Can 'Geo-Engineering' Save the Earth?

Perhaps recycling and compact fluorescent lights aren’t exciting anymore — but media have recently latched onto the concept of geo-engineering as a means of combatting climate change.

For now, geo-engineering remains theoretical, and imagines large- scale projects such as man-made volcanic eruptions and giant algae farms.

Shell Oil is already exploring the field, according to the environmental Web site Mongabay, by investing in a project that adds lime to seawater as a means of increasing carbon dioxide absorbtion by the world’s oceans.

At least some climate scientists are apparently excited about the field, too.

British science group the Royal Society this month published a special collection of papers on geo-engineering, and the Economist magazine published a run-down of some of the most elaborate ideas.

One of the better received plans appears to be that of Jonathan Latham of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, who proposes a fleet of unmanned ships that would pump seawater vapor into the atmosphere in order to make that clouds reflect sunlight back into space.

Still, the scientists coming up with geo-engineering plans are quick to point out that theirs are not cure-all solutions, but instruments of last resort.

“The carbon numbers just don’t add up and we need to be looking at other options, namely geo-engineering, to give us time to let the world come to its senses,” Brian Launder, a mechanical engineer at the University of Manchester, told the Guardian newspaper.

Others expressed skepticism about geo-engineering, citing the risk of disastrous unforeseen side effects.

Still Scientific American blogger David Biello wrote, “we’re already unwittingly running such a global scale experiment. It’s known as climate change.”

–Will Crain/


“A changing climate of opinion?”
The Economist, September 4, 2008

“Extreme and risky action the only way to tackle global warming, say scientists”
The Guardian, September 1, 2008

“Geoengineering may be tech’s answer to global warming”
ZDNet, August 18, 2008

“Geoengineering solution No. 9: The Flying Dutchman solves global warming”, September 8, 2008

“Shell Oil funds ‘open source’ geoengineering project to fight global warming”, July 21, 2008

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