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Study Dismisses Geoengineering Quick Fix For Global Warming

Politicians should not look to science and engineering for a relatively quick fix to effectively deal with climate change caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions, a new academic study has determined.

The only solution to global warming is a massive rejection of toxic fossil fuels, vastly improved energy efficiency and substantially altered human behavior, found the recently released study — An interdisciplinary assessment of climate engineering strategies.

“In light of their limitations and risks, climate engineering approaches would best serve as a complement to — rather than replacement for — abatement, and the latter should remain a focus of climate-change policy for the foreseeable future,” said the study written by six academics in the U.S. and Canada.

Jonn Axsen, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, said in an interview Thursday that politicians need to get serious about making a relatively rapid transition away from the fossil fuels that are warming our atmosphere.

“We have to really start that transition now,” said Axsen, who along with five other academics spent two years analyzing more than 100 peer-reviewed studies dealing with the implications of various geo-engineering technologies and their effects on carbon emissions.

Their study has been published in the June edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Simon Fraser University issued a media release about the study earlier this week explaining that the new study is the first scholarly attempt to rank a wide range of approaches to minimizing climate change in terms of their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, risk, public acceptance, governability and ethics.

The new research found that some geo-engineering technologies — such as improved forest and soil management — can work to help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that carbon capture and storage, also known as CCS, shows some promise too.

But other technologies, such as fertilizing the ocean with iron to absorb CO2 and employing solar radiation management by injecting particles directly into the atmosphere to block sunshine, are likely doomed to failure.   

Only abatement will give humankind a chance to avoid the worst implications of climate change, the study added. “We conclude that although abatement should remain the central climate-change response, some low-risk, cost-effective climate engineering approaches should be applied as complements.”

Axsen said it is up to politicians to be clear about their intentions, if any, on dealing with climate change so that the electorate can make a decision on who to vote for at the polling booth.

He said the Canadian government through its support of the Alberta tar sands and the B.C. provincial government with its ambitious plans for a liquefied natural gas industry have demonstrated a lack of action on climate change because they have been relying on technological solutions rather than quickly embracing the needed transition to a low-carbon future.

“I think the U.S. is doing a better job in taking climate change seriously,” Axsen said, referring to a recent plan by the Obama administration that would see a 30 per cent drop in coal-fired electricity plant emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. He also said California is a good example of a state government aggressively fighting climate change.

“We know what policies would work,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having the political will and leadership.”

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The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

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