Latterly, the global community through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has validated and acknowledged the emerging hazard that climate change is. However, it wasn’t always a political and socio-economic priority: just until recently, a multitude of scientists, politicians, and policymakers suspected climate change to be a hoax, a fabricated matter – and to some degree many still ignore the scientific facts. In an era of climate emergency, it is becoming increasingly obvious to many people that climate change is a profound reality, presumptively due to recent examples of extreme climate events. These examples include drastic temperatures, such as -45in northern Scandinavia, acute floods (even in Saudi Arabia), droughts, water shortages, and rapid glacier recession, as conceived at the Columbia Icefields in Alberta, Canada, in the Alps or in Greenland. 

Moreover, scientists confirm the role that human activities have in establishing the rapidly increasing global warming effect. Through human activity (production of electricity & heat, industries, and transportation) greenhouse gasses such as Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide are generated, trapping heat in our atmosphere and heating the planet. This builds up heat-caused extreme weather events such as floods or tornadoes, causes the sea levels to rise, and brings about abrupt, inconsistent changes in the climate. Climate experts refer to this as anthropogenic climate change. By the same token, political leaders have identified that climate change is a global concern – it impacts all social classes, all races, and all backgrounds, although poor and marginalized are most vulnerable. Thus, detecting a solution for the current climate emergency will take a global and interdisciplinary effort. 

This study pivots around how technology could mitigate climate change. It emphasizes an emerging mitigation technology called geoengineering, the “deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change” (Oxford Geoengineering Programme, 2024). The paper will assess its benefits, risks, ethical constraints, political aspects, and will evaluate if environmental and political concerns about geoengineering solutions are justified in an era of climate emergency. 

Geoengineering: Background Information

With the current scope of research, scientists have identified four major domains of geoengineering: Marine cloud brightening, cirrus cloud thinning, ocean fertilization, direct carbon capture, and stratospheric aerosol injection (SRI). All five categories of geoengineering are distinct, but share the common objective of manipulating the environment and partially offsetting some of the effects of climate change (Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Program, 2024). 

Marine cloud brightening refers to an albedo modification technique that aims to increase the reflectivity, and possibly even the lifetimes, of certain clouds in order to reflect more sunlight back into space” (David Keith’s Research Group – Harvard University) as darker entities absorb light, while brighter objects reflect light. For that reason, scientists aspire to brighten marine stratocumulus clouds (low, layered clouds over ocean regions) in order for the clouds to reflect light away before it can be absorbed by earth’s dark oceans and, consequently, warm the planet (Reversing Climate Change with Geoengineering, 2022). A cloud’s brightness largely depends on the mass of the water droplets that make up it – smaller droplets have more surface area, so they scatter more light and appear brighter and vice versa. On that basis, climatologists would brighten clouds by spraying tiny seawater aerosols over bodies of water, so that smaller water droplets form around them and that new, brighter clouds form (Reversing Climate Change with Geoengineering, 2022). This method of geoengineering has benefits and drawbacks – on the one hand, it is easily and quickly implemented and potentially very effective, but on the other hand, it has the potential risk of affecting weather patterns and as a result evoke droughts, flooding, and catastrophic crop failures (How artificially brightened clouds could stop climate change, 2019). 

Cirrus cloud thinning, another frequently discussed geoengineering method, also seeks to manipulate clouds in an attempt to release earth’s heat. Cirrus clouds are a genus of high (reside normally at altitudes of 20,000ft +) clouds composed of ice crystals and regularly appear as wispy or feathery. Oftentimes, these clouds absorb more sunlight than they reflect, due to their frigid environment and ice makeup. If their ice crystals are numerous and small in size, cirrus clouds have the potential of preventing long-wave terrestrial radiation from escaping into space, producing a similar climate impact that greenhouse gasses have (Geoengineering Monitor, 2021). Taking this into account, the cirrus cloud thinning (CCT) method proposes aircrafts injecting ice nuclei, such as bismuth triiodide or aerosol particles as sulfuric or nitric acid, into regions where a high density of cirrus clouds exists. This would yield cirrus clouds with larger ice crystals and shorter life spans, and lessen their optical depth, which would in turn result in more terrestrial radiation getting transmitted into space (Geoengineering Monitor, 2021). This technology translates into more heat escaping Earth’s atmosphere and has a profound cooling effect (National Academies, 2024). However, despite its potential positive climate mitigation impacts, it does raise a handful of important concerns regarding too many ice-nucleating particles and risks of regional precipitation changes and differing effects of seeding in the Southern or Northern Hemispheres. 

