Extreme Climate "fixing"


By Ashley Peterson

FieldThe Earth is getting hotter. The average temperature of our planet has been rising rapidly in response to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, which add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. If man continues to produce these gases at current or faster rates, the negative impacts on the planet will be great. While many scientists and environmentalists remain focused on ways to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere, others have begun exploring various “geoengineering” technologies.

Geoengineering is defined as “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming.” Below are just a few of the climate engineering ideas scientists have proposed to tackle global warming.

Artificial Volcanoes

When volcanoes erupt they emit giant, sulfur-rich clouds into the atmosphere. The particles that make up these clouds act like tiny mirrors that reflect the sun’s light and heat into space. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991 in the Philippines, the sulfur cloud cooled the Earth by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit the following year. Some scientists have proposed that building artificial volcanoes to pump bits of sulfur-heavy material, similar to volcanic ash, into the atmosphere could produce a similar level of cooling.

Cloud Ships

In theory these wind-powered devices take in ocean water and spray a fine mist of sea salt, which creates ocean clouds that are denser and whiter than regular clouds, thus reflecting more of the sun’s heat back into space.

White Roofs

Perhaps one of the simplest geoengineering fixes is to make roofs more reflective by painting them white. Dark roofs reflect about 10 to 20 percent of sunlight, whereas light-colored, “cool roofs,” send about 70 to 80 percent of the sun’s rays back into space. What’s more, reflective-roofed buildings don’t get as hot on the inside, thus reducing the need for air conditioning.

The total effects of most geoengineering endeavors are not well understood, and most are met with some level of opposition. While these types of ideas could someday help address the effects of climate change, they will not serve as substitutes for emission controls or stop global warming in its tracks. Nevertheless, scientists recognize that new ideas and innovation will prove vital in addressing our planet’s most pressing issue.

Classroom Discussion

  • What is one thing that you can do to help address climate change and global warming on a small scale?
  • Which of the ideas listed do you think could be the most effective plan for moderating global warming?