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Conserve Now or Pay Later

While reading the June 15 edition of the Wall Street Journal, I came across an article in the Environment section entitled “It’s Time to Cool the Planet,” contributed by Jamais Cascio of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. The headline was accompanied by a clever illustration of the world resting in a bathtub filled with ice and two fans cooling it from either side. Intrigued, I read on and, I have to say, the content of the article proved to be more shocking than the illustration.

The article outlined a new technology called “geoengineering.” Basically, geoengineering attempts to slow the effects of CO2 emissions by extracting atmospheric carbon and controlling global temperatures through sunlight blocking or reflection. Cascio explains that temperature control is the most timely and cost-efficient method and therefore the most likely to be introduced.

Temperature control is achieved by blocking or reflecting light before it reaches the earth. Aside from laying thousands of square miles of light reflectors across deserts (destroying entire ecosystems) or launching millions of tiny mirrors into orbit (deemed unrealistic), the most feasible approach is to increase the Earth’s reflectivity by injecting tons of sulfates into the stratosphere and pumping seawater into the lower atmosphere. The sulfate will, presumably, generate a similar effect to that of a volcanic eruption, scattering light and creating a cooling effect within a matter of weeks. Pumping seawater into the lower altitudes will produce new clouds and thicken existing ones in order to reflect more sunlight. If the phrase, “playing god” hasn’t crossed your mind yet, I compel you to consider the effects of this course of action.

Although Cascio maintains his “reluctant support” of geoengineering, he goes on to list several possible consequences of its introduction. First, sulfate injection, as well as cloud intensification, will have unpredictable effects on global weather conditions.  Unprecedented levels of rainfall or drought could affect areas and studies suggest that, if geoengineering were to abruptly stop, global temperatures could spike. Second, manipulation of the environment cannot be contained to one area. The changes we make in one place will have global effects regardless of political boundaries. So, who decides what the world’s temperatures should be or who is allowed to influence major changes to the environment? This leads to further implications if geoengineering could be manipulated into a military weapon.

Reading these side effects prompted me to wonder how we have come to this point. Are we a world in such environmental disarray that we consider global plans with unpredictable, precarious and highly dangerous implications? Whether you believe in reversing global warming or just reducing your impact and conserving our resources, don’t you think its time to start taking personal responsibility before world leaders are forced to intervene? It’s clear that we are running out of time before drastic measures begin to take place. So here is my cry: do your part, conserve, show the world that we can take matters into our own hands and we don’t need scientists to save us from ourselves.


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