The article Re-Engineering the Earth by Graeme Wood outlined several different options considered by scientists for “geoengineering” or artificially altering the earth’s climate system in an attempt to mitigate global warming. These solutions ranged from pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to planting genetically engineered forests to blocking sunlight by launching ceramic disks into the sky. Wood then gave her take on these options, describing their dangerous ramifications and the sad potential that they might someday become a realistic last resort, or worse, that wealthy individuals might take matters into their own hands without considering the repercussions. The article, in my opinion, was powerfully written and did a good job summarizing the topic of geoengineering. It left me with a stark awareness of the reality that what seems like science fiction now might not be for much longer.
For me, this awareness was more scary than hopeful. My personal take is that the only realistic solution to global warming is to reduce carbon emissions. Most of the options presented in the article seemed like an attempt to band-aid the issue. This tendance to ignore the root of problems and think they can be solved with superficial means is something that our culture has done too well throughout history, and one would think that we would have learned our lesson by now. Will the pros outweigh the cons? Is acid rain, species devastation, and “radical shifts in the global climate” a fair price to pay for some temporary cooling? To quote Pierrehumbert, “‘it’s like taking aspirin for cancer.’” The warming would still be there, only delayed until we could no longer pump sulfur dioxide fast enough to keep up.
Furthermore, even if we do further research into solutions like this one, I think it’s unlikely that we will ever come to a thorough enough understanding of our climate system to predict all of their potential repercussions. We are talking about artificially altering a system that is in a delicate balance, a balance which happens to give us just the right conditions to support life. In thinking that we can alter this system for our own benefit with a simple, cheap fix, we take for granted the delicacy of this balance, the ephemeral nature of the universe, and the extreme luck that allows us to exist in the first place. It’s time we took a step back, found a little humility, and considered that maybe the only way out of this mess is to look at what got us here in the first place.