Climate compared to actual climate change and to expound

Climate change plays an
important role in modern day engineering practices. Across the world, there has
been a consensus on the impacts of climate change and the need to mitigate the
factors that enhance this concept through various sustainable development
practices. The impacts of climate change are widely known, and so are the
methods that are being instituted to help reverse these impacts. The
exponential growth in the rate of climate change in the recent years drives the
need for more sustainable methods of prevention and mitigation. The chart below
shows the trends in climate change over the past years.

Figure
1: Trends in Climate Change (Source:
Nasa (2017))

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In
the engineering sector, changes in design and implementation practices towards
sustainability are one of the themes that are pursued across the world to
reduce the impacts of climate change. Structural engineering has changed
significantly, with most developed countries beginning to shift towards green
building technologies which are aimed at reducing energy consumption as well as
reducing the impacts of buildings on climate change. In the conversation about
climate change prevention, the concept of climate change engineering or
geoengineering comes into perspective.

Geo-engineering
is described as a variety of technologies and techniques that are applied to
intentionally change the global climate through forestalling the impacts of
climate change (CEC, 2017). In the recent times, the discussions on climate
engineering have intensified, with the focus being on the benefits of such
technologies rather than the other impacts of climate engineering. Factors such
as the feasibility, costs, challenges, and the risks surrounding geoengineering
have been considered in the discussion on the implementation of climate
engineering across the world. An important question that is still asked is
whether the risks associated with climate change engineering are worse than
those related with climate change or not. Similarly, even though there is wide
acceptance of the fact that climate change engineering is interconnected to a
variety of other engineering and non-engineering fields, specific analogies
into how this interconnectedness is achieved have not been highlighted. The
present paper, therefore, intends to dispel the perceptions that climate
engineering has more risks compared to actual climate change and to expound on
how it relates to engineering sustainability. To accomplish this objective, the
study is guided by the following hypotheses.

·        
Climate
engineering has the potential of reducing the risks posed by climate change
significantly.

·        
Climate
engineering has some elements of practice that rely on technology, which initiates
or drives sustainable engineering practices.

Literature Review

Methods
of Climate Engineering

            Climate engineering as a phenomenon aims at reducing the
impacts of climate change on the environment. Gawel (2014) defines climate
engineering as the phenomenon of technologically managing the world’s
environment in large scale to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Indeed, various
techniques have been used to help in the realization of reduced solar exposure
to the environment, as well as a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide
being emitted to the environment to achieve this objective. According to the
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2012), none of the
methods that have currently been suggested for climate engineering satisfy the
three criteria of safety, effectiveness, and affordability. Moreover, each of
the methods in use is at a different stage of development, and will still take
time before the actualization of the application process. The methods for
geoengineering can be grouped into two categories, which are carbon dioxide
removal methods and solar radiation management approaches (Gawel, 2014).
Methods such as carbon sequestration from the environment through enhanced
weathering, ocean fertilization for enhanced CO2 absorption,
increased carbon sequestration initiated by ecosystem management, and direct
capture of carbon IV oxide from the environment are described as carbon dioxide
removal techniques, and they rely on an effective relay of infrastructures. As
such, they are not only costly but also challenging to put up. Similarly, other
methods that revolve around sunlight reflection (SRM) are also costly and
difficult to put in place. Most of them rely on gadgets in space to work
effectively, including space-based approaches, changes in the stratospheric
aerosols to reduce their impacts as greenhouse gas covers, and increasing
awareness of the climate engineering strategies. The picture below shows how
climate engineering aims at reducing climate change.

