Monday, 11 January 2016

The Public Perception and COP21 Requirements

For the past few months this blog has analysed various geoengineering processes, including both SRM and CDR. This blog-post aims to discuss your thoughts and poll results, with a combination of academic literature, to assess people’s feelings on geoengineering.  I also wish to assess the COP21 agreement in reference to keep global temperatures lower than the 2oC threshold.

Uncertainty of geoengineering processes

The impacts that may be induced by geoengineering are unknown, leading to high levels of uncertainty for most people (Corner et al 2013).  Geoengineering is expected to decrease global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, however, most processes have been experimented at only a laboratory scale or a small scale (as mentioned in previous blogs).  Although, climate change models are used to predict impacts of geoengineering processes, it is hard to ensure that these processes will perform exactly as expected.   Computational models tend to be unable to take into account all factors that may influence the atmosphere during geoengineering, as it is too complicated to process (Davies 2010).  Hence, creating a concern as to how geongineering may influence the environment and the water cycle.

Furthermore, people feel insecure to use geoengineering, as it may cause unexpected negative impacts, and there is no ‘undo button’.  Geoengineering processes may not work as expected and a malfunction may suddenly release large amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, at an alarmingly fast rate (Virgoe 2009).  Figure 1 highlights that a failure in geoengineering could increase temperatures 20 times faster than current rates of increased temperature (Bala 2009).  If this occurs, the impacts may be irreversible, leading to a large degradation of the atmosphere.  People may not have enough time to adapt against sudden plumes of carbon dioxide, causing health hazards.   Therefore, making people more sceptical to undertake geoengineering processes.

Figure 1: Implementation of SRM geoengineering and the failure scenario
Source: Baum et al 2013

Ethical and Moral Issues

A great concern occurs when regarding moral and ethical issues.  People fear that with adaptations of geoengineering methods, nations may assume that they do not have to mitigate their CO2 levels in the atmosphere (Davies 2010).  This may occur as geoengineering may be comprehended as a ‘quick fix’ and people may think that a sufficient solution has been found, creating a disincentive to further decrease fossil fuel emissions and increase renewable energy (Davies 2010).

Moreover, people may feel they do not need to be responsible for their actions, as scientists with improved technology, will always find a solution to problems they inflict on Earth (Davies 2010).   Therefore, encouraging people to not think of any negative influences induced on the environment, by their actions.  This behaviour may increase species extinction rates and negatively influence ecosystems (Bala 2009).

People are the main cause of climate change impacts.  Since the industrial revolution people have been increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, leading to high temperatures and an increase in green house gases (Corner and Pidgeon 2010).  Therefore, Corner and Pidgeon (2010) suggest, since people play an important factor in negatively influencing the Earth, they should not try to ‘artificially fix’ the Earth through geoengineering, as they are likely to create further problems. 


Additionally, some geoengineering processes may have impacts at a global scale.  Therefore, questions arise regarding what organisation, nation or person should decide if geoengineering should be implemented and which type of geoengineering processes should be applied to reduce carbon dioxide levels.  Some countries may not want geoengineering to take place.  However due to global scale impacts, they may have no choice since other countries may be determined to promote this process (The Royal Society 2009).  Moreover, if all nations benefit from geoengineering, a question evolves to who should pay for the implementation (The Royal Society 2009).  Some nations argue that the developed countries should pay, as they are economically stable and have contributed greatly in increasing global carbon dioxide levels.  Controversially it is argued that developing countries are also using fossil fuels to a great degree and are also emitting carbon dioxide emissions, thus they should also pay for the installation of geoengineering. However, developing countries may be unable to do so, as they are not economically stable (The Royal Society 2009).

