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What Is Geoengineering - An Explanation Of Geoengineering

Geoengineering refers to the process of impacting the climate directly through human activity. The aim of this would be to mitigate the impact of global warming that has resulted from the emissions of greenhouse gases from various sources - human activities like the burning of fossil fuel, and cattle and various other sources.

So is this a good idea? Well, there are many different potential ways of tackling climate change, and this remains one of the most controversial. This is because of the potential risk or danger - doing something to change the environment could have an unforeseen and damaging impact on the climate.

The climate is a system that is very, very complicated to model indeed - in fact scientists who have studied the climate for a long, long time to some extent have relatively little knowledge about what causes various weather patterns and the impact of different weather systems around the world and effects on our weather - such as how important, or not, sunspots and periods of strong, or less, solar activity.

There are a cornucopia of feedback mechanisms to consider, some short term, others long term, some subtle, others not so subtle, and when these will be triggered can be very hard to determine. Then when a feedback mechanism is triggered, the impact on other cycles has to be taken into account: will one lead to another, and lead to some sort of runaway... and so on and so forth!

In short, this means that geoengineering is inherently risky. One of the favoured approaches would be to use a sulphurous gas - specifically sulphur dioxide - placed in the stratosphere to help cool down the planet, because it will reflect the suns light rather than absorb it like greenhouse gases.

Will geoengineering happen? Who knows. And who knows what testing is being done around the world by governments to see if it is likely to work and try to work out the impact. The important thing is that there should be a public debate about the various options for mitigating climate change, and what the relevant pros and cons are, so that people can make an informed decision. However the financial crisis of the last couple of years around the world, the environmental agenda has taken a back seat, but this does not mean it is not still there.

Date published: 26 Jul 2010

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