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Geoengineering – The Nascent Promethean Answer To Climate Change

Category: Argumentative 22nd August 2019

Free essayThe phrase ‘global warming’ has become familiar to many people today. Almost every day people witness how new hypotheses regarding this phenomenon are refuted by the old ones. Many statements and articles are contradictory to each other, thus making the reader misled or unconcerned on this matter. Common in these different beliefs, all the same, is the acceptance of the fact that the impact of a warmer globe may cause devastating consequences for the life on Earth. For the first time, the talking on global warming and the greenhouse effect took place in the 60s of the 20th century; and at the UN, global climate change was first voiced in 1980. Since then, many scientists puzzle over this problem. So, what is global warming? Is the term identical to greenhouse effect? This paper is to help answer these questions before moving on to the exploration of other crucial challenges. Global warming is the increase of the average annual surface temperature of the planet’s seas and atmosphere as a result of several agents (increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, solar variability or volcanic activity, etc.). The greenhouse effect is the outgrowth of the standard pressure and ocean surface temperature through rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the air (carbon dioxide, methane, moisture vapor, etc.). These gases act as foils that pass the sun rays to the planet’s surface and trap heat. Therefore, the greenhouse effect is one of the components conducing global warming, but not a single one. Paleontological studies suggest that the Earth’s climate never was permanent. Warm periods alternated with cold glacial phases. However, if warming becomes firm in its progressing, it is an occasion to sound the alarm. It signifies that the mankind should find modern and efficient methods to stop or prevent further heating of the planet. One of such approaches is known as geoengineering.

Humanity has to admit that global warming is a dramatically urgent and serious problem. Since 1979, a rapid increase of the surface temperature has been seen. It has caused the following acceleration of ice disappearing in the Arctic and Antarctic, herewith increasing winter temperatures in the middle latitudes. During the last hundred years, the average temperature of the surface layer of the atmosphere has increased for a few grades, while the extension of snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has notably decreased. At the same time, the global sea level has risen. It remains unknown if the further warming of the planet is expected to spring up, or it will eventually slow down. The planetary climate change is a complex problem, and then modern science cannot give a clear solution for what to expect in the near future. There are some suppositional scenarios of how the situation may evolve. Some researchers think that global warming will occur gradually, some of them believe in the sudden global cooling. Nevertheless, the most “popular” at the present time is the version of a relatively rapid progressing of the planet’s warming. By the end of the 21st century, the average temperature of the Earth’s surface can increase by “3.2 °F to 7.2 °F (1.8 °C to 4.0 °C).” Through the changes in the planet’s albedo, future melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice can provoke warming of the globe. The climate crisis will be accompanied by a rise in the world ocean’s level. In addition to the sea-level rise, warming of the planet affects the strength of the winds and the distribution of rainfall on the planet. As a result, the planet will experience various natural disasters with different frequency and magnitude (storms, hurricanes, droughts, floods). An increment in temperature creates favorable conditions for the development of diseases. The next half century may be the last in the life of many species of different living organisms. The UN reckons that by the middle of the 21st century, there will be near 200 million climate refugees in the world. Such dismaying prognoses make the human race look for the ways which could protect against the climate change.

The essence of this project is not easy, since the solution to the problem of the global warming is the subject of dispute between people who think in sharply different ways. An example of such a kind of a conflict can be seen in protests of the citizens-activists in the USA, mobilized to act against the toxic pollutants doing harm to workers. Clash lies in the fact that scientists who investigated the cases could not detect evidence of pollution’s provoking the death or illness. The other example of a difference is observed in the matter of logging of remnant forests. The conflict between logging companies and environmentalists is intense and intractable. These situations show that decision systems for the environment face a considerable complexity. Human social systems and ecosystems are often intersected, and this fact is not favorable for solving of environmental problems. In his work The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses, John S. Dryzek, the professor of political science, uses the term ‘discourse’ while trying to mark the most logical decision theories referred to the environment. Dryzek illustrates survivalism, sustainability, green radicalism, promethean discourse, and the other entities, regarding them as conflicting environmental discourses. The current report is directed to pay attention to promethean discourse, which may be taken as an opponent to survivialism. The latter, in its turn, is based on rejecting any expansion of technologies through the expending limits. Promethean “no limits” discourse subverts survivialism, emphasizing “the lack of alternative economic strategy and public participation” that the latter implicates. The name ‘promethean’ speaks volumes if one
attempts to decode its ideology. Greek mythology describes Prometheus as a stealer of fire from the god Zeus. Through this action, the human ability to control the universe was increased. Dryzek identifies Prometheans as having “unlimited confidence in the capacity of humans and their technologies to overcome any troubles, including environmental threatens.”

