Geology Research Paper Sample on Climate Engineering and its Impacts on Sustainable Engineering Practices

Climate Engineering and its Impacts on Sustainable Engineering Practices

Introduction

            Climate change plays an important role in modern day engineering practices. Across the world, there has been a consensus on the impacts of climate change and the need to mitigate the factors that enhance this concept through various sustainable development practices. The impacts of climate change are widely known, and so are the methods that are being instituted to help reverse these impacts. The exponential growth in the rate of climate change in the recent years drives the need for more sustainable methods of prevention and mitigation. The chart below shows the trends in climate change over the past years.

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct  measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased  since the Industrial Revolution.  (Source: [[LINK||http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/icecore/||NOAA]])

Figure 1: Trends in Climate Change (Source: Nasa (2017))

In the engineering sector, changes in design and implementation practices towards sustainability are one of the themes that are pursued across the world to reduce the impacts of climate change. Structural engineering has changed significantly, with most developed countries beginning to shift towards green building technologies which are aimed at reducing energy consumption as well as reducing the impacts of buildings on climate change. In the conversation about climate change prevention, the concept of climate change engineering or geoengineering comes into perspective.

Geo-engineering is described as a variety of technologies and techniques that are applied to intentionally change the global climate through forestalling the impacts of climate change (CEC, 2017). In the recent times, the discussions on climate engineering have intensified, with the focus being on the benefits of such technologies rather than the other impacts of climate engineering. Factors such as the feasibility, costs, challenges, and the risks surrounding geoengineering have been considered in the discussion on the implementation of climate engineering across the world. An important question that is still asked is whether the risks associated with climate change engineering are worse than those related with climate change or not. Similarly, even though there is wide acceptance of the fact that climate change engineering is interconnected to a variety of other engineering and non-engineering fields, specific analogies into how this interconnectedness is achieved have not been highlighted. The present paper, therefore, intends to dispel the perceptions that climate engineering has more risks compared to actual climate change and to expound on how it relates to engineering sustainability. To accomplish this objective, the study is guided by the following hypotheses.

  • Climate engineering has the potential of reducing the risks posed by climate change significantly.
  • Climate engineering has some elements of practice that rely on technology, which initiates or drives sustainable engineering practices.

Literature Review

Methods of Climate Engineering

            Climate engineering as a phenomenon aims at reducing the impacts of climate change on the environment. Gawel (2014) defines climate engineering as the phenomenon of technologically managing the world’s environment in large scale to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Indeed, various techniques have been used to help in the realization of reduced solar exposure to the environment, as well as a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide being emitted to the environment to achieve this objective. According to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2012), none of the methods that have currently been suggested for climate engineering satisfy the three criteria of safety, effectiveness, and affordability. Moreover, each of the methods in use is at a different stage of development, and will still take time before the actualization of the application process. The methods for geoengineering can be grouped into two categories, which are carbon dioxide removal methods and solar radiation management approaches (Gawel, 2014). Methods such as carbon sequestration from the environment through enhanced weathering, ocean fertilization for enhanced CO2 absorption, increased carbon sequestration initiated by ecosystem management, and direct capture of carbon IV oxide from the environment are described as carbon dioxide removal techniques, and they rely on an effective relay of infrastructures. As such, they are not only costly but also challenging to put up. Similarly, other methods that revolve around sunlight reflection (SRM) are also costly and difficult to put in place. Most of them rely on gadgets in space to work effectively, including space-based approaches, changes in the stratospheric aerosols to reduce their impacts as greenhouse gas covers, and increasing awareness of the climate engineering strategies. The picture below shows how climate engineering aims at reducing climate change.

            Figure 2: Geo- engineering and Climate change (Source: Vidal (2011))

The most commonly identified methods of climate engineering rely on the elimination of carbon IV oxide from the environment. The objective of reducing carbon IV oxide and other greenhouse gases from the environment is to ensure that people work within the constraints of the environmental conditions without being affected by the infra-red radiation from the sun. With the greenhouse gas emissions covering the earth’s surface, the retention of infra-red radiation is quite high. This is the rationale for using techniques that remove greenhouse gases and hence reduce the retentive probability for the earth’s surface. The technique involves the first stage of capturing the gases from the environment and the second stage where the gases sequestered are to be stored effectively. In this particular approach to climatic engineering, there must be impacts that would require long-term involvement to be registered. The alternative approach to climate engineering would involve sun reflection techniques, whose foundation is on preventing the dangerous sun rays from reaching the earth’s surface. To some extent, this is slightly dangerous especially when there are failures in the sunlight reflection systems. Any failures can result in the release of high concentrations of the reflected infra-red and UV rays to the earth.

