The sci-fi solution to climate change

The proposition: if we fail to keep the Earth a place suitable for future generations, might we have to turn to technology before the climate goes haywire?

As global warming continues to affect the planet, some scientists say strategies such as climate engineering may be needed to avoid climate catastrophe while others say it is out of the question.

In this podcast series, scientists and climate experts discuss the viability of carrying out trials on a global scale and the projects taking place in Australia.

The risks: many consequences of deploying these methods remain unknown leading to a largely negative response to the idea of climate engineering.

However University of Tasmania’s professor of environmental law Jan McDonald said it was important to include in research portfolios if we ever foundourselves in dire circumstances.

Murdoch University’s senior lecturer in atmospheric science Jatin Kala said the thought of carrying out interventions into the climate was scary because of the potential ethical issues.

Murdoch University senior lecturer in atmospheric science Dr Jatin Kala.
Photo: Morgan de Smidt.

“When we talk about climate engineering it covers a whole range of aspects, at the smaller scale we are already engineering the planet.

“When we deforest huge areas of forest and plant crops we change the properties of the surface of the land quite significantly.”

Dr Kala said removing tall dark forests to plant short bright wheat over a large area changed the reflectivity of the surface which was a form of climate engineering.

“We’ve done studies where you can pretend to change the reflectivity of crops across the globe, because we can do it using a model and that is easy to do.

“With things like white roofs and green roofs, I think that will pick up pace. It is already been thought about in terms of plans and decision making, considering if we are going to have new developments can we have green roofs, can you have vegetation on top of the roof or use more reflective paint,” said Dr Kala.

Foliage on walls and roofs are appearing around Perth CBD, signs of growing popularity in greener infrastructure.

Graphic: Morgan de Smidt

In April this year a trial over the Great Barrier Reef took place to shade the dying coral.

Rising temperatures have significantly weakened the condition of the Great Barrier Reef, causing the third mass coral bleaching event in five years.

In the second episode we delve deeper into the consequences of climate engineering on a planetary level.

Professor Jan McDonald defines the ethical and legal dilemmas of large-scale trials.

And director of the Great Barrier Reef cloud brightening trial Dr Daniel Harrison explains the process of implementing solar radiation management to save the reef.  

People power: public engagement with methods of climate engineering is an important factor to on-going research as it will influence the decision-making process of deploying certain trials.

In the third and final episode of the series social scientist Rebecca Colvin emphasises the significance of public education and participation in policies if we begin to rely on climate engineering.

“If we see people like us learning and how they interact with evidence, then we can adopt that ourselves and it can inform the way in which we approach issues,” said Dr Colvin.

However, Dr Colvin acknowledges educating the public calls for resources and the vulnerability of organisations like government agencies, industry and political groups.