Fact check: Geo engineering does not contribute to climate change

tana river, drought, drying rivers

Residents of Makere in Hola cross River Tana using a boat.


Geo engineering, which is defined by the University of Oxford as “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change” is a subject of contention among experts in the field of climate science.  

The first use of the team was in the early 1970s, by Marchetti, to describe the idea of injecting carbon dioxide into the ocean to mitigate the impact of burning fossil fuels. Geoengineering proposals that were developed in the middle of 20th century relied heavily on technology to alter weather systems in order to obtain favorable climatic conditions.

Fast forward, the mention of geo engineering has also sparked misinformation, with some social media users claiming that it does the opposite- contribute to climate change.

 On February 17, for example, an Instagram user posted that “Climate change is geo engineering. The post read: “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but climate change is actually geo engineering and those trails you see in the sky aren’t water vapor, they’re stratospheric injections aka chemtrails and you can look up the countless patents and protocols for weather modification yourself. Wake up.”

This claim is however false, due to the very nature that geo engineering was invented to counteract or reverse climate change.

In an article titled Reversing Climate Change with Geoengineering, Harvard University notes that geoengineering serves to reducing global warming by reducing the amount of heat available to be trapped by greenhouse gases.

 “When sunlight strikes the Earth’s atmosphere, around 30 per cent of it is reflected back out to space, and 70% is incorporated into the climate’s energy system. The Earth radiates some of this absorbed heat out to space, but greenhouse gases in the atmosphere prevent it from escaping. Although the best way to slow climate change is to reduce greenhouse emissions by switching to clean energy sources the CO2 already in the atmosphere can persist and continue to exert warming effects for centuries,” says Havard.

The greenhouse effect increases the amount of sunlight that the Earth absorbs, thereby heating the planet. To counter this, several methods have been proposed to cool the Earth by reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth in the first place. These light reflecting methods are collectively called solar geoengineering.

 One method involves spraying tiny particles called sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect away sunlight and another cooling method involves brightening clouds above the oceans
The aerosol method works by increasing sunlight reflectance. The second method also does the same, taking advantage of the fact that brighter objects reflect light, while darker ones absorb. By making the clouds brighter, light is reflected away before it can be absorbed by the oceans below.

 “A cloud’s brightness depends on the size of the water droplets that comprise it (smaller droplets have more surface area, so they scatter more light and appear brighter). To brighten clouds, tiny seawater aerosols could be sprayed over the oceans, so that small water droplets form around them. The smaller the aerosols, the smaller the droplets that stick to them. However, changing the droplet size could also affect how long the clouds last and how much water they can hold,” notes the article.

Another form of geo engineering is ocean fertilisation, which is intended to counter ocean warming and acidification, a result of the ocean absorbing extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This method works by facilitating growth of phytoplankton, which convert carbon dioxide to oxygen through photosynthesis.

However, scientists have concerned that geo engineering methods may also harm the environment. They explain that use of Sulfate aerosols can cause dangerous levels of air pollutions if released at ground level. Scientists are however experimenting with releasing the aerosols into the stratosphere using airplanes or hot air balloons, to ensure that the aerosols are effective at reflecting light and are also high enough not to cause dangerous air pollution levels.

Cloud brightening is also feared to affect weather patterns, while ocean fertilisation is feared to cause massive growth of algae that then deplete oxygen from the water and harms marine animals.

According to Geoengineering Global, geoengineering approaches may prevent “further damage, including climate driven mass extinction, unprecedented drought and heat waves, large-scale famine, sea-level rise, super storms, cataclysmic wildfire, coral reef die-offs, loss of glaciers among others.

“In our civilisation’s effort to slow down and stop Climate Change and reverse Global Warming, geoengineering should not be considered the only solution, but rather an important part of a comprehensive, integrated, international program that mitigates the effects of Global Warming, restores our biosphere and addresses the root causes of Climate Change (i.e., the use of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions, human population growth, consumptive lifestyles, unsustainable practices, degradation of natural ecosystems, etc.).”

“In the last 20 years, dedicated geoengineering researchers have made incredible advances and developed a range of sensible approaches to solve this existential problem. Many of these geoengineering solutions such as restoring ecosystems (natural climate solutions), amending soils with carbon (burying bits of charcoal in agricultural fields), capturing carbon dioxide at power plants, and making remote areas of the ocean more reflective (by spraying seawater droplets into the air or by blowing tiny bubbles of air into surface waters) are relatively safe and have the potential to mitigate Global Warming and protect our biosphere.”

NASA advises that “Because the impact of geoengineering on the complex global climate system hasn’t been extensively studied, any large-scale geoengineering strategy could have serious unexpected consequences. As a result, most scientists consider geoengineering only as a last-resort, emergency measure.”

The claim is therefore false.