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Geoengineering Could Aid Future Food Yields but Overall Safety Still Uncertain

Rice is one crop that might benefit from future geoengineering endeavors, according to a new study. (Photo/Deeporaj). (via commons.wikimedia.org)

By Brendon Bosworth

Geoengineering, which involves manipulating the Earth’s climate via a set of technological methods, has been proposed as one way to cool down the planet to stave off the impacts of global warming in future. Now, researchers are looking at how tweaking the climate might affect global food supplies.

A new study, based on computerized climate simulations, by Carnegie’s Julia Pongratz, along with leading geoengineering researcher Ken Caldeira, suggests that sunshade geoengineering — which involves spraying small sulfate particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space — could improve food security and increase yields of crops including wheat, rice and corn in future. At the same time, this technology could have uneven effects on climate in different parts of the world and unforeseen consequences for precipitation. Also, it will do nothing to combat the impacts of ocean acidification.

The Boulder Stand’s webmaster, Ted Burnham has a detailed article, ‘Geoengineered Food? Climate Fix Could Boost Crop Yields, But With Risks,’ about the study by Pongratz, Caldeira and their colleagues at NPR’s food blog, the Salt, where he is currently working as an intern.

As Burnham’s article concludes:
‘Until researchers learn more about the specific consequences of geoengineering, neither Pongratz nor Caldeira is endorsing the idea.

“Tinkering with planetary-scale processes is a very risky business, and one that I think most people would not want to undertake lightly,” Caldeira says. “I think it’s the sort of thing that people wouldn’t consider unless our backs are against the wall.”’

In a press release, Pongratz echoes these sentiments. “The climate system is not well enough understood to exclude the risks of severe unanticipated climate changes, whether due to our fossil-fuel emissions or due to intentional intervention in the climate system,” she says. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is therefore likely a safer option than geoengineering to avert risks to global food security.”

For the full story read Burnham’s article at NPR: ‘Geoengineered Food? Climate Fix Could Boost Crop Yields, But With Risks.

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