You may spend much of your days in a climate-controlled environment where the touch of a button or the turn of a dial will adjust the temperature. Could you imagine having such a thermostat for Earth’s climate? The planet is getting too warm, so let’s just dial back the temperature.
Climate engineering – also referred to as geoengineering, climate intervention or climate hacking - is an attempt to purposefully manipulate the climate (as opposed to the unintentional changes humans have caused through burning fossil fuels and deforestation). Although global climate control may not be quite as simple as your home thermostat, its implementation could happen quickly and relatively inexpensively, at least when compared to other efforts to mitigate climate change. When sunlight passes through the atmosphere and is absorbed by Earth’s surface, much of that energy is re-emitted as heat energy. Cut down on the amount of sunlight reaching Earth, and you’ve effectively turned down the thermostat. This could be accomplished by increasing aerosols in the atmosphere that would reflect sunlight back into space.
This possibility has a lot of appeal. Perhaps we don’t have to worry so much about our use of fossil fuels? Perhaps we aren’t looking at a future with rising oceans and major biodiversity losses due to climate change? If this answer seems a little bit too easy, that’s probably because it is. The National Academy of Sciences recently released a report recommending that atmospheric changes to reflect more sunlight not be implemented at this time. The reason? There remains too much uncertainty and risk involved in this type of climate intervention. Efforts to solve one problem could cause others, such as damage to the ozone layer or changes to precipitation patterns.
God has given us the minds and capabilities to explore this possibility, yet I approach this option with great fear.
As Christians looking at the state of the planet, we can see that we have not fully lived into our role as stewards who have been given the mandate of creation care. High-income countries continue to burn massive amount of fossil fuels, effectively ignoring the pressure that climate changes put on God’s creatures. Brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are being affected by rising sea levels, extreme weather events and changes to agricultural and hunting practices as a result. In the midst of this grim picture, Christ is calling us to work alongside Him in His redemptive plan. What does this look like in the face of climate change? Could it include climate engineering? Or will this merely be a temptation to neglect other efforts?
Although the National Academy of Sciences has recommended putting large-scale efforts at blocking the sunlight reaching Earth off the table for now, they have suggested further research to better understand how well the process would work and with what consequences. I cannot say that geoengineering is an inherently untenable option. God has given us the minds and capabilities to explore this possibility, yet I approach this option with great fear. Even with further knowledge of the subject, could hubris lead us to believe we have understood the implications of our actions, when in fact we might unleash a cascade of unintended consequences?
Meanwhile, as we consider our choices, “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” Let us heed the groaning of creation as we seek to live into our role as Earthkeepers. I pray that individuals and nations will seek wise ways to care for God’s creation and His people, and that we will not create an equally dangerous problem in our efforts to solve the problem of climate warming.