Rice is one crop that might benefit from future geoengineering endeavors, according to a new study. (Photo/Deeporaj).
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.
What if the unpredictable effects of climate change arrive quicker than expected? Advocates of geoengineering, which involves manipulating the Earth’s climate with technological mechanisms, some of which, like blasting large mirrors into space to reflect sunlight, come straight from the annals of science fiction, argue that geoengineering could offer a last resort fix to save the planet. It could be used as a form of “insurance,” as Graeme Pearman of Monash University has put it. Critics, however, worry that if climate quick fixes are on hand there will be little reason for nations to cut their carbon emissions and reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Earlier this month the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report that recommends the government start researching the potential of geoengineering technologies to counteract the impacts of climate change.
Among other things, possible strategies include removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This could be done by building machines that suck carbon dioxide from the air and then storing the gas underground. Another option is to cool the Earth by increasing the amount of solar energy that is reflected back to space. Scientists could do this by putting tiny particles, or liquid droplets, into the stratosphere to deflect incoming solar radiation.