In October, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issue http://bit.ly/xFR5C) that will shape 21st c cities. http://bit.ly/154×84 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. I addressed megacities, water, robotics, and whole cities in the first four. http://bit.ly/2CZkcS http://bit.ly/4Cmu32 http://bit.ly/1TGe4T http://bit.ly/47hhNH This article considers a significant new technology: geoengineering.
Science Fiction or Global Mandate?
While climate change and global warming remain controversial, arguments about solutions elevate tensions exponentially. One option under consideration, geoengineering or intentional climate manipulation, makes scientists and engineers sound like science fiction fanatics. http://bit.ly/1Sok5B Simulated volcanoes? Ocean algae? Flying mirrors? Consequently, people arrive at the negotiating table in polar-opposite camps, lines in the sand, as either evangelists or naysayers. http://bit.ly/K0uz7
Yet undeniably, we have been practicing geoengineering unintentionally at least since the birth of industrialization. http://bit.ly/2Hpq1S http://bit.ly/1pfZ4A Now we are faced with engineering the planet’s climate intentionally and cooperatively. As Stewart Brand, environmental pioneer, says: We are as gods; we might as well get good at it. Moreover, we have to get good at it. http://bit.ly/7ZcQ3
We, Not Us Versus Them
Among the most vexing issues is coordination among nations. On geoengineering, we act for the whole planet and everyone is a participant. Already people and nations commonly practice local weather experiments. Last year, China openly seeded clouds to reduce the chance that the Olympics would be interrupted by rain. http://bit.ly/3dphXY
None have attempted to implement climate change on a global scale, yet the commotion surrounding options grows daily, which makes action increasingly likely. This week, the US Congress held hearings and undoubtedly similar talks are taking place in every country. In just a few months, geoengineering has moved from a sci-fi fantasy to a necessary global conversation.
Where Does Geoengineering Fit?
Geoengineering necessarily begins with a slate of options surrounding climate change to figure out if we can avoid it all together. Possible solutions focus on three types of intervention, according to Jamais Cascio. http://bit.ly/1jFCvi We can prevent, mitigate damage, and remediate or reverse global warming.
- Prevention in terms of cities and buildings is part of the goal of sustainable, or green, solutions. Reduce use of fossil fuels that emit carbon by switching to alternative energies and by conservation. Conservation involves energy efficient buildings defined by USGBC’s LEED program and the UK’s BREEAM assessment. http://bit.ly/D6G5T Changing the built environment occurs one building and one district at a time and will take decades. More immediately, changing behavior could happen immediately, yet in fact, social change also takes years, if not generations. Consequently, prevention is just a portion of the wedge solutions and other options are needed. http://bit.ly/3XqERa
- Mitigation refers to reducing catastrophic threats, such as protecting coastlines, (see 21st Century Cities: Water http://bit.ly/4Cmu32), modifying agricultural practices, and conserving water to decrease resource conflicts. These solutions do nothing to prevent progressively worse problems of an increasingly warm atmosphere.
- Remediation attacks climate change head-on by slowing or reversing global warming. Geoengineering is at the heart of remediation and also considered in the menu of wedge options. http://bit.ly/3XqERa The effects to temperatures can occur within a year although transforming the planet’s ecology may take decades or longer. Therein lies one of the risks; we won’t know the results in real time.
Prevention is the rallying cry for most environmentalists, me included. Building owners, government agencies, the public and AEC professionals increasingly mandate sustainable development. Regardless of remediation, prevention is an entry point for long-term stability, good design, and healthy lifestyles.
Are We Ready?
Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Indonesian tsunami indicate that most if not all countries have enormous mitigation problems. The massive costs of preemptive change are dwarfed by the images of these destructive events and the loss of life. Yet investing in huge infrastructure projects for future possibilities falls far behind the needs of today’s crises. The question is: how many people and cities are we willing to sacrifice? Close to home most would say, none at all.
Consequently, while geoengineered remediation initially strikes many people as “you have got to be kidding me” and then as, “no way we can control the side-effects,” the fact is that we – or someone – will attempt massive geo-engineering climate change. We need to be experts for protection and most likely for proaction. That essentially is the debate. And it’s a debate that is past due.