In the past century, scientists have realized that another major problem of too much CO2 in the atmosphere is ocean acidification, a phenomenon in which Earth ocean’s pH levels decrease. Thus, to combat this dilemma, researchers engineered ocean fertilization with the aspiration that it will solve ocean acidification and global warming. Given that phytoplankton convert CO2 into oxygen through photosynthesis (microscopic phytoplankton carry out 50% of the world’s photosynthesis), scientists would add nutrients to the upper layer of earth’s oceans to stimulate phytoplankton growth and rapidly reduce atmospheric CO2 levels (What Is Ocean Fertilization?, 2024). Similar to how fertilizers can be added to gardens to accelerate the growth of plants, a number of fertilizers (iron is the main ocean fertilizer currently under consideration) would be added to oceans to help phytoplanktons grow faster and consume more CO2 (Reversing Climate Change with Geoengineering, 2022). Nonetheless, despite the benefits that ocean fertilization may usher, it has various risks – for instance, it may initiate an algae bloom that depletes oxygen from water, thus greatly harming other marine organisms, and could potentially disrupt marine food chains. 

Taking into account a more commercial approach to geoengineering may entail considering direct carbon capture. This geoengineering technology involves filtering CO2 out of the air through large fans and storing excess CO2 underground or funneling it for commercial purposes. Regardless of its fewer risks and its ability to address the core problem of excess atmospheric CO2, it has the perks of requiring a lot of upfront research, investments, and the ambition of the private sector to initiate this technology. Furthermore, it may bring about risks relating to the add up of CO2 and require large quantities of energy to run it, possibly even more than produced. 

Currently, stratospheric aerosol injection (SRI), is the most discussed, realistic and technologically advanced geoengineering method. SRI, first proposed in 1974 by the Russian climatologist Mikhail Ivanovich Budyko, is the process in which small reflective sulfur dioxide (SO2) particles or aerosols are injected into the Stratosphere (7-31 miles above earth’s surface between the troposphere and the mesosphere), where they form sunlight-reflecting sulfate aerosols (For Stratospheric Aerosol Injection, All Strategies are Not Created Equal, 2023). In doing so, scientists anticipate that the reflective sulfate aerosols will reflect sunlight back into space, and hence cool the planet and restrain the effects of climate change. Carrying out SRI in the Stratosphere will permit the process to be isolated, accessible by plane, and secured from the weather (e.g. rain or winds) which may cause the aerosol spray particles to fall quickly to the ground (Stratospheric Aerosol Injection | A Solar Radiation Management (SRM) Geoengineering Approach). Additionally, stratospheric aerosol injection “differs from GHG mitigation (emission reduction and CO2 removal) in two key ways: (i) its direct deployment costs are potentially lower; (ii) its effects are potentially rapid and large, and as all other geoengineering technologies, it does not treat the root cause of climate change: the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere ” (Honegger, Michaelowa and Ran, 2021). Please note that the below sections on the benefits and perks of geoengineering will mainly focus on SRI, as it is the method that is most scientifically researched and currently most considered but could cause also irreversible catastrophic impacts on the Earth’s ecosystems and ultimately threaten the survival of humans on Earth. 

The Benefits of Geoengineering

Currently, geoengineering is being excessively discussed by the climate community due to the significant potentials that the new climate mitigation technology possesses. The key potential benefits of the technology are outlined below. 

Geoengineering could be actively utilized to stall and reverse the climate emergency and achieve the Paris Agreement 2030 goals in a timely and technologically feasible manner with immediate and measurable results. 

Recent studies show that geoengineering could cool the planet already within a year after application and with a margin of the cost of other climate mitigation options – it would cost $100 million to implement a global geoengineering program, but $1 trillion to implement widespread nuclear energy (Solar geoengineering: Spectacle, tragedy, or solution?, 2022). To that end, the technology would reduce pressure on the most vulnerable and often poorest populations – owing to their geography (e.g. seafront towns) and lack of resources – that are impacted by climate change. The technology could promptly reduce health impacts on our earth’s citizens from extreme heat, cold, and weather-related catastrophes, and abate stress on agricultural production that may be impacted by the latter. 

Additionally, the mitigation technology would permit better access to education due to reduced pressure from weather related mental impacts, and overall health concerns of pupils. It could also grant better access to educational institutions for girls as there would be less stress linked to family support, and regarding access to adequate goods. It would additionally allow for improved water excess due to superior ecosystem stability, minimized water evaporation and more stable participation. 

Moreover, geoengineering would probably establish more reliability in energy generation due to fewer temperature extremes, increased economic development (due to fewer immoderate weather episodes), and fewer frequent disturbances to major infrastructure sites, again mainly due to fewer weather extremes. Geoengineering could provide more room for less fortunate families to gain access to economic opportunities and jobs due to reduced pressure to access basic infrastructure. 

Within a very short timeframe, geoengineering would trigger lower temperatures and reduce the pressure that comes with extreme temperatures, decrease “climate induced resource-conflicts”, offset the warming increased by atmospheric CO2, and cut domestic spending on adaptation for climate change (Honegger, Michaelowa, Ran, 2021). 

Finally, it is also predicted that geoengineering may bring about future innovations in technology, economically reward all parties involved in the deployment of the technology – entrepreneurs, investors, and supporting nations (Solar geoengineering: Spectacle, tragedy, or solution?, 2022), and possibly even create new jobs for scientists, engineers, and other workers (Geoengineering Explained: Pros and Cons of Geoengineering, 2021). 

The Uncertainties and Risks of Geoengineering

While scientists have recognized that geoengineering