The basic feature of Promethean discourse is that people have an absolute control over the environment and seem to be able to move the terminal point of global carrying capacity notably. This is based on the laws of the free-market economy, which suggest that the monetary value is the core tool for restricting. Through the price increase, deficiency of resources will induce efforts for some conservation of production and a search for substitutes. In other words, promethean discourse means limits imposed by industrialism. In order to be efficient in developing of substituting technologies, societies have to be rich. Hence, the key to the environmental health is economic wealth. If survivalists vote against the growth of population, Prometheans, on the contrary, think that the more people the better. They treat people as potential problem-solvers and increasers of income per head. These principles favor the economic growth, as well. Both survivalism and promethean discourses generate much controversy, however. Despite the fact that Prometheans can be associated with the key tendency in overwhelming the global warming in the future, science still has not enough evidence for this opinion. A dispute that has occurred between the environmental scientists in regard of Bjorn Lomborg’s promethean values and methodologies may be a confirmation of the foregoing statement. Lomborg is a Dutch social activist and publicist, who, at first, refused to recognize the threat from the climate change and later admitted it in some fashion. At the present time, he demonstrates his adherence to promethean theory through appreciating geoengineering. The phenomenon of geoingeneering supposes a large-scale intervention in the global climate system and is aimed to slow or even break the climate change. There are two main categories in anti-heating projects: solar radiation management (SRM) techniques and carbon capture. SRM methods try to compensate the impact of the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases by reflecting solar energy back into space. Carbon capture technologies have the goal to remove carbon dioxide and some other greenhouse gases from the air. The reader may be aware of some examples of these methods in Lomborg’s article. According to this environmentalist, the term ‘geoengineering’ means the deliberate modification of the environment to make it suit the human needs. Speaking about the possible efficiency of this phenomenon, the author uses the rhetoric that defines modern global warming itself as a consequence of human technological interference. The nature also shows the ways of how geoengineering can be implicated. The example of a volcano that threw out much sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere was sufficiently eye-opening. Making a thick layer, this substance temporarily blocked the sunrays from reaching the earth’s surface. As a consequence, “global temperatures dropped by an average of 0.5 degrees C over the next 18 months.” Thus, the experts got the task to find facilities which would have a similar effect on the earth. Stratospheric aerosol injection, or SAI, was the response to that request. Spraying the fluid through the tube equipment into the stratosphere should do the job and cool the Earth. Another promising solution, according to Lomborg’s article, is marine cloud whitening. White clouds, composed of micro-droplets of moisture, can reflect large amounts of sunlight, so that the heating of the Earth would slow down. For increasing the density of the clouds, it is offered to use the injections of sea water into them. The other geoengineering projects involve putting giant sunscreens in the space, building sunlight reflecting constructions in the deserts, creating special technologies aimed at getting rid of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or ionization. To all these ideas, critics, however, list some denying arguments: getting rid of blue skies, ruining terrestrial optical astronomy, or huge reductions in solar power from the systems using direct solar radiation. Some researchers assert that cloud brightening can cool the oceans in some parts of the planet while producing severe drought in the others. Increasing sulfur in the air creates conditions for acid rains, thus damaging wildlife and woodlands. The impacts of climate change are defined not solely by the changes in temperature, but also by changes in other domains of the climate system, such as climate extremes and precipitation. All these reasons given by skeptics concerning geoengineering are not groundless. Nonetheless, before total critique of Lomborg’s concepts highlighted in his article “Geoengineering: A Quick, Clean Fit?” the judging experts should pay attention to the fact that he agrees with the necessity to make further researches on planetary engineering. The writer states, “More research is needed, in order to establish the technology’s ramifications, including its effects on ozone levels.” Lomborg does not insist that technologies aimed at reducing planet’s warming can be the solvers for this problem. Instead, the expert emphasizes the need in cautious approaches of geoengineering, since the science has not enough confidence in harmlessness of the projects. He sees “the only real solution to global warming” in ending mankind’s dependency on fossil fuels. The modern world is dependent on them like drug-takers on heroin. The emissions of carbon in the world have not been cut in the last 20 years. It is explained by the fact that over these years, the governments showed an inability to cope with the problem. So, it can take the human race the decades to turn the economy from carbon-based one to the industry supported by new technologies. Therefore, geoengineering should be considered as the technique of a short-term solution aimed “to keep the earth from overheating while we wait for truly efficient green-energy technologies to come on line.” Some critics compare newly schemed tools for cooling the earth with the bandages. Only the latter ones, as known, have their uses. So do many engineering projects, equally well. It would be unwise not to use the chance to moderately modify the environment, until the planet passed the point of no return.

