Geoengineering and Climate Change Mitigation

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Within the past few decades, there has been no political or public discussion as heated and controversial as the debate over climate change. Climate disputes can be traced back all the way to 1837, when Louis Agassiz proposed a theory claiming that Switzerland had once been covered with large ice sheets, and have become a big part of the international scientific community since then (Archer and Rahmstorf 2010). Today, climate change is not only a scientific issue, but it has grown into an economic and political issue as well. The rising amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, most of which has been added through human activities, has caused a climb in the average temperatures around the planet. This can have huge effects on the future of the Earth as we know it, and these plausible effects of a rising temperature have resulted in a massive uproar in today’s society. There have been many proposed solutions to the current problem of climate change, such as alternate energy or emission cuts, but no solution seems to be as unbelievable, innovative, and interesting as geoengineering. Geoengineering, which is defined by New York Times journalist William J. Broad as the “rearranging of the Earth’s environment on a large scale to suit human needs and promote habitability,” dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century, and now holds an odd place in the scientific and political debate over climate change (1, Broad 2006). To many in the scientific community, most geoengineering ideas are seen as crazy and expensive. However, in order to fully understand geoengineering’s role in the climate change discussion, one must learn about the ideas that geoengineers have come up with in order to mitigate these changes. It is also necessary to understand which of these proposed ideas are realistic and which being considered seriously as contenders in the race to cure the warming of our planet.

The most important part of understanding geoengineering is first understanding climate change and the recent global warming. In 1827, mathematician Joseph Fourier formulated a theory in which he reasoned that “if the outgoing infrared energy is blocked by gases in the atmosphere, analogous to a pane of glass in a greenhouse, the temperature of the surface of the planet would rise,” hence his naming of the idea ‘the greenhouse effect’ (8, Archer 2010). In short, Fourier’s theory explained that when sunlight reaches the Earth, it is absorbed and then radiated back out as infrared energy, which is then caught by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Next, the increase in atmospheric energy results in hotter temperatures on Earth. Therefore, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere correlates directly with the amount of atmospheric energy and the temperature on Earth. A few decades later, John Tyndall was able to label carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor as greenhouse gasses that would cause heating on the planet, and at the end of the century Svante Arrhenius calculated that “doubling [carbon dioxide] in the atmosphere would increase the temperature of the Earth by on average [four to six degrees celsius]” (8, Archer 2010). By taking ice cores to figure out past atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, today’s scientists have been able show that the concentration of carbon dioxide has jumped 100 parts per million from 1850 to 2000 (Figure 1). Also, scientists have calculated that the global mean temperature has gone from 13.7 degrees celsius in 1850 to 14.5 degrees celsius in 2006 (Figure 2). Today, the greenhouse effect is considered the main cause of the alarming warming that has occurred within the past century; this is due to the anthropogenic emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the year 1850 and on. This information makes it easy to realize that in order for geoengineering to be helpful, it must include a way to either cool the temperature of the planet or remove the greenhouse gasses from the...
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