The types of geoengineering approaches fall into two categories, according to The Royal Society. http://bit.ly/37pFFp
- Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) or long-wave approaches pull CO2 out of atmosphere to slow global warming by capturing and burying or by allowing it to escape the atmosphere. Includes reforestation, bio-char production and storage, air capture or carbon capture at source and carbon disposal, and ocean fertilization e.g. plankton or algae blooms.
- Solar Radiation Management (SRM) or short-wave increases surface reflectivity (albedo) or blocks sunlight. Options include space shields e.g. giant orbiting mirrors, stratospheric sulfate aerosols, cloud seeding, and cloud brightening with seawater.
Stratospheric aerosols (such as simulated volcanoes or aerosols released from airplanes) are the best investment although it requires continual implementation while urban surface albedo (light colored cities, deserts) is the least effective. In general, CDR/long wave is considerably less effective at quickly altering temperatures than SRM, although has better efficacy over time. (Lenton & Vaughn 2009) http://bit.ly/14wsNZ
What Will It Mean to Us?
In terms of the built environment, lighter, more reflective surfaces are part of sustainable design, both LEED and BREEAM. Over time, cities should become lighter and greener with less solid, dark surfaces. Some geoengineering solutions may be built into the fabric of the city and highly visible, such as one proposal to create reflective artificial trees along roadways. If that option became as prolific as say power lines, our urban landscapes would be substantially altered.
Environmental changes would also affect us. Dimming sunlight could have massive implications for our experience of place and the effect on plant life. Aerosols will lighten the sky, change sunrises and sunsets, and could damage the ozone layer. Changing deserts or fertilizing oceans could be a difficult if not disastrous ecological option. Reforestation reduces farm land, which affects food production and livelihoods. Yet these options warrant full consideration including open debates about possible consequences.
In addition, unintended consequences could include increased humidity, drought, and possible health implications of various aerosols. All of these risks are potential, not pre-determined.
I considered the ethics of geoengineering and outlined ideas in these posts: http://bit.ly/35GuU9 http://bit.ly/1HIIiw We need to continue with prevention and mitigation full-speed while we fully weigh geo-engineering.
How Do We Choose?
The difficulties of agreeing on the best options, determining risks, and measuring the impact, especially given the 20-30 year time lag for climate change, makes geoengineering thorny. Moreover, the mandate of “do no harm” and allowing reversibility increases our struggle 1000-fold. Implications must be considered in systematic terms, the potential consequences are enormous, and frankly, we still won’t be completely certain.
According to Lenton and Vaughn, our choices depend on how quickly and drastically we act.
By 2050, only stratospheric aerosol injections or sunshades in space have the potential to cool the climate back toward its pre-industrial state, but some land carbon cycle geoengineering options are of comparable magnitude to mitigation “wedges”. Strong mitigation, i.e. large reductions in CO2 emissions, combined with global-scale air capture and storage, deforestation, and bio-char production, i.e. enhanced CO2 sinks, might be able to bring CO2 back to its pre-industrial level by 2100, thus removing the need for other geo-engineering. http://bit.ly/14wsNZ
A future of a healthy atmosphere will only occur through a combination of changes to behavior, building and city choices, mitigating possible damage, recovery after catastrophes, and, yes, large-scale global engineering solutions – intentional, beneficial, accidental, and sadly, even malicious.
In fact, it is possible that only a few of these geo-engineering options will be necessary. Furthermore, the entire budget may be less than $10 billion, a relatively small global investment. The questions are: which options, who pays, who is liable for failures, and the extraordinarily sticky issue of who controls the projects. Furthermore, the risk of geoengineered terrorism is quite likely.
In other words, geoengineering will be part of everyday life and responsibility will fall on every country and individual, just as other security and environmental issues do today. New fields will emerge in geo-engineering, science, business, military, geo-ethics, and if there is to be solutions at all, in global diplomatic security and negotiations.
In the next article, I’ll look at more technological influences on 21st century cities. The goal here is 10 additional city-shaping ideas, and this is the fifth in the series. Thanks for reading and retweeting. Questions, comments, and ideas welcome!