Poll Results

When looking at both polls (Figure 2), it is evident that most votes are similar to the beliefs found in academic literature.  At present, there are 13 votes for SRM methods and 16 votes for CDR methods.  Although the number of votes may not be large enough to draw academic conclusions, it can be compared to academic papers.  The results draw the conclusion that a high proportion of people feel that no geoengineering methods should be implemented, as they are unsafe and risky towards people and the environment.  This is highlighted, as it is the most popular selected option, with 46% of SRM votes and 37% of CDR votes.  In the case of SRM methods two other options, both gained 23% of the votes, these were white roofs; and green and PV roofs.  These options are considered soft geoengineering methods, as the technology used is simple and more natural, hence people may feel content that side effects may not drastically impact the Earth like other SRM methods (Corner et al 2013).  This observation is also seen in CDR methods as Enhanced Weathering and Afforestation/Reforestation both gained 19% of the votes. 


Figure 2: SRM and CDR Poll Results

However, to my surprise, when regarding CDR methods, Carbon Dioxide Capture also gained 25% of votes, even though it can be perceived as a technologically advanced method.  By looking at people’s comments on previous blog-posts, it can be deduced that this process, implementing Carbon Dioxide Capture, may be more effective than other processes with minimal environmental impacts.  Therefore, people may be more comfortable to use this process, even though it is costly and requires large amounts of water.

Furthermore, it is evident through the polls people are more content using CDR methods rather than SRM methods (Corner et al 2013).  This may be because most CDR methods are an enhancement of natural processes to reduce CO2, whereas SRM uses mechanical ways to change global temperatures.  Furthermore, the main aim of SRM is to increase sun reflection to reduce global temperatures and does not reduce CO2 levels, which is the main reason climate change impacts are occurring (Davies 2010).  Nevertheless, this is controversial as the immediately feasible and most researched geoengineering methods are SRM methods rather than CDR methods (Brogan 2015)

COP21 Agreement

The recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) took place in Paris in December.  The nations that participated agreed that global temperatures should only increase by a maximum of 2oC, with a main aim to only reach a 1.5oC increase in average global temperatures when compared to pre-industrial levels (UNFCCC 2015).  A very ambitious aim that gives false hope of a solution to mitigate climate change impacts (Bawden 2016).  However, this aim is very hard to achieve, as it requires fast rates of COreduction, which are highly unlikely to be achieved by 2030 by cutting fossil fuels (Bawden 2016).  Many scientists feel that renewable energy is not technologically advanced to reduce climate change impacts to the desired degree (Upton 2015).  Hence, for the COP21 agreement to be successful, it is likely that geoengineering methods will have to be applied.  It can also be argued that the COP21 agreement indirectly suggests the implementation of geoengineering, as it requests the safe use of carbon sinks (see previous blogs) and suggests sufficient technological advancement should be implemented to mitigate climate change impacts (UNFCCC 2015).  The positive aspect of the COP21, is the agreement to have no negative impacts inflicted on ecosystems, the environment, people and food security (UNFCCC 2015).

Many scientists feel that actions against climate change need to be taken now, to avoid catastrophic impacts (Bawden 2016). The COP21 agreement was fundamental in emphasising that actions needed to be taken immediately (UNFCCC 2015).  Hence, many scientists are against geoengineering but feel that this process needs to be implemented, as it may be the only solution to delay climate change impacts (Upton 2015).  Scientists believe there has not been a substantial change when trying to mitigate climate change impacts through renewable energy and a reduction of fossil fuels.  They also feel, geoengineering should be a temporary solution until renewable energy develops further and replaces fossil fuels (Upton 2015).


Overall, people feel that geoengineering is a process of high uncertainty and many unpredicted negative impacts may take place.  However, climate change impacts are becoming more apparent and global temperatures are increasing.  Although geoengineering is not the ideal solution, I feel that it could delay climate change impacts allowing renewable energy to advance to an efficient level where fossil fuels are not needed.  I believe that some geoengineering processes may be more beneficial than others; and with an increase of research and technological advancement, some processes may have limited or no impacts on ecosystems, the hydrological cycle or food security.  I believe we are at a stage that geoengineering may have to be a temporary solution to delay further increases of global temperatures.  I personally, will feel more reassured if nations implement geoengineering processes that will be further researched and have minimal impacts.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.

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