Hacking the planet to rein in humanity’s effect on the climate has been given a scientific stamp of approval.
The umbrella body for meteorological scientists in the US is about to endorse research into geoengineering as part of a three-pronged approach to coping with climate change, alongside national policies to reduce emissions.
New Scientist has seen the final draft of the American Meteorological Society‘s carefully worded position paper on geoengineering. The AMS is the first major scientific body to officially endorse research into geoengineering.
The document states that “deliberately manipulating physical, chemical, or biological aspects of the Earth system” should be explored alongside the more conventional approaches to climate change. Conventional approaches means reducing emissions – “mitigation” in policy-speak – and adjusting to the unavoidable effect of climate change – known as “adaptation”.
The paper states that “even aggressive mitigation of future emissions cannot avoid dangerous climate changes resulting from past emissions. Furthermore, it is unlikely that all of the expected climate-change impacts can be managed through adaptation. Thus, it is prudent to consider geoengineering’s potential benefits, to understand its limitations, and to avoid ill-considered deployment”.
Opponents of geoengineering may be reassured to find that the statement calls for studies into the social, ethical and legal implications of geoengineering solutions, and for methods to be developed in a transparent fashion.
A New Scientist special report on geoengineering earlier this year highlighted the need for such studies. Research, including some private studies, into geoengineering solutions is gathering pace and it’s likely that small and eventually large-scale trials will soon be carried out.
Yet there are few, if any, international frameworks in place that can regulate attempts to engineer the climate, despite the fact that the impacts of large-scale geoengineering will be felt on a regional and possibly global scale.
“I think this is an important step towards developing an ‘official’ research programme on intentional climate intervention established in the United States,” says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, California, and a proponent of research into geoengineering.
“I think it is increasingly likely that we will see government funded research programs into ways to decrease the amount of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations,” he says.