What if it were possible to modify the climate system to offset global warming? Carnegie Mellon's David Keith is exploring the feasibility of this idea — and its unintended consequences.
"Both because we may need it in an emergency, and because geoengineering is something a nation might start doing unilaterally, the time has come to undertake a transparent and globally coordinated program of research," said M. Granger Morgan, head of Carnegie Mellon's Department of Engineering and Public Policy.
Keith is working as part of a group of researchers from the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's National Academy of Science. Their report is the first by any national science academy devoted to geoengineering, which involves using man-made technology to stem global warming.
Some proposed fixes include injecting sulfur into the stratosphere or capturing CO2 from the air.
"There has been almost no serious research on planetary-scale geoengineering," added Morgan, who also heads Carnegie Mellon's $8 million Climate Decision Making Center (CDMC). "We need to understand it better and be in a position to guard against unintended consequences."
The center has conducted workshops in Washington, D.C., and Lisbon, Portugal, on developing strategies for addressing the global governance of geoengineering. It focuses on helping people and organizations use available but uncertain information to improve their decisions about climate change.
In addition to Carnegie Mellon, the center involves leading researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkley, Oxford University and several others.
According to Keith, geoengineering may prove to be a useful way to manage climate risk, and research is needed despite concerns that research will divert attention from emission controls.
"While reducing emissions remains essential, prudence demands that we study methods that offer hope of limiting the environmental risks posted by the accumulation of fossil carbon in the atmosphere," said Keith, who holds a research chair in energy and the environment at the University of Calgary, Canada, and is an adjunct professor in EPP at Carnegie Mellon.