The U.S. Department of Energy may begin studying the effects of geoengineering the climate if a proposed budget bill becomes law.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee recently passed a proposed budget bill which would instruct the Department of Energy (DOE) to study the possibility of reflecting sunlight into space as part of an effort fight global warming. The process is known as “albedo modification,” a type of geoengineering.
According to a 2013 congressional report:
The term ‘geoengineering’ describes this array of technologies that aim, through large-scale and deliberate modifications of the Earth’s energy balance, to reduce temperatures and counteract anthropogenic climate change. Most of these technologies are at the conceptual and research stages, and their effectiveness at reducing global temperatures has yet to be proven. Moreover, very few studies have been published that document the cost, environmental effects, socio-political impacts, and legal implications of geoengineering. If geoengineering technologies were to be deployed, they are expected to have the potential to cause significant transboundary effects.
In general, geoengineering technologies are categorized as either a carbon dioxide removal (CDR) method or a solar radiation management (SRM) (or albedo-modification)method. CDR methods address the warming effects of greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. CDR methods include ocean fertilization, and carbon capture and sequestration. SRM methods address climate change by increasing the reflectivity of the Earth’s atmosphere or surface.
Aerosol injection and space-based reflectors are examples of SRM methods. SRM methods do not remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, but can be deployed faster with relatively immediate global cooling results compared to CDR methods.
The proposed budget would also the Army Corps of Engineers, and related agencies for fiscal year 2017, which begins 1 October. The bill does not detail how much money should be spent on geoengineering research. The geoengineering study is included in a bill that would provide $5.4 billion for DOE’s Office of Science next year. Science Mag reports that the study is an attempt to build on the recommendations of a February 2015 report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) entitled “Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth,” which found that albedo modification shouldn’t be deployed now because the risks and benefits were unknown.
Joyce Penner, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor told Science Mag that Albedo modification “is not a solution to global warming, it is only a way to avoid, perhaps, a tipping point in the climate.” David Keith, an atmospheric physicist at Harvard University and longtime advocate of geoengineering programs, says, “Ignorance is not a good basis for making decisions, so learning more about this is extremely valuable even if we find out that it will never work.”
If the bill makes it through committee it will have to be reconciled with the budget approved by the House of Representatives before being signed by the president. Whether the study happens or not, it is clear that scientists are desperately searching for a solution to the changing climate.
Geoengineering has been a controversial topic in recent years, both as a subject of conspiracy research and environmental concerns. One of the reasons the topic is so controversial is because of the possible risks. At least one previous study has found that geoengineering could cause the white haze and loss of blue skies that Long is observing. According to a report by the New Scientist, Ben Kravitz of the Carnegie Institution for Science has shown that releasing sulphate aerosols high in the atmosphere would scatter sunlight into the atmosphere. He says this could decrease the amount of sunlight that hits the ground by 20%, as well as make the sky appear more hazy.
Ironically, the promotion of geoengineering might actually cause more harm than good, including an increase in droughts. In February 2015, an international committee of scientists released a report stating that geoengineering techniques are not a viable alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat the effects of climate change. The committee report called for further research and understanding of various geoengineering techniques, including carbon dioxide removal schemes and solar-radiation management before implementation.
The scientists found that or albedo-modification techniques are likely to present “serious known and possible unknown environmental, social, and political risks, including the possibility of being deployed unilaterally.” The report was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. intelligence community, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Energy.
According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, if geoengineering programs were started and then suddenly halted, the planet could see an immediate rise in temperatures, particularly over land. The study, titled, “The Impact of Abrupt Suspension of Solar Radiation Management,” seems to indicate that once geoengineering begins, the programs cannot be suspended without causing the very problem the engineering was intended to solve.
The dangers associated with geoengineering are not the only controversy. There also exists questions over whether geoengineering programs are already active. This is what is derogatorily called the “Chemtrails Conspiracy.” Essentially, some believe geoengineering is actively taking place in our skies, and the “contrails” are actually geoengineering programs covertly being carried out. The “chemtrails” label comes from the portion of the crowd that believes these programs are delivering dangerous chemical additives to the food, water, soil, and humans below for nefarious purposes.
Regardless of where you stand, it’s important to know the United States government has a history of weather modification. In a 1996 document entitled “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather by 2025,” the U.S. Air Force discussed a number of proposals for using weather as a weapon. The Environmental Modification Treaty was signed by the United States and other nations to halt global weather modification.
But the government did not simply research these ideas. It actually implemented them — prior to its official musings on whether it could. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. government operated covert weather modification programs under Operation Popeye. The government does not only experiment with technology in foreign countries; it likes to try it at home, as well. In 2012, it was revealed that the U.S. Army sprayed toxic chemicals over the skies of St. Louis without informing the public. Anti-Media also recently reported on Professor Alan Robock’s theory that the Central Intelligence Agency is using the weather as a weapon of war.
What are your thoughts? Do you think the U.S. government should study geoengineering? Are the programs already active? Should humanity pursue the technology?
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