Technology alone is not enough to save us from the climate crisis
On what is known as Blue Monday — the third Monday of the new year — I set off in search of a cheerful topic to write about. We are constantly told that technology can save us from climate doom. So I decided to look at some of the promising developments and ideas that could save humanity as well as the planet.
From the pig’s tissue-based human heart implant to the tearless onions finally going on sale in British supermarkets, and from how lab-produced meat replacements could remove a chunk of the methane that is sent into the atmosphere by cattle to talk of fitting mirrors in the sky to deflect the sun’s rays and help cool our overheating planet. These are all great ideas that could give humanity hope that the planet can be saved.
The COP26 summit on climate change, held in Glasgow last year, failed to deliver the breakthrough many had hoped for. Humankind attempts to reach an agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Although the US and China signed a joint declaration promising to reduce their emissions, blueprints for such work may not be available until much later, if ever. One must remain optimistic on the third Monday January.
One hopes that 2022 won’t be the same as 2021, in terms of the flooding in China and Germany that killed hundreds, destroyed crops, or the wildfires which ravaged Greece and Italy, Turkey and Israel. This might seem ambitious as all signs point to more of this, with humanity likely to continue its long sleepwalk towards doom. The Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up,” which caused a stir recently, showed how modern day individuals are unable to see beyond their respective bubbles and be concerned about impending catastrophe.
The most promising of the technologies I looked into, which made me somewhat hopeful, was a planetary-scale engineering scheme designed to cool the Earth’s surface and lessen the impact of global warming. This plan is based on so-called solar radiation modification and it works by injecting billions of sulfur particles into the middle atmosphere in the hope of turning back some of the sun’s rays that warm our planet.
My happiness was short-lived however, as 60 scientists and experts this week warned governments, asking them to stop the process. They stated that it could have serious consequences that outweigh any benefits. In an open letter, the experts stated that global regulation of solar geoengineering is not possible. They asked governments and the UN to stop the normalization of solar geengineering as a climate option.
Pushed to buy time until better solutions emerge to stall climate change, some want to embrace solar geoengineering and artificially dim the sun’s radiative force, but studies have shown that this could disrupt monsoon rains and, in parts of Asia and Africa, ravage rain-fed crops that feed hundreds of millions of people.
Some want to embrace solar geoengineering and artificially dim the sun’s radiative force, but studies have shown this could disrupt monsoon rains.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a recent assessment that “stratospheric sulfate injection weakens the African and Asian summer monsoons and causes drought in the Amazon as well.” Though some regions could benefit from this technology, such as by curtailing the risk of drought in southern Africa, scientists have been worried about the so-called termination shock in case seeding the atmosphere with sun-blocking particles was to stop suddenly, which could lead to a rapid surface temperature increase, according to the IPCC.
Also, solar radiation modification would not stop the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide that is literally altering the chemistry in the oceans.
Reversing climate change can’t be achieved by science and technology alone, or by governments acting alone. Unsupported farmers and consumers should not bear this burden.
However, the clock is ticking. I did find a more optimistic template that could offer some positive news. Climate change has been a major problem in the Middle East. Average temperatures in the Eastern Mediterranean have increased by 2 C since the 1950s. An additional 4 C increase is likely by the end the century. However, an initiative between Jordan, Israel and Palestine has come up with a down-to-earth solution called the “Green Blue Deal.” The green part will aim to provide clean energy and reduce emissions through the use of solar farming. According to recent modeling, the blue part of the deal is water. With a 40% decrease in rainfall, water supply will be decreasing across the region.
The deal consists of the three entities working together, using Jordan’s vast swath of sunny lands to produce power and take it to the Palestinian territories and Israel’s grid. Jordan will receive desalinated water, which is cheaply produced from plants on the Mediterranean coast of its neighbors, in return for solar energy.
Yes, there are many challenges to be overcome in a polarized place like the Middle East. However, solving the problem of climate changes might bring people together with a little bit of science and technology, behavioral adjustment, and a lot more goodwill. Raising hopes that technology will save the planet can only lead to misinformation and disincentivize governments to work as hard as they can to achieve decarbonization and carbon neutrality.
- Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant and trainer with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this section by authors are their opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News.