Three Knowledge Domains Explore Geoengineering

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“As a discipline, geoengineering is even younger than the Anthropocene and knowledge is scant.”

Having arrived at the Anthropocene by accident, humans now have conscious and intentional decisions to make that will determine the state and fate of the planet and everything on it. Geoengineering – the coaxing of the earth’s physical and natural systems at very large scales for the purpose of countering climate change – is full of such questions. Should it be done? Who should do it? When is it appropriate? How should it be done? How much will it cost? What are the consequences? As a discipline, geoengineering is even younger than the Anthropocene and knowledge is scant. Just knowing where to begin is a challenge. But begin we must, and three separate Commentaries recently published in Elementa are helping to launch the thousands of science and engineering inquiries that must follow.

Columbia University’s Wally Broecker makes a case for carbon capture and sequestration in ‘Does air capture constitute a viable backstop against a bad CO2 trip?’ Answering his own question in the affirmative, Broecker describes the technology, at global scale, that could meet the anticipated need while also addressing many of the most serious criticisms likely to surface in response.

In ‘Geoengineering Redivivus‘, Brad Allenby from Arizona State University challenges us to think beyond the “reductionist frameworks that pull climate change out of the complex network of systems within which it resides.” Indeed, even thinking of these systems as being reversible may be a mistake. As we begin to consider geoengineering then – and Allenby notes that there are actually many more options that could fall under the geoengineering umbrella than have been considered up to this point – we will have to extend discourse across disciplines and develop a level of analytical sophistication among them that is not currently present within them.

Finally, the University of Alaska – Fairbanks’ Stuart Chapin and Stanford University’s Erica Fernandez urge their colleagues to practice ‘Proactive ecology for the Anthropocene.’ Now in an epoch where others openly discuss geoengineering, Chapin and Fernandez advocate for “a shift in ecology and other disciplines to a more proactive leadership role in defining problems and possibilities in a rapidly changing world rather than being relegated to a reactive role of trying to fix the problems.”

These perspectives offer a valuable contribution to the topic of geonengineering, and help to fuse together discussions between scientists and technologists in their approach to finding new ways to mitigate and adapt to global change.