            Figure 2: Geo- engineering and Climate change (Source: Vidal (2011))

The
most commonly identified methods of climate engineering rely on the elimination
of carbon IV oxide from the environment. The objective of reducing carbon IV
oxide and other greenhouse gases from the environment is to ensure that people
work within the constraints of the environmental conditions without being
affected by the infra-red radiation from the sun. With the greenhouse gas
emissions covering the earth’s surface, the retention of infra-red radiation is
quite high. This is the rationale for using techniques that remove greenhouse
gases and hence reduce the retentive probability for the earth’s surface. The
technique involves the first stage of capturing the gases from the environment
and the second stage where the gases sequestered are to be stored effectively.
In this particular approach to climatic engineering, there must be impacts that
would require long-term involvement to be registered. The alternative approach
to climate engineering would involve sun reflection techniques, whose
foundation is on preventing the dangerous sun rays from reaching the earth’s
surface. To some extent, this is slightly dangerous especially when there are
failures in the sunlight reflection systems. Any failures can result in the
release of high concentrations of the reflected infra-red and UV rays to the
earth.

            As much as climate engineering is aimed at helping in
reducing climate change and its impacts, the rate of human-driven climate
change is significantly high. Hence, reducing climate change will depend highly
on the reduction of the human activities that result in climate change. More
than 95% of the climate change that occurs in the contemporary times is
attributed to human behaviors (Liu and Chen, 2015). Moreover, the 450 * 10-6
scenario as described by IPCC AR is also an indication that humans are largely
responsible for climate change occurrences (Liu & Chen, 2015). The
biodiversity plays an important role in the maintenance of the environment with
regards to the circulation of greenhouse gases in the biosphere. Any changes in
the population of the animals and plants in the biosphere, therefore, results
in significant changes in the concentrations of carbon dioxide and other
greenhouse gases in the biosphere.

            Currently, determining whether the methods used for
climate engineering would be successful or not depends to a large extent on the
impacts associated with the two methods that are under study. Liu and Chen
(2015) assert that it would be difficult to determine whether climate
engineering methods could compound the climate change problems currently being
faced as a result of climate instability. This is furthered by the fact that
the methods used in climate engineering are still not well understood and that
there could be slight errors resulting in huge damages to the environment.

Risks
and Impacts of Climate Engineering

            According to NAS (2015), current uncertainties in the
modeling of the complex climate change and its far-reaching effects make it
difficult to accurately predict what could be the environmental, social,
economic and even legal implications of implementing climate engineering
practices across the world. It is even more difficult to obtain or to describe
quantitative information regarding the concept of climate engineering and its
impacts. NAS, therefore, suggests that climate engineering is used only as a
last resort to the resolution of the climate change problem, where there has
been a massive failure in the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Liu
and Chen (2015) also opine that more studies should be conducted on climate
change impacts based on the approach taken and the practices only be
implemented if the risks involved are less than doing nothing. Otherwise, none
of the methods should be used.

The
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2012) mentions some of
the challenges or implications that would arise from the practice of climate
engineering. These implications are described based on the type of climate
engineering approach to be applied. For the SRM methods, one of the
implications mentioned is that the effectiveness of the process in the
reduction of global warming is not known with certainty. This means that the
only method towards evaluating this effectiveness is through reliance on and
comparison with measures such as climate change, which would be acting as a
control measure for global warming.

Liu
and Chen (2015) have categorized the impacts of climate engineering into three
areas which are the direct impacts on the environment, indirect impacts, and those
(both direct and indirect) on climate change policies and politics. On the
other hand, Gawel (2014) opines that it is still difficult to understand or
explore the implications that climate engineering would have on the social and
political climate change policies due to lack of quantitative data to back up
the research conducted on the practice. Direct environmental impacts as
described by Liu and Chen include water and air pollution from the iron powder
and sulfates, which are injected into the water and air respectively in a bid
to fertilize oceans and increase the reflective capability of the air. Such
chemicals pollute the environment and affect biodiversity. All the methods that
aim at reducing the biological concentration of carbon dioxide also have the
capacity for inducing carbon dioxide leakages into the environment.

The
indirect environmental impacts, on the other hand, include reduction of global
and local temperatures in a bid to avert global warming. In this way, it is
probable that when climate engineering methods are applied, they could result
in reduced impacts on precipitation levels and local temperatures, which
eventually affect the agricultural practices. With a probability of more than
2% change in the global precipitation levels, this could be the most notable
precipitation change over both land and the equatorial regions. Regarding the
policies and politics, the realization that climate engineering could change
the impacts of climate change in the environment, it is quite possible for some
countries to do away with their policies on climate change prevention. This
could be through reducing the emphasis on green technologies as the way towards
climate change prevention (Li & Chen, 2015).

