27 Nov 2014

Scientist 'terrified' of own tech - A leading scientist investigating geoengineering solutions to climate change has admitted he is "terrified" of his own technology.

A leading scientist investigating geoengineering solutions to climate change has admitted he is "terrified" of his own technology.
But Dr Matthew Watson believes if nothing can be done to turn the tide of global warming the human race may be forced to risk interfering with nature on a planetary scale.
Dr Watson, principal investigator for the Spice project which is looking at ways of simulating the cooling effects of volcanoes, said: "Personally, this stuff terrifies me.
"I'm easily terrified. I think if we ever deploy SRM (Solar Radiation Management) it will be the closest indication yet that we've failed as planetary stewards.
"I believe that. It's a watershed for our relationship with the Earth and with nature. It fundamentally changes the way seven billion people are going to interact with the world, and I'm not sure the system is going to be controllable in the way we want."
SRM envisages using water droplets or sulphur particles to reduce the amount of radiation from the Sun reaching the Earth, mimicking what happens after major volcanic eruptions.
An early Spice experiment, one of the first to move geoengineering technology out of the laboratory, was cancelled in May amid controversy over alleged conflicts of interest.
The trial would have used a weather balloon to inject 150 litres of piped water into the atmosphere.
Scientists are still in the process of uncovering the potential hazards of geoengineering to counteract climate change.
One of the biggest risks is disrupting the delicate balance of land and sea weather influences, resulting in drought and extreme rainfall in different parts of the world.
Another danger specifically linked to sulphur particles is the destruction of atmospheric ozone, a vital barrier to harmful solar radiation that can trigger skin cancer and have damaging effects on plants and animals.
Dr Watson, a reader in natural hazards from the University of Bristol, does not expect to see such technology deployed in this decade, but believes the day may come when it cannot be avoided.
"Unless we're very wrong about climate change or quickly change our ways, at some point we're going to have to 'go outside'," he said.
He stressed that without drastic cuts in greenhouse emissions, global warming was on course to make the world 4C hotter by 2100. "That's going to have a profound effect on the planet," he added.
Dr Watson was speaking ahead of a meeting at the Royal Society in London where experts will be told the latest results from computer simulations of the effects of geoengineering.
Spice is one of three projects, together costing the taxpayer £5 million, which will be discussed.
Other potential solutions involve spraying sea salt into low clouds to make them brighter and more reflective, capturing and burying large amounts of carbon underground, raising levels of carbon-absorbing plankton in the oceans, and using shiny materials to increase the reflectivity of deserts.
The scientists agreed there could be no "quick fix" for global warming and priority should be given to reducing carbon emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change.


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