Geoengineering: The Solution to Climate Change?

The Biden administration celebrated a fusion-energy breakthrough at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory last December, hailing it as a major step toward “zero-carbon abundant fusion energy powering our society.” Nathan Myhrvold, a respected inventor and applied scientist, offered a more sober assessment, noting that the machine was designed to produce “at most a few bright flashes of raw energy a day” and comparing it to a car blowing up in a movie. But Mr. Myhrvold’s skepticism about one technological advance doesn’t mean he’s resigned to climate change. To the contrary, he’s long been a champion of geoengineering—human interventions in the Earth’s natural systems to combat global warming.

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Myhrvold says that solar-radiation management and direct air capture are the two broad approaches that could make a difference in this area. Solar-radiation management is about reflecting sunlight back into space, and direct air capture involves sucking carbon dioxide from the sky. He admits that these methods may “sound crazy,” but he believes they could work, and research of this kind should be actively pursued.

Mr. Myhrvold argues that the alternative—reducing emissions—is insufficient, despite all the coal plants that have been shut down, electric vehicles that have been sold, solar and wind power that has been deployed, and people now working from home. The concentration of carbon dioxide continues to rise as fast as it has for the past 40 years, he says. He underscores his point by asking if anyone has seen the effect of the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, or of the global pandemic shutdown.

Climate change is a complicated issue, and there are no easy solutions. However, Mr. Myhrvold believes that geoengineering is the way forward. Excess CO2 traps a little less than 1% of heat from the sun, so if the sun were to be made just 1% dimmer, it could shut off climate change. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it lowered worldwide temperatures by 1 degree Celsius for about 18 months. Human-emitted particulate pollution has historically offset about 20% of human-emitted CO2. Ironically, the Clean Air Act made our air better but hurt climate change.

Mr. Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures has researched a number of geoengineering ideas, such as the simplest solar-radiation management scheme: emitting particles in the stratosphere to mimic Mount Pinatubo. His company has also explored marine cloud brightening, where ships are outfitted with equipment to spray seawater into the air to increase the number and size of low clouds that form over the oceans. Intellectual Ventures has also researched a way to drain energy from hurricanes. The company’s simulations found that if enough low-cost floating tubes were deployed in the path of a hurricane, it could knock a storm down by a category or two.

Direct air capture may be harder to achieve than solar-radiation management, but it involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Mr. Myhrvold believes that geoengineering is the key to combating climate change. “We’re already screwed,” he says. “If the projections are true, and I think they are, I think we’re already screwed.” Geoengineering is “deliberately trying to reduce climate change.” If geoengineering can be effective, it may be a crucial tool in the fight against climate change.

Geoengineering: The Solution to Climate Change?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top