Scientists have shown that blasting tiny particles into the stratosphere could reflect enough sunlight back into space to keep the planet habitable for humans, but what does it mean for the world’s wildlife? Devastation.
Geoengineering is being used everyday to produce rain, stop hail, or better said, to control weather and climate patterns. Now scientists want to use it to cool the planet… And it has been shown to be possible… A new study gives us some insights into what the consequences of such a spraying would be… And they are terrifying!
On the climate modeling side, Robock helped implement a geoengineering scenario where starting in 2020, the world starts injecting 5 teragrams of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere every year to lower the planet’s temperature. That’s the equivalent a volcanic eruption roughly a quarter of the size of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption annually. They then compared it to a scenario where humanity cut its carbon emissions starting in midcentury, a trend that would still mean the world keeps warming, but at a slower rate than if emissions continued to increase.
Amazon Basin dries out
Cooling the planet by reflecting sunlight back into space would likely cause the Amazon basin, one of the most biodiverse parts of the world, to dry out. That would have a huge impact on ecosystems there, and set off a terrible chain reaction of more wildfires, increasing carbon emissions, and the need to do more geoengineering to keep things cool enough for everywhere else. Oh, and people living downwind would suffer bigly from terrible air quality. Much of the Eurasian Arctic would also dry out, raising the risk of fires in the boreal forest as well.
What happens when we decide to stop geoengineering (when ever!)
More concerning still is what happens if policymakers suddenly decide to shut geoengineering down. The study looks at what would happen if we did that in 2070, and the results are absolutely horrifying. Aerosols are really short-lived, which is why we would have to continually emit them to make geoengineering work. Suddenly stopping would result in a warming surge that would be much more dramatic than if climate change was just allowed to progress over the course of the preceding 50 years. Precipitation patterns would also shift again, and the result for wildlife would likely be widespread die offs, and habitat fracturing. The climate velocity would be four times greater on land, and six times greater in the oceans, than recent climate change.
So yeah, goodbye Amazon. And probably goodbye corals, mangroves, frogs and other amphibians, and many land mammals. The Arctic is also probably dead.
Geoengineering is too deadly. Stop Geoengineering!