Combating climate change through geoengineering

By ANNA CHEN | February 8, 2018

Scientists at the University of New South Wales have found that using climate engineering to modify the surface of the land in crowded urban areas and in areas of agricultural growth in North America, Asia and Europe has yielded promising results, reducing extreme temperatures by two to three degrees Celsius (about four to five degrees Fahrenheit). 

Many organizations and individuals actively participate in the effort to curb the size of their own carbon footprints, but it is going to take a lot more to stop and, one day, to reverse the effects of human activity on the global climate. 

Scientists have turned their attention to geoengineering, the large-scale manipulation of the environment in attempt to combat climate change. 

However, ideas such as adding iron to the ocean to counteract its growing acidity, releasing large amounts of sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere or engineering enormous mirrors in space that can reflect sunlight off into a different direction, have been met with skepticism. 

It is difficult to predict the effect that these geoengineering actions would have on the overall climate and on the many organisms that live on Earth. Even if these ideas theoretically work and have been tested in a laboratory, it is impossible to know the larger-scale and long-term impacts.

That is why the new research at the University of New South Wales, recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience, is receiving significant attention. The researchers modeled how changing only the radiative properties of large cities and agricultural areas in three different continents would change average temperature, extreme temperature and rainfall. 

The modifications the scientists modeled include lightening the color of buildings and roads in urban areas and changing crops and engaging in no-till agriculture in farmlands. This study largely eliminates the risk of unexpected outcomes because it aims solely to alter the radiative properties of land surface while allowing for regional testing to ensure the reliability of the method.

They found noticeable change in rainfall solely in Asia and observed only small impacts in lowering average temperature. However, in all three continents, they noticed a significant decrease in temperature extremes. 

With temperature extremes around the globe reaching an all-time high, five degrees Fahrenheit can make a big difference and be the first step in stopping a disastrous future of sweltering summers, agricultural losses and heat-related natural disasters. 

“Regional land-based climate engineering is not a silver bullet, it is just one part of a possible climate solution,” lead author Sonia Seneviratne of ETH Zurich said in a press release.

Although this study appears promising, it is up to the continued efforts of scientists, politicians, environmental enthusiasts and even students to push the movement for a greener world.

People can deny global warming. They can refuse to acknowledge climate change. But they cannot change the facts or hide the truth. Around the world warm days are getting hot, hot days are getting hotter and the hottest days are breaking century-old records. Heat waves are growing in frequency, occurring three times more frequently than the long-term averages as of 2012. 

For residents of many places in Oklahoma and Texas, the summer of 2011 brought more than 100 days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not only are the hottest days increasing in temperature and frequency, but colder days are also getting fewer. 50 years ago, there were just as many daily record high temperatures as record lows. This past decade, record high temperatures have occurred twice as often as record lows. 

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, scientists expect 20 record highs for every record low by the year 2050 if the emission of greenhouse gases is not heavily regulated.

Extreme heat can cause a multitude of other disasters, from drought and wildfires to famine. In fact, extreme heat is considered the deadliest natural disaster in America, claiming the lives of an average of 600 people per year — more than the death tolls of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, lightning and tornadoes combined.

Thus scientists are realizing it is more pressing than ever to find new ways to combat climate change. 

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