April 8, 2009

Obama Advisor Says US Must Consider Geoengineering

President Barack Obama's science and technology director told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the controversial use of geoengineering needs to be considered an option for combating global climate change.

"It's got to be looked at," said Holdren in his first interview since being confirmed.

"We don't have the luxury of taking any approach off the table."

Geoengineering involves manipulation of the environment on a large scale using methods such as fertilizing the Earth's oceans with nutrients or using giant mirrors to reflect dangerous rays.

Holdren, a 65-year-old physicist, identified several "tipping points" such as the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic that could result in "really intolerable consequences," he told the AP.

The National Academy of Science as well as the British parliament have also been discussing the effects of geoengineering to halt climate change.

Additionally, the AP reports that the American Meteorological Society is developing a policy statement that claims "it is prudent to consider geoengineering's potential, to understand its limits and to avoid rash deployment."

But Holdren said the possible side effects of these proposed geoengineering methods must be considered first.

In a January report published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, a team of researchers from Britain's University of East Anglia conducted the first study to determine the climate cooling potential of various geoengineering schemes.

"The realization that existing efforts to mitigate the effects of human-induced climate change are proving wholly ineffectual has fuelled a resurgence of interest in geo-engineering," said the study's lead author Professor Tim Lenton, of UEA's School of Environmental Sciences.

"We found that some geoengineering options could usefully complement mitigation, and together they could cool the climate, but geoengineering alone cannot solve the climate problem," said Lenton.

Additionally, researchers acknowledged "the beneficial effects of some geo-engineering schemes have been exaggerated in the past and significant errors made in previous calculations."

In a previous study in April 2008, Simone Tilmes of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and colleagues studied the effects of a widely discussed idea by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen and other researchers to regularly inject large amounts of Sun-blocking sulfate particles into the stratosphere.

Sulfur particles from volcanic eruptions have shown a reduction in the surface temperatures of the Earth, however Tilmes said more time is needed to plan before action is taken.

"Our research indicates that trying to artificially cool off the planet could have perilous side effects," said Tilmes. "While climate change is a major threat, more research is required before society attempts global geoengineering solutions."


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