Geoengineering: Do the Pros Exceed the Cons?

To geoengineer, or to not geoengineer; that is the question. There are many pros and cons to possible solutions to climate change involving geoengineering. The real question is: do the pros outweigh the possible risks? I personally do not think that we should rely so heavily on the possibilities of geoengineering being successful.

I believe that the risks far exceed the possible success. The fact that the plans for fixing the environment could majorly backfire and cause even more damage than was already there originally is too big of a consequence to think about utilizing geoengineering techniques to prevent the destruction of our ecosystem. Geophysicist Raymond Pierrehumbert discloses that if, for example, sulfur aerosols were chosen to be the method of choice for reversing climate change, they “would cool the planet, but we’d risk calamity the moment we stopped pumping: the aerosols would rain down and years’ worth of accumulated carbon would make temperatures surge” ( which would cause more harm than good and be worse for the planet than what it is currently suffering from today. 

Not to mention the fact that the nations would have to find a way to split the cost if the solution is to impact the entire planet, not just one country, or one continent. Although geoengineering solutions are cheap and affordable by a singular country, I feel that it is important that everyone share the cost if the method of choice is capable of affecting the whole world. This raises more questions: how should the cost be distributed? Should the region with the most blame for climate crisis pay for it? Should everyone pay the same amount? Should countries with a higher carbon footprint in relation to everyone else have to pay more than those with a smaller carbon footprint?

In all honesty, I feel as though geoengineering should be a last resort. The possible negative side effects should serve as motivation for people to find better solutions with the technology we have currently at our disposal. However, if awareness is not brought to those who support geoengineering as a primary method of fixing the destruction of the environment, then they will be less inspired to help the planet now and increase the risk for increased climate crisis.

The Risk of Innovation

In Graeme Wood’s article, “Re-Engineering the Earth” on the Atlantic, they discuss the possibilities of solving the climate crisis from a Geo-engineering prospective. The main argument for this, is that it it much more cost effective. Wood claims that “$100 billion could reverse anthropogenic climate change entirely, and some experts suspect that a hundredth of that sum would suffice.” Wood follows that up with “To stop global warming the old-fashioned way, by cutting carbon emissions, would cost on the order of $1 trillion yearly.”

Wood follows this claim by discussing many of the Geo-engineering ideas proposed to solve this problem. Some of them are quite out there, like shooting 840 trillion Frisbee-sized ceramic disks in-between us and the sun. While some are much more reasonable, like building ships that propel sea water in the air to create whiter and fluffier clouds, they still all raise a concern with me.

At some point in the future if we rely on Geo-engineering, we will have to make a very costly decision on what the best method to do so is. Funding any one of the projects discussed would take a very large sum of money and we would only be able to test them on small scales before deciding on one. This small amount of evidence would be what we rely on to solve a global issue and any number of factors could go wrong when scaling up the project.

To me, this is why it seems much smarter to take a route that we have proven works, and instead of geo-engineering a sort of “third state” of the world, we should do our best to revert it back to its first state. Sure the decision could be much more costly, but it is also a much more guaranteed way of solving the climate crisis and has much less possible ramifications on us as a species if something does go wrong when solving it with a geo-engineering solution.