Discussion

Climate
change engineering is an emerging field of technology, aimed at reducing the
impacts of global warming through preventive measures. As of now, the methods
that have been studied as potentially effective in the practice of climate
engineering are the sunlight reduction methodologies and carbon dioxide
reduction practices. However, there are yet to be any quantitative indicators
of any of these practices, thus making it difficult to accurately predict the
outcomes of the implications of any climate engineering practices and
activities. According to most of the literature reviewed, climate engineering
as a concept is yet to gain wide application. Many studies have also shown that
there could be both direct and indirect implications of climate engineering,
which would increase risks associated with climate change relative to doing
nothing. One of the impacts of climate engineering as derived from the
literature is that it may affect decision making regarding policies and
political beliefs surrounding climate change discussions.

Sustainable Engineering and Climate
Engineering

            Climate change as a subject has risen to capture the
attention of most well-meaning organizations and nations across the world. The
impacts of human activities are considered to be the greatest drivers of
climate change in the world today. According to various studies, climate change
is currently under constant surveillance, with many organizations and
governments making efforts to reduce impacts of human activities on climate
change. The technology uses across different industries are aimed at reducing
the emission of greenhouse gases and protecting the ozone layer from depletion.
This has in effect led to the initiation of engineering practices such as green
engineering, which is also described as sustainable engineering measures. The
objective of such measures is to reduce the release of greenhouse gases as much
as possible through the use of clean fuels, green building technologies, and
green energy sources across the world. Governments are also putting in place
initiatives through which those who constantly practice green technologies in
the building as well as in the transportation industries obtain extra benefits
for their services and products.

            One of the most phenomenal features that arose as a
result of the desire to control climate change across the world is that of LEED
certification, where organizations which are focused on green building and
energy management are awarded certification and global recognition. In such
cases, organizations make extra efforts to engage in practices that reduce
climate change probabilities. With climate change engineering, the impacts on
engineering sustainability are evident. For instance, Swanson (2006) asserts
that engineers may find it difficult to plan for the future where it is
impossible to see the future. In this regard, climate change models have helped
to construct designs that can withstand policies and regulations on climate
change impacts in the future. Therefore, this means that with the uncertainty
surrounding the impacts of climate engineering, it can be all the more
difficult for engineers to plan their roles satisfactorily. This concept brings
about the adaptability issue to engineering practice, where environmental
changes drive engineering technologies towards better adaptation and
preparation for the future (Scott, 2014).

            According to Swanson (2006), the issue of adaptability is
not the only concept that would affect engineering sustainability in the face
of climate engineering. The other factor is the ethical responsibility for
engineers to mitigate climate change. In the absence of climate engineering,
the responsibility to reduce emissions and thus prevent climate change lies
with the engineers in the design of equipment, buildings, and application of
various technologies. However, with the inception of climate engineering, this
ethical responsibility also has the potential to fade away. When technologies
have been put in place to control the climate through sunlight reflection and
carbon dioxide reduction, there would be no need for engineers to design green
buildings anymore. This is all the more possible where it has been established
that climate engineering has a potential positive outcome with regards to
preventing climate change. It is therefore probable that engineers may lose
their professional code of ethics with regards to responsibility for climate
change with the invention of climate engineering.

Conclusion

Geoengineering
as an emerging concept has brought about a wide range of discussions about its
relevance to the climate change scenario across the world. While there is
information that practices such as sunlight reflection and carbon dioxide
reduction could result in positive outcomes with regards to reducing climate
change, there is still a general lack of quantitative information on how
climate engineering could impact the environment. It is however purported that
in case the risks and implications associated with geoengineering are worse
than those associated with inactivity, it would be better for the entire
concept to be shelved. Not only will climate engineering change the global
climate but it will also result in a modification of engineering practices. For
instance, the success of climate engineering approaches in the prevention of
climate change could drive engineers towards the loss of their ethical
responsibility to prevent climate change.