Geo-engineering: will meddling with nature lead to disaster?Current affairsNewsScience & Technology
The term geo-engineering, as defined by The Royal Society 2009, refers to “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change”.
Until recently, the manipulation of weather was perceived by many as nothing more than a whacky conspiracy theory, possible only in the realms of science fiction. For some it can be difficult to even comprehend just how thin the line between reality and science fiction actually is. One should stop to consider that, just a few generations back, the aeroplane and the internet were generally considered ludicrous ideas.
The concept of geo-engineering is not new. In the 1830s a meteorologist, James Pollard Espy, suggested the controlled burning of forests to stimulate rain. The idea sounded scientifically dubious but it is a prime precursor to the more serious climate modification proposals that followed.
The practical applications of geo-engineering truly got started in the midst of the Cold War, with the United States and the Soviet Union pursuing weather control for its military applications. The US military actually conducted weather warfare in Vietnam, under the codename Operation Popeye, seeding clouds with silver iodide flares to induce greater rainfall, thus limiting enemy movement.
Geo-engineering has been proposed as an option to mitigate the effects of climate change but its undeniable warfare potential is terrifying. For example, some conspiracy theorists claim that the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), based in an Alaskan air-base jointly funded US air force, the US navy, and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), by shooting lasers and nanoparticles into the sky, is capable of modifying weather, causing storms, floods, and even earthquakes.
There is overwhelming data to show that climate change – most likely induced by human activities – is in fact evident. Its impacts have been devastating and costly, especially in third-world countries, like Bangladesh or Burma, that do not possess the resources needed to recover from a disaster before being struck again.
The effects of climate change could be softened by reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. Unfortunately, several global efforts to minimize emissions have not yielded any significant results, many are left speculating whether the apocalypse is looming over our head?
A desperate search for alternative methods of counteracting climate change has led to a growing interest in geo-engineering. It has been proposed to spray sulphur into the atmosphere so that the earth would receive less sunlight, resulting in a cooling effect. Another idea is to change the chemistry of the world’s oceans to soak up more carbon.
This of course entails some potentially apocalyptic risks. Manipulating the earth’s water and air could, among the countless number of undesirable scenarios, disrupt the delicate food chain or damage the ozone layer. The risks and rewards of geo-engineering are equally paralleled but the dangers of inaction are as dire as ever.