Magazine article New Internationalist

Hands off Our Mother!

Magazine article New Internationalist

Hands off Our Mother!

Article excerpt

It used to be that 'stepping lightly on the planet' was considered common sense for addressing global warming, but a brash new breed of planet-savers has a more heavy-handed suggestion. Since action on reducing greenhouse gases is proving ineffective, they argue, it might soon be necessary to deliver Mother Earth a huge technological smack in the climate system. For her own good, of course.

Welcome to the concept of geoengineering - large-scale schemes that propose manipulating planetary systems to counteract global warming. Humans have inadvertently altered the global environment before, but geoengineering differs in that it brings intentionality to messing with our planet. Geoengineering proposals range from dumping iron in the ocean to grow CU2-gobbling plankton, to polluting the upper atmosphere with sulphur particles to mimic large volcanoes. Such volcanoes have occasionally cooled down the atmosphere before. Unfortunately, they can also cause monsoons to weaken and fail, intensifying hunger in the tropics.

Sounds risky and dangerous? Of course it is. Seductive to policymakers? Yes, that too. But as billionaire airline tycoon Richard Branson baldly told the press last year: 'If we could come up with a geoengineering answer to this problem... we could carry on flying our planes and driving our cars.'

With little or no public awareness, geoengineering has become a multi-million dollar gambit, with private companies and well-known individuals now jockeying to test out their theories on an unsuspecting planet. The US Congress and British House of Commons have just completed a round of hearings to determine how much money they should allocate to the first tranche of real-world geoengineering experiments. In March 2010, almost 200 geoengineers met in California to draw up voluntary codes of conduct on manipulating the planet. Meanwhile, a team of scientists in Russia, led by controversial climatologist Yuri Izrael, has already begun seeding the skies with sulphur and is promising more. …

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