As it became clear from the foregoing discussion, global warming is a serious and dramatically urgent problem. While geoengineering is still taken as the nascent technology, humanity has to make some contribution to the designing of a sustainable society, as well. Success in the implementation of the environmental policies depends considerably on the ability of the institutions to apply them, the level of compliance, the quality of the environmental laws, and the degree of environmental education and training. To fully address the threat of climate change, people should demand active steps from the authorities to implement a wide-ranging set of environmental solutions. These solutions should include expending of the renewable energy sources and transforming the existing energy system into one, which would be less dependent on fossil fuels. Increasing transport fuel efficiency, placing limits on the quantity of carbon allowed to emanate, reducing tropical deforestation, and investigations in the field of forceful energy technologies and industries are the other actions we expect to be done. However, people should not only wait for governments to develop a solution to this problem. Each individual must think globally and bring an important help through adopting a more responsible lifestyle. Hence, what each of us could practice for reducing carbon emissions? The first advice is to cross over to a car with a better fuel economy. Fitting out the house more air-tight is another method to shorten the consuming of natural resources and, at the same time, to save money. If one uses power strips at home or office, it helps to curb fictitious loads, as well. In addition, it is important to timely upgrade household appliances, since modern refrigerators or conditioners are more favorable for energy savings. A strategy based on re-using, reducing, and recycling of the stuff can also lower one’s individual emissions and help combat the climate change. Even such actions as changing regular light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones, using less hot water, or planting trees can be minimal contributions for saving the world. Probably, one of the most effective approaches could be sharing the information about energy conservation with relatives, friends, fellow workers, and neighbors. People must remember that a lower volume of energy usage means less dependence on the fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gases and contribute to planetary heating.

Even former skeptics confess that global warming is a challenge that humanity must confront. The speed of planet’s heating witnesses that it scarcely may stop by itself. This fact makes the mankind look for the ways to prevent a global collapse. Scientists conclude that the theory of limitation, known as survivalism, is not effective enough. In contrast to this, the promethean discourse proposes an approach based on implementing technological knowledge for adjusting the temperature conditions of the planet. An ‘intervention’ in the Earth’s climate system at the present time is taken as geoengineering. Some experts, however, speak out against this innovation, arguing that it is excessively radical and not thoroughly studied. These are the reasons that are worth to take into consideration. A Dutch Promethean Bjorn Lomborg responds to this using the counterargument that geoengineering is a short-term remedy against planet’s overheating, until humans find substitutes for the carbon-based economy. In addition, he is the proponent of cautious practicing of innovative techniques. Marine cloud whitening, spraying out sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, sunlight reflecting, and carbon capturing are some of the projects supposed to improve the situation. They have to be applied only if scientists prove the absence of negative effects. Therefore, geoengineering, along with the efforts of each person, can be an interim tool for launching a sustainable environment.

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