This Fascinating Visualization Maps A Future World After Climate Geoengineering

Hacking the planet could cool the Earth down, but it might come at a cost.

This Fascinating Visualization Maps A Future World After Climate Geoengineering
Cover Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

If the world manages to cut carbon emissions enough so they peak by 2040–a goal that will be a huge challenge, despite the loftier promises made at the Paris climate talks–life will still change dramatically. A new visualization on Slate shows what average temperatures will be, decade by decade, and how much less they would be if we start to also engineer the earth’s climate, a controversial practice called geoengineering.

As the article explains:

This interactive shows temperature data from one proposed approach to geoengineering, which has us spraying sulfates into the stratosphere beginning in 2020 to reflect more sunlight into space, bringing down global temperatures in the process.

If the world embarked on this massive planet-hacking project in 2020, fifty years later, parts of Canada could be nearly eight degrees cooler than if we just cut emissions. Even much smaller decreases in temperature have long-reaching effects, including changes in patterns of drought, wildfire, crop yields, natural disasters, and infectious diseases.

via Slate

Does that mean that we should start planning massive projects that will proactively lower the planet’s temperature? Not necessarily. The climate system is so complicated that it’s impossible to predict exactly what would happen–and as the visualization shows, it’s possible that geoengineering could actually make some parts of the world hotter, at times, than doing nothing (some of the hot spots on the map could also be due to “statistical noise,” say the researchers who crunched the data). It might also have other unintended effects.

As Ben Kravitz, a climate scientist with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who helped create the model, told Slate:

I’m not saying how climate change should be addressed…what I will say is that according to the model results, geoengineering reduces a lot of the problems associated with climate change. It also might introduce some new ones that we don’t necessarily know. Geoengineering is not perfect.

In other words, it may be time to start at least evaluating geoeingeering proposals more seriously than they are today.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.