Editorial: Should we be cooling the Arctic?
At the central London ‘Arctic Meltdown’ event on Wednesday evening, organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change , sea ice expert and Professor of Ocean Physics, Peter Wadhams, told the audience that with the rapid sea ice melt witnessed this year, we could see an ice free Arctic for some months in the summer as early as 2015. As I stated in my earlier blog on the Arctic, this blog believes that we’re facing a tipping point in the Arctic and we should be alarmed about what has happened there this year.
But this is not where this blog disagrees with Professor Wadhams. This blog disagrees on the solutions he has put forward. He declared geoengineering as a possible solution to cooling the Arctic and stated that even if we cut our emissions and stabilised the climate, we would not regain that part of the Arctic that was already lost. In his mind the only way of restoring the Arctic, would be with geoengineering. At the same he was proposing geoengineering solutions, a petition was being circulated which had been produced by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group with whom this meeting was jointly organised. The aim of the petition: to gain support for geoengineering. The issue with this, is that the petition was misleading as it did not mention geoengeneering but simply referred to cooling the Arctic, which could easily be misunderstood. It has to be stated though that neither Peter Wadhams nor the Campaign Against Climate Change is involved in the petition itself and the Chair of the event & National Coordinator of Campaign Against Climate Change, Phil Thornhill, told me that the organisation had not adopted a view of supporting geoengineering.
Then the second speaker arrived, Guardian correspondent John Vidal who has just been on the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise in the Arctic, along with research scientists invited by the organisation. Apart from suffering from seasickness due to the rough Arctic weather, Vidal had witnessed some pretty depressing statistics about the drastic loss of Arctic sea ice. Vidal praised Greenpeace for conducting scientific research trips like this and inviting research scientists aboard their ships, adding that: ‘’They (Greenpeace) give scientists an opportunity that only a few scientists who study Arctic sea ice have had, a chance to witness what actually happens in the Arctic’’. He was then confronted about the issue of geoengineering and asked for his personal opinion. Vidal said that it was probably one of the areas where he would disagree with Professor Wadhams, and that geoengineering should only be the very last resort as, it would be very hard to get government approval for and if we do not have that and have entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Bill Gates who are currently investing in it going ahead with it, it could then be disastrous.
In the aftermath of the event, the subject created a bit of a debate on Twitter, with participant Barry Woods tweeting ‘’Lots were passionately against geoengineering, including me’’. Friends of the Earth’s Economics Campaigner, David Powell, tweeting in a personal capacity adding that we have to do both, carbon cuts & geoengineering stating: ‘’I fear climate crisis means we have to look at everything. But agree carbon cuts = priority’’
The opinion of John Vidal is one that this blog shares: we still know very little about geoengineering and we are not in a position to take on any geoengineering projects at the moment, unlike what the petition suggested. We’re years of research away from that. Even in a recent report by the New Scientist, they concluded that most geoengineering projects would either not work, would prove too costly or have too many adverse affect. It seems to be a panic thought created by the climate emergency that the rapid loss of sea ice has brought upon us. But we can’t rush into geoengineering projects, we would be gambling with the future of the planet, it’s uncharted territory. What would happen if we got it wrong? If it really were to work, would it not just give an incentive to the fossil fuel companies to continue to pump CO2 into the air when we have geoengineering to remove it with? Then there is the money issue; the millions and millions that are being spent researching and advocating geoengineering, would it not be better spent in reducing our emissions and investing in clean renewable energy. As John Vidal said it should be the very last resort.
This blog does not believe we’re in a position where we have to take such big gambles with our planet. But what we do need to do is to closely monitor the Arctic over the next few years, conduct scientific research trips to the high North and table a notion that a continued exploration and handing out of oil drilling licenses is totally unacceptable, now more than ever with the rapid changes the Arctic is experiencing.