My Thoughts On Geoengineering

Jan 25, 2024

I used to be an engineer, and now I’m a climate campaigner.

I think this is what causes my specific frustration when people uncritically bring up geoengineering as a climate solution, as if technology is somehow our golden-ticket for escaping climate breakdown. I’ve seen it happen a few times recently so have jumbled some thoughts together here, but would highly recommend doing some further reading as blogging is not really my forte. The chapter ‘Dimming the sun’ from Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ is a great start, and where I was first introduced to some of the ideas I explore far more briefly below.

What is geoengineering?

Geoengineering is the use of technology to deliberately alter aspects of the Earth’s atmosphere to try and avoid climate breakdown. It includes things like Carbon Capture, and Solar Radiation Management (SRM) – which is where particles are sprayed into the atmosphere for the purpose of deflecting some of the sun’s rays and heat.

So what’s the issue?

Each of these technologies comes with it’s own problems. Carbon Capture just isn’t at a stage in development where it could be meaningfully implemented large-scale, it’s currently very expensive and not particularly efficient, and with Solar Radiation Management you have to pretty much go from a model to full scale global implementation. Models of SRM have shown that spraying particles into the atmosphere could severely impact weather patterns particularly for those in the Global South, who have contributed the least to climate breakdown and under SRM could face drought, and a massive loss in rainfall during monsoon seasons. This would have a hugely detrimental effect on agriculture, potentially leading to food insecurity and famine.

Not only are these solutions not ready, or potentially very harmful, they’re also a total disraction from the climate solutions we already have. The promise of some kind of golden-ticket geoengineering solution is frequently used as an excuse by politicians and polluting corporations to keep kicking the can down the road and emitting masses of carbon, under the guise that technology will save us. Meanwhile, countless climate solutions are being completely ignored.

The International Energy Agency has said that we can’t have any new fossil fuel projects if we want a liveable future, but Governments in the UK, the USA, and elsewhere are approving and opening massive new oil and gas projects – when we know that’s not in line with their own climate targets, let alone avoiding climate breakdown. Another climate solution comes in the form of natural carbon capture via carbon sinks, like our forests and oceans, but we’re continuing to destory these through deforestation, overfishing, and other harmful practices e.g. land dispossesion.

Technological solutions to the climate crisis tend to favour the status quo, whereas solutions like indigenous sovereignty favour climate justice. This isn’t to say that technology can’t be part of the puzzle, there is no simple answer to climate breakdown, but we cannot rely on technology alone. Renewable energy systems are a perfect example of this, provided they come alongside a phase-out of polluting infrastructure and the dismantling of our capitalist system.

By uncritically pushing geoengineering as a climate solution, we risk delaying and ignoring solutions that actually tackle the root causes of the climate crisis in favour of those that don’t.

Just remember that the best solutions to any issue tend to tackle the root causes. For the climate crisis, this is extraction and exploitation, not a lack of technology.