Without geo-engineering, we are screwed

This piece was originally published on Stuff.co.nz

Last week’s update from the world’s climate scientists was grim – we are likely to see the globe warm by 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond the pre-industrial level as soon as 2030.

We may overshoot and hit 2 degrees soon after, causing all sorts of mayhem as coastal communities are swamped, crops fail, species die and water supplies come under pressure.

The political will just isn’t there to de-carbonise the economy fast enough. If we’d started in earnest a decade ago – when the UN’s climate conference at Copenhagen instead ended in failure – we may have had a chance.

But as Victoria University climate science Professor Tim Naish said last week, the prospect of staying within that 1.5 degree threshold is now an “academic idea”.

“I think that without technology we’re just not going to make it,” he told RNZ.

Where politicians have failed, technologists will have to take over. I’m not talking about better solar panels and electric cars.

We’ll need technology to suck carbon from the air as well as from power plants and factories and store it underground.

We’ll probably need more radical schemes to geo-engineer the climate by pumping aerosol particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back to out to space.

Most scientists don’t like those solutions – they may have unintended environmental consequences and suggest there’s an easy fix, like popping a pill for high blood pressure.

But we’ve only got one ace card left to play – the accelerating pace of technological disruption that is shaping the 21st century. We need to harness it to engineer our way out of this mess.

At least if we finally take geo-engineering seriously, we can regulate it properly to eliminate the  worst side effects.

❑ It’s an honour to be taking up the reins as a Stuff science columnists. I didn’t agree with everything Bob Brockie wrote, but he was always entertaining. His roadkill study was one of the most quirky and brilliant research projects to come out of New Zealand science.