Is Geoengineering the Solution to Climate Change? Know What People Say about It

By Liam Gumley, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Liam Gumley, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So Earth Hour has just passed. What’s next for the environmental conservation efforts? Did turning the lights off for Earth Hour really make sense? Obviously, there’s still more to do beyond the one-hour ceremonial darkness. One of the things that can be done is geoengineering or more specifically climate engineering.

What Is Geoengineering?

A portmanteau of the words ”geology” and “engineering,” geoengineering refers to the application of engineering principles and methods on the earth’s surfaces to counteract the effects of climate change or global warming. Some prefer using the phrase “climate engineering” since geoengineering could also be considered as a broad term that encompasses applications that are not just about addressing the problem of climate change. For this discussion, geoengineering shall be used to refer to the manipulation of the earth’s surfaces and the environment in general to counteract the effects of climate change.

How Can Geoengineering Address Climate Change?

Imagine these:

  • Making the atmosphere more reflective (by spraying seawater to clouds for example) to prevent sunlight from further heating the Earth

  • Launching a multitude of “mirror satellites” or satellites with highly reflective  surfaces to deflect solar heat or installing space-based shields to reflect solar radiation.

  • Painting roofs of residential and commercial establishments with pale colors to make them more reflective

  • Fertilizing the oceans to encourage the growth of plant life that can absorb and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

  • Producing terra preta by putting together biochar and soil

  • Carbon air capture and conversion to electricity

These are some of the many ways geoengineering can be put to work to address climate change. There are two approaches in geoengineering: solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. Solar radiation management refers to the blocking or diverting of solar radiation to prevent further temperature increases within Earth’s atmosphere (the first three examples above). Carbon dioxide removal, on the other hand, refers to the conversion of carbon dioxide into oxygen and other byproducts (the latter three examples).

By Beckyq6937 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Beckyq6937 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Why Is Geoengineering Not Being Used?

Reactions to geoengineering range from raised eyebrows to passionate contentions because of its nature. Geoengineering is frowned upon by prominent environmentalists like Al Gore. The former US Vice President event described it as “insane, utterly mad and delusional in the extreme.”

Many tend to dislike the idea of geoengineering because of the prevailing belief that it pushes the limits of what can be considered natural. Geoengineering opponents assert that disrupting nature has more disadvantages than advantages. Reducing solar radiation by modifying the properties of clouds, for example, is widely feared because of the possible harmful effects it can cause on both plants and animals. Additionally, geoengineering is generally a grand undertaking. It has to be realized in massive scales to achieve palpable results. It’s going to be very expensive. It requires a lot of effort and may also rely on high technology.

Why Should It Be Considered an Option?

A favorable opinion on geoengineering was given by Harvard Kennedy School professor  and environmental engineer David Keith. In a recent interview, he asserts that it makes sense giving geoengineering a chance in addressing climate change. Keith, a professor of engineering and applied sciences, is specifically  interested in the solar management aspect of geoengineering.

Keith believes that the problem is not that it’s hard to do geoengineering. He thinks that the more contentious points are “whether we should do it, who controls it, and how well it works.” He is not calling for an immediate adoption of geoengineering but more scientific and political resolve to explore its potentials, benefits, and potential risks.

There is a need to consider geoengineering as an option because of the rate at which global warming is taking place. A rapidly heating planet means quickly rising sea levels, faster ecological damage, and dramatic shifts in living conditions for everyone. Even if the emissions of climate change gases are completely stopped, getting rid of what is already in the atmosphere will take decades to be significantly eliminated.


Addressing the problem of climate change cannot be purely based on solar management methods. Emissions have to be stopped. Keith says that that “in the long run, you have to bring emissions to zero.” The solution is not to circumvent the way nature works. Geoengineering has the potential of slowing down global warming but without conscious efforts to curb harmful emissions, undertaking massive geoengineering projects will amount to nothing.