Can a "Dr. Evil" Approach Solve Global Warming?

Scientists are taking seriously proposals to artificially and massively change the Earth's ecosystems -- to "geoengineer" the planet -- to put the brakes on climate change.
April 23, 2009, 6am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"In the last two years, geoengineering has gone from the implausible purview of Dr. Evil-style kooks to a subject of serious scientific and political debate. In the U.K., the Royal Society, the country's de facto academy of science, has launched a major study and a parliamentary committee is preparing a report. In the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences is planning a similar probe. Last week, President Barack Obama's chief science adviser, John Holdren, revealed the administration has been discussing the options, with a focus on scattering-perhaps by plane, balloon, giant floating chimneys, or even artillery fire-massive quantities of sulphates or other aerosols in the upper atmosphere.

The idea is to mimic the effect of massive volcanic eruptions like Mount Pinatubo, which lowered global temperatures by 0.5° C after spewing out 18 million tonnes of SO2 in 1991. But what he didn't mention should be of particular concern to Canadians. The logical lab for such experiments-100,000 tanker plane flights a year per one estimate-would be the Arctic, where the cooling would be of the greatest benefit, restoring sea ice and turning down the global thermostat.

[T]he basic problem with geoengineering [is that] no one is quite sure what happens 'downstream' when you start messing with bits and pieces of the global climate. Would a colder Arctic mean more or less rain in the tropics? If you dissolved more CO2 in the seas, how would that effect marine life? Would the ecosystem be able to handle all that extra sulphur in the atmosphere? The cure could very well end up being worse than the disease."

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Published on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 in Macleans
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