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Thinking about geo-engineering

The participants on the Cape Farewell voyage were asked to respond to a talk by David Keith at about geo engineering. Sunand's response was as follows.

What do the Cape Farewell crew think of Geo-Engineering as a solution to climate change? Well, we haven’t all discussed it in depth, but from a few conversations its clear that we share 1: serious worry about the unintended consequences of some of the proposals that have been aired; 2: incredulous amusement about the complete lunacy of others and 3: ill temper at the thought of the promise of technological quick fixes distracting attention from tackling the cultural challenge that climate change poses.

Seeding the oceans or growing algae to re-absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may win Richard Branson’s £25m prize but might they accelerate rather than slow the death of the oceans? As for space mirrors to reflect the sun's rays, the problem is surely not too much sun but the loss of balance of distribution of its energy. Some of the more outlandish proposals certainly have entertainment value, like blasting the earth into a wider orbit or altering the tilt of its axis, as long as we leave it there.

For a few centuries we have done something that seemed so innocent at the time: get stuff out of the ground and burn it. We are only just appreciating the effects this had on the fine balance that produced and sustained for several thousand years the conditions for our civilisations to flourish. There are effective, feasible solutions for mitigating climate change available now; only the political will is lacking. There are promising new technologies desperately needing investment.

We need to be open to all ideas including geo-engineering which is likely to be a key part of adaptation to climate change: building dykes and barrages against flooding, for example. But climate change needs a more fundamental rethinking of our relationship with the earth.

Read more of Sunand's Cape Farewell blog.

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