            As much as climate engineering is aimed at helping in reducing climate change and its impacts, the rate of human-driven climate change is significantly high. Hence, reducing climate change will depend highly on the reduction of the human activities that result in climate change. More than 95% of the climate change that occurs in the contemporary times is attributed to human behaviors (Liu and Chen, 2015). Moreover, the 450 * 10-6 scenario as described by IPCC AR is also an indication that humans are largely responsible for climate change occurrences (Liu & Chen, 2015). The biodiversity plays an important role in the maintenance of the environment with regards to the circulation of greenhouse gases in the biosphere. Any changes in the population of the animals and plants in the biosphere, therefore, results in significant changes in the concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the biosphere.

            Currently, determining whether the methods used for climate engineering would be successful or not depends to a large extent on the impacts associated with the two methods that are under study. Liu and Chen (2015) assert that it would be difficult to determine whether climate engineering methods could compound the climate change problems currently being faced as a result of climate instability. This is furthered by the fact that the methods used in climate engineering are still not well understood and that there could be slight errors resulting in huge damages to the environment.

Risks and Impacts of Climate Engineering

            According to NAS (2015), current uncertainties in the modeling of the complex climate change and its far-reaching effects make it difficult to accurately predict what could be the environmental, social, economic and even legal implications of implementing climate engineering practices across the world. It is even more difficult to obtain or to describe quantitative information regarding the concept of climate engineering and its impacts. NAS, therefore, suggests that climate engineering is used only as a last resort to the resolution of the climate change problem, where there has been a massive failure in the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Liu and Chen (2015) also opine that more studies should be conducted on climate change impacts based on the approach taken and the practices only be implemented if the risks involved are less than doing nothing. Otherwise, none of the methods should be used.

The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2012) mentions some of the challenges or implications that would arise from the practice of climate engineering. These implications are described based on the type of climate engineering approach to be applied. For the SRM methods, one of the implications mentioned is that the effectiveness of the process in the reduction of global warming is not known with certainty. This means that the only method towards evaluating this effectiveness is through reliance on and comparison with measures such as climate change, which would be acting as a control measure for global warming.

Liu and Chen (2015) have categorized the impacts of climate engineering into three areas which are the direct impacts on the environment, indirect impacts, and those (both direct and indirect) on climate change policies and politics. On the other hand, Gawel (2014) opines that it is still difficult to understand or explore the implications that climate engineering would have on the social and political climate change policies due to lack of quantitative data to back up the research conducted on the practice. Direct environmental impacts as described by Liu and Chen include water and air pollution from the iron powder and sulfates, which are injected into the water and air respectively in a bid to fertilize oceans and increase the reflective capability of the air. Such chemicals pollute the environment and affect biodiversity. All the methods that aim at reducing the biological concentration of carbon dioxide also have the capacity for inducing carbon dioxide leakages into the environment.

The indirect environmental impacts, on the other hand, include reduction of global and local temperatures in a bid to avert global warming. In this way, it is probable that when climate engineering methods are applied, they could result in reduced impacts on precipitation levels and local temperatures, which eventually affect the agricultural practices. With a probability of more than 2% change in the global precipitation levels, this could be the most notable precipitation change over both land and the equatorial regions. Regarding the policies and politics, the realization that climate engineering could change the impacts of climate change in the environment, it is quite possible for some countries to do away with their policies on climate change prevention. This could be through reducing the emphasis on green technologies as the way towards climate change prevention (Li & Chen, 2015).

Discussion

Climate change engineering is an emerging field of technology, aimed at reducing the impacts of global warming through preventive measures. As of now, the methods that have been studied as potentially effective in the practice of climate engineering are the sunlight reduction methodologies and carbon dioxide reduction practices. However, there are yet to be any quantitative indicators of any of these practices, thus making it difficult to accurately predict the outcomes of the implications of any climate engineering practices and activities. According to most of the literature reviewed, climate engineering as a concept is yet to gain wide application. Many studies have also shown that there could be both direct and indirect implications of climate engineering, which would increase risks associated with climate change relative to doing nothing. One of the impacts of climate engineering as derived from the literature is that it may affect decision making regarding policies and political beliefs surrounding climate change discussions.

Sustainable Engineering and Climate Engineering

            Climate change as a subject has risen to capture the attention of most well-meaning organizations and nations across the world. The impacts of human activities are considered to be the greatest drivers of climate change in the world today. According to various studies, climate change is currently under constant surveillance, with many organizations and governments making efforts to reduce impacts of human activities on climate change. The technology uses across different industries are aimed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and protecting the ozone layer from depletion. This has in effect led to the initiation of engineering practices such as green engineering, which is also described as sustainable engineering measures. The objective of such measures is to reduce the release of greenhouse gases as much as possible through the use of clean fuels, green building technologies, and green energy sources across the world. Governments are also putting in place initiatives through which those who constantly practice green technologies in the building as well as in the transportation industries obtain extra benefits for their services and products.

            One of the most phenomenal features that arose as a result of the desire to control climate change across the world is that of LEED certification, where organizations which are focused on green building and energy management are awarded certification and global recognition. In such cases, organizations make extra efforts to engage in practices that reduce climate change probabilities. With climate change engineering, the impacts on engineering sustainability are evident. For instance, Swanson (2006) asserts that engineers may find it difficult to plan for the future where it is impossible to see the future. In this regard, climate change models have helped to construct designs that can withstand policies and regulations on climate change impacts in the future. Therefore, this means that with the uncertainty surrounding the impacts of climate engineering, it can be all the more difficult for engineers to plan their roles satisfactorily. This concept brings about the adaptability issue to engineering practice, where environmental changes drive engineering technologies towards better adaptation and preparation for the future (Scott, 2014).

            According to Swanson (2006), the issue of adaptability is not the only concept that would affect engineering sustainability in the face of climate engineering. The other factor is the ethical responsibility for engineers to mitigate climate change. In the absence of climate engineering, the responsibility to reduce emissions and thus prevent climate change lies with the engineers in the design of equipment, buildings, and application of various technologies. However, with the inception of climate engineering, this ethical responsibility also has the potential to fade away. When technologies have been put in place to control the climate through sunlight reflection and carbon dioxide reduction, there would be no need for engineers to design green buildings anymore. This is all the more possible where it has been established that climate engineering has a potential positive outcome with regards to preventing climate change. It is therefore probable that engineers may lose their professional code of ethics with regards to responsibility for climate change with the invention of climate engineering.

Conclusion

Geoengineering as an emerging concept has brought about a wide range of discussions about its relevance to the climate change scenario across the world. While there is information that practices such as sunlight reflection and carbon dioxide reduction could result in positive outcomes with regards to reducing climate change, there is still a general lack of quantitative information on how climate engineering could impact the environment. It is however purported that in case the risks and implications associated with geoengineering are worse than those associated with inactivity, it would be better for the entire concept to be shelved. Not only will climate engineering change the global climate but it will also result in a modification of engineering practices. For instance, the success of climate engineering approaches in the prevention of climate change could drive engineers towards the loss of their ethical responsibility to prevent climate change.

References

CEC (2017). What is climate engineering? Climate Engineering Conference, Critical Global Discussions. Retrieved from http://www.ce-conference.org/what-climate-engineering

Gawel, E. (2014). Environmental policy through climate engineering? UFZ Discussion Papers. Retrieved from www.ufz.de/export/data/global/61378_DP_16_2014_Gawel_Climate%20Engineering.pdf

Liu, Z. and Chen, Y. (2015). Impacts, risks, and governance of climate engineering. Advances in Climate Change Research, 6(3-4): 197- 201. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1674927815000830#bib14

NASA (2017). Climate change: how do we know? NASA. Retrieved from climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

National Research Council. (2015). Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi.org/10.17226/18988.

Scott, D. (2014). Civil engineers have a key role to play in adaptation to climate change. ASCE News. Retrieved from /news.asce.org/civil-engineers-have-a-key-role-to-play-in-adaptation-to-climate-change/

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2012). Geo-engineering in relation to the convention on biological diversity: technical and regulatory matters. Montreal, Technical Series No. 66. Retrieved from www.ecologic.eu/sites/files/publication/2014/regulatory-framework-for_climates-related-geoengineering-relevant-to-the-cbd.pdf

Swanson, D. (2006). Climate change and its effect on engineering practice. International Institute for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from www.apegm.mb.ca/pdf/PD_Papers/cc-eng.pdf

Vidal, J. (2011, July 10). Geo-engineering: green versus greed in the race to cool the planet. The Guardian. Retrieved from www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jul/10/geo-engineering-weather-manipulation