New research shows how a controversial plan to rein in global warming caused by runaway greenhouse gases could bring a "new unintended side-effect over a large part of the planet" that could be as bad as the effects of rising CO2.
The study by researchers at the University of Reading published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters used climate model simulations to show potential effects of one method of "geoengineering."
The Guardian reports that
The controversial idea of geoengineering – deliberately changing the Earth's climate – is being seriously discussed as a last-ditch way of avoiding dangerous global warming if efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions fail.
But the new work shows that a leading contender – pumping sulphate particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight – could have side-effects just as serious as the effects of warming itself. Furthermore, the impacts would be different around the world, raising the prospect of conflicts between nations that might benefit and those suffering more damage.
"We have shown that one of the leading candidates for geoengineering could cause a new unintended side-effect over a large part of the planet," BBC News quotes study co-author Dr. Andrew Charlton-Perez as saying.
Specifically, the BBC continues, putting these sulphate particles into the stratosphere—"stratospheric aerosol geoengineering"—means that
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Rainfall around the tropics could be cut by 30% with significant impacts on rainforests in South America and Asia and increasing drought in Africa.
The changes would happen so quickly there would be little time to adapt, say the researchers.
"When stratospheric aerosol geoengineering is represented more realistically using a sulfate aerosol layer there is additional atmospheric heating from the aerosol layer which weakens the tropical circulation, suppressing convection and further reducing precipitation," the researchers write in their study.
"Consequently, though stratospheric aerosol geoengineering could be used compensate for the surface warming produced by CO2 globally, or even regionally, there is a tropical precipitation change of the opposite sign to and greater in magnitude than the long-term response to CO2," the study finds.
Arguing against the use of geoengineering on Democracy Now! in 2010, Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva echoed Einstein's warning that "you can’t solve problems with the same mindset that created them."
... it is the idea of being able to engineer our lives on this very fragile and complex and interrelated and interconnected planet that’s created the mess we are in. It’s an engineering paradigm that created the fossil fuel age, that gave us climate change. And Einstein warned us and said you can’t solve problems with the same mindset that created them. Geoengineering is trying to solve the problems with the same old mindset of controlling nature. And the phrase that was used, of cheating — let’s cheat — you can’t cheat nature. That’s something people should recognize by now. There is no cheating possible. Eventually, the laws of Gaia determine the final outcome. [...]
And the final issue is that these shortcuts that are attempted from places of power — and I would add, places of ignorance — of the ecological web of life, are then creating the war solution, because geoengineering becomes war on a planetary scale, with ignorance and blind spots, instead of taking the real path, which is helping communities adapt and become resilient.