Geoengineering and the future

Geoengineering is a term I’m increasingly seeing bandied around these days in relation to gaining the upper hand on global warming – and it scares the hell out of me, even more so than climate change.

Geoengineering is the intentional, global modification of Earth’s environment by humans – so it’s a little different to the issues we see in relation to climate change as that was accidental (for want of a better term). It’s not just global warming we’ve caused, we’ve accidentally “geoengineered” the heck out of this planet over the last few hundred years in so many ways.

But what we’re hearing now is proposals for a different sort of deliberate geoengineering to counteract the damage we’ve done. Some of it’s pretty drastic – for example, Professor Tim Flannery’s “global dimming” concept whereby sulphur would be pumped into our atmosphere to deflect the sun’s rays or seeding the oceans with iron to stimulate plankton growth that would in turn sequester carbon.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Can you imagine even floating these ideas 20 years ago? How times change.

In fact, geoengineering strategies are gaining more acceptance as the effects of climate change start kicking in faster than previously predicted. The problem is that these strategies are incredibly drastic and have never been tried before so nobody knows what the full effects may be.

In many ways it reminds me of the nursery rhyme about the old woman who swallowed a fly. She then swallowed a spider to catch the fly, then a bird to catch the spider.. and so on and so on; with the ultimate result of her dying after swallowing a horse.

To me, this is what geoengineering represents – it’s our “F” on the planetary report card. Total and utter failure and that perhaps we don’t deserve to be bailed out. Like children often do, perhaps we need to learn the hard way.

Keep the sulphur in the canisters and the iron on the land; bring on whatever may come if it comes to that. Let nature sort it out, however harshly it may do so. The thought of looking up at a yellowish sky sends shivers down my spine. The idea of massive reflectors in space revolts me. It’s not what I signed on for.

I sincerely hope that the deliberate geoengineering of Planet Earth stays in the realms of science fiction. It’s encouraging to see, hear and read about growing numbers of people who are prepared to lighten their environmental impact rather than leave it to science apply a quick fix – as that would only be a bandaid over a gangrenous wound.

Here’s something interesting about living green – it’s not just about hopefully preventing environmental disaster, it’s about preparing for it should it happen – things like growing your own vegetables, harvesting rainwater, conserving water; learning to live with less and doing more with it. It’s, as someone put it so well, working for the best while preparing for the worst.

As I watched the sun set tonight, I remembered back to a time when sometimes sunsets weren’t always red on a clear evening. It’s been many years since I’ve seen such a thing. While a red sunset is beautiful in its own way; it’s a constant reminder, even out here in the middle of nowhere, of just how much of an impact we’ve had on this planet in such a short time.

I’d like to think that future generations may look up to a sky that’s blue rather than live in a real life Blade Runner type environment – that’s not a gift for our children, but a curse.