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.