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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Geo-Engineering for a Tailor-Made Planet

Tropical Storm NargisGeo-Engineering is “the deliberate modification of Earth’s environment on a large scale “to suit human needs and promote habitability”‘ (via Wikipedia). Until recently it was the stuff of science fiction, a god-like power regulated to unseen aliens or super-futuristic societies. Occasionally planetary catastrophe also ensued.

Yet with climate change and global warming sparking alarm across the globe, some scientists have started to explore the possibility of altering the natural environment on a global scale. Several strategies are outlined below:More...

There are other proposed methods, of course, so consider these as an introduction only. It’s important to note that geo-engineering scientists do not propose this as solutions to global warming, but as emergency measures to avert large-scale human suffering. The only reason it has been suggested that we consider implementing these strategies in the near future is because, in the view of Dr. Paul Crutzen, “there is little reason to be optimistic.” He was referring to current international political efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses.

Of course there is controversy and plenty of people who disagree with implementing geo-engineering. Scientifically, there’s the problem of data; we simply don’t know enough about these huge natural systems to safely manipulate them. There’s also the consequences we are certain about: in most cases, the benefits and detrimental effects will be unevenly distributed across the planet. While one part of the world prospers under cooler climes, another would have their problems compounded.

Who can make that decision? What are the ethics? What would be the social, economic, and cultural implications of upheaval, conflict, and/or refugees in the areas that benefit? Even if we do manage to (partially) improve the weather, the social impact across the globe could negate the benefits. Geo-engineering (but not necessarily geo-engineers) assumes that humans being can and should manipulate the planet to improve their lot, but many people have pointed out that we must still change our habits and lifestyles regardless. Whether we attempt geo-engineering or not, we must still invest in renewable resources.

one meeeeeeellion dollars!Geo-engineers propose this as an “emergency only” measure, but in my opinion, using it with even the best intentions could set a dangerous precedent. Global warming is an unintended form of geo-engineering; is it wise to fight fire with fire? Is it ethical to combat one “evil” with something slightly “less evil”? Could any nation, organization, or individual with enough money hijack the globe by using, or threatening to use, geo-engineering against the populous?

Technology will play a critical role in combating and adapting to climate change, but at some point we will have to limit ourselves. Where should we draw the line, and who will decide? Many critics of geo-engineering agree that we should spend our energy and resources on a solution to the problem, not just to treat the symptoms. There is no fast or simple fix; if we intend to live well for the long haul, we’ll just have to adapt to the limitation of our planet - or expand onto another.

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