19 October 2019
By William Butcher
Can we invent our way out of the climate crisis?
Geoengineering involves methods that seek to deliberately alter the climate system to lessen the effects of climate change, such as carbon capture technology, dumping iron filings in the ocean to promote the growth of phytoplankton, or injecting aerosols in the stratosphere and giant mirrors in space to reflect the sun’s rays. Crazy ideas like these have been discussed as far back as the 1960’s, when the threat of global warming itself was first debated.
Once seen as spooky sci-fi, geoengineering is now being considered by a growing number of scientists who say it may be time to give these controversial technologies a serious look, as CO2 levels continue to rise and time is running out.
Report after report give dire scientific warnings about the limited time we have remaining, and yet ‘business as usual’ seems to continue regardless. It is easy to be pessimistic about what the future holds for us all, as rising sea levels are already threatening some island nations and coastal cities, or forest fires, natural disasters and heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent.
However, there are also many reasons for us to be optimistic, as the world is slowly changing, and people are becoming increasingly aware and demanding for change. Take for example the recent growth in sustainable finance and socially responsible investment (see PRI or Triodos Bank), social entrepreneurs that address social and environmental issues through their products and services (see Fast Forward 2030), green infrastructure that make our cities more liveable (see Edible Bus Stop or GreenCitySolutions), or sustainable food systems that store carbon or reduce ‘food miles’ (see Carbon Farming, Plantagon or Growing Underground).
An important question we should be asking ourselves is whether a tech-led approach to the climate crisis is unavoidable, or in danger of making us all complacent.
Technology can only ever be part of the solution. Drastic systemic and individual lifestyle changes and above all, a strong political will are fundamental to resolve our climate crisis.
Even if geoengineering is technically possible, the technology is still developing, and there are major uncertainties regarding its effectiveness, costs, and wider environmental impacts. Not to mention the moral hazard it creates by suggesting an “easy fix” for global warming, giving politicians an excuse to delay the systemic change that is so badly needed.
One thing is for certain: nature has the answers to our problems. We know natural ecosystems play a huge role in sequestering carbon and regulating climate. It seems obvious, therefore, that restoration and expansion of these ecosystems including reforestation, rewilding urban and rural areas, and better soil management, will play a crucial role.
That’s one good reason why we endeavour to introduce an element of urban greening and biodiversity to all our projects at KLH, alongside technical innovation and collaborative working!