill global warming at the root—not just simply chop off a few branches.

The Chaos Theory of Geoengineering

In the classic movie Jurassic Park, a man named Mr. Hammond decides to build a grand theme park full of dinosaurs on an island. The scientifically engineered creatures eventually get loose and cause havoc on the island, to no surprise of the audience. One of the movie characters named Ian Malcolm was a skeptic of this theme park and knew it was doomed to fail from the start. His quote questioning the morality of cloning dinosaurs give us a great life lesson to learn from today. “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” – Ian Malcolm.

This same question can be applied to most scientific advancements in current events. If we have the capability to clone humans, or colonize mars, or even change our own climate, should we? What are the benefits, and what could be the potential consequences? The last thing you want is a bunch of hungry dinosaurs chasing you around an island. It’s probably best then to discuss the potential threats of an idea before jumping in head on. I think this certainly applies to our topic of focus in geoengineering.

The climate of the Earth is REALLY important. I think everyone can agree upon that. It’s what allows us to live on this planet. Without the planet’s atmosphere and its properties, we would not be able to exist. Even the placement of the Earth with respect to the sun is very favorable for us. So, it is essential that we make sure our actions don’t ruin our own lifeline, so to speak. While humans do currently influence the environment more than one would like, the Earth still appears to move along with its natural cycles. We are not going away anytime soon. That could all change if we shoot a bunch of chemicals into the sky for a long period of time.

Could it slow down human induced climate change? Maybe, but it could also cause some unknown damages that we might not know how to fix. The overall idea of compensating human pollution with even more human pollution just seems counterintuitive. In my opinion, I think it’s best to let nature run its course. The global climate system may warm as a result of our actions, but it will eventually balance out like it always has. This Earth has seen global ice cover, zero ice cover, and everything in between. I think it can handle the heat we’ve placed on it. To end with another Ian Malcolm quote, “Life finds a way.”

Engineering a Better World: not just facts and figures

When considering the future of our earth and how humans might be able to overcome climate change disasters, we often think of reducing our carbon footprint and industrial activities. However, it seems secondary to think of other alternatives to further change our existing conditions on earth. Geoengineering initially seems like a science fiction attempt at dealing with our predicted issues. After reading the article on Re-Engineering the Earth, it becomes apparent that geo-engineering is extremely powerful and has the capability to dramatically steer the course of climate change. While some prefer to stay away from this type of technological development (as it is a little scary and holds lots of unknowns), I personally think that it is the perfect solution to our problems. The unknown effects of gassing the planet to reduce the sun’s direct impact on planet earth are on the other hand quite concerning.  Ideally, we will soon be able to remove carbon through man-made means without dramatically changing the planet. The issues with storage and cost are pertinent, but what are we to do? Hopefully, humans will be able to reduce our carbon footprint through our daily actions. But, in the future, if we aren’t doing enough I definitely think humans may have to turn to geo-engineering solutions and innovation.

 

It is apparent that geoengineering will soon come to the forefront of politics, as it involves all societies on this planet. But who will initiate the use of geoengineering solutions? Who will fund programs and research and who will oppose these methods? Hopefully, various societies will be able to come together for the betterment of our global community. I found it fascinating that climate engineering comes with moral debate, rather than a pure means of survival as a race. In addition, the concept of humans rejecting the idea to simply change our actions in order to reduce our carbon footprint seems bizarre. But when reading about the moral corruption connected to climate change, it makes sense. If humans agree to change their actions, then they will admit that they were doing something wrong in the first place. It is time for us to take responsibility for our actions and own up to our mistakes as a species. Once we do this, then we will be able to make progress and begin to fix our climate change issues.

The Decision Should Not Be Made by One Person

I had never heard the term “geo-engineering” before reading these two pieces. The prospect is frightening, because as  I read the article from the Atlantic, I thought geo-engineering seemed like such a great solution. The prospect of cooling the earth and preserving the climate the way it is now was so appealing, I didn’t stop to think about any consequences of geo-engineering methods until reading the excerpts from the book. It would be very easy for a wealthy individual to take the matter if climate change into their own hands without fully considering the repercussions of such drastic measures.

I think it was a smart move to keep the idea of geo-engineering out of the public eye for so long. As the book mentions, humans in developed countries are so comfortable, of course they would choose any alternate method of controlling carbon emissions and global temperatures over reducing their luxuries. I know personally it’s difficult to make sustainable, earth-friendly choices, and our society does not make it any easier. I lean with the Soterian view, to use the words of Hamilton. That being said, it is apparent that we are quickly reaching a point of no return, and large scale manipulation of the climate may be our only chance to preserve human culture. I hesitate to support geo-engineering however, because usually when people start to manipulate and become involved in natural processes other living beings suffer.

Whatever the final decision about geo-engineering is, it should be made collectively, with the support of as many nations as possible. Not everyone will agree, and for good reason some nations will oppose, but the more people on board the more effective the transition. I would only hope that in addition to geo-engineering, methods to cut down on carbon emissions continue to be funded and pursued. The politics behind climate change are so complicated, it makes me glad I am not in a position of power, having to make big decisions on the behalf of others.

Could the cure create problems worse than the disease itself?

The ideas that come out of geo-engineering to me all seem like insane ideas. Like trying to expand the Earth’s orbit so that the sun’s radiation isn’t as strong, and therefore cooling the Earth down. Not only would the act of moving the Earth probably kill everyone because of the amount of energy needed, but there is no knowledge of whether the resulting Earth system would have the right amount of solar radiation to still support the same life systems it has now. Other ideas like cutting down all of the forests in Siberia and Canada in order to create more white, light-reflecting surface, seem problematic because of the vital services forests provide such as carbon dioxide absorption and habitat for many species.

The common denominator between most of the geo-engineering ideas is that they would involve cooling the Earth down by changing how the Earth absorbs/reflects the sun’s radiation. This is an idea to combat climate change that has a lot of ethical and economical debate. On one hand, this “Plan B” solution is much cheaper than the “Plan A” of reducing our carbon emissions. It was mentioned in both articles how cheap sulfur aerosol injection is, and how easy it would be to implement right now. I found it interesting how many scientists didn’t want to release their findings about these geo-engineering solutions because of their fear of the public or politicians taking these findings and disregarding any efforts towards Plan A, and just following the cheaper alternative.

Ethically however, there are reasons to hold back on geo-engineering efforts. For one, it is very risky to take the Earth’s climate into our own hands and “play God.”  Without knowledge of the real effects of these solutions, this “cure” for climate change could possibly create much worse problems. The other outcome is that once we start for example, pumping sulfur aerosol into the atmosphere, we will need to continue to do that forever, because as soon as we stopped, climate change would come back in even greater effect.

These articles were very interesting to me and they made me think about the possible geo-engineering solutions that aren’t as insane or potentially destructive. It is clear to me after reading these articles that something needs to be done to combat climate change, and it is possible that getting people to change their behavior is something that might be too little too late. Other solutions might need to be placed into effect, whether or not we know the full consequences of them. Hopefully it doesn’t come to the point where we feel desperate enough to implement any of the solutions mentioned here, but that’s not to say we should give up researching geo-engineering, as there are possible successful solutions just waiting to be discovered.

Preserving the Soundscape

Reading the “Great Animal Orchestra” by Bernie Krause really made me think of my own experiences being out in the wilderness. I recall walking out in the Columbia Gorge and actually taking some time to just listen to the sounds of the woods in an overarching theme of serenity. Everything was so calm and peaceful from the sounds of the roaring falls to the scuttling squirrels to the occasional woodpecker. I also remember the nights camping by the beachside and stargazing while listening to nothing but the soft ebb and flow of the waves. The lack of light pollution made the stargazing part easy, but more importantly, the lack of sound made it easier to appreciate our surroundings and nature.

 

This is heavily contrasted with the constant mechanical sounds that living in a city entail. I remember growing up in my home country living in my grandparent’s house by the highway. Here, the busy commuters and the use of horns as a constant expression of emotions contrasts the quietness of the nature in Oregon. Even then, most of us are probably pretty removed from the pure aspects of nature. The diversity of sound is related to the diversity of organisms. With climate change, I’m afraid that the “Great Animal Orchestra” will become smaller and smaller over time.

 

On another note, I thought it’s interesting that Bernie noted that the vocal syntax learned by male humpbacks featured themes and structures commonly found in human music. Maybe it’s a sign that we’re merely a part of nature and should consider ourselves as more of a piece in the grand scheme. We can preserve sound in a CD, but it won’t be the same as experiencing sound in a “3-D” aspects. Maybe that’s what preserving nature is so important to us.

We don’t join the geophony, we overpower it

Bernie Krause wrote with a lot of wonder and optimism in her piece “The Great Animal Orchestra.” It was really neat to read about someone else’s experience with nature and how different it is almost 40 years later.  She loves the sounds of nature – wind, rain, thunder, and snow – and writes about them constantly trying to describe their unique tones. It is really hard to try and describe to someone how something sounds without them being able to hear the exact snippet of time that you are trying to show them. I particularly like when she talks about how wind cannot be recorded. That the only sound you can record is what it moves. I honestly had never thought about that before, because people always say “Oh, that sound is just the wind, it’s nothing to worry about!”

Honestly, reading this excerpt made me worry about the future and whether or not I will be able to go outside and just hear nature. It made me sad to think that someday in my lifetime I could never find a place that humanity hasn’t touched. Bernie wrote at the end of her article that as more and more species evolved they all added to the geophony (I love the use of this word) of a “world abounding with life.” I can’t help but think that she would leave humans out of the equation if she could because we don’t really add our sound peacefully, we overpower all the other ones. I love being able to just drive 10 minutes a find a place where I could be utterly alone, but whenever I go into a city I forget that some people who have always lived there don’t get that luxury. They can always hear the sounds of the city. We need to appreciate the sounds of nature and the ease we can record them, before they are drowned out forever.

Image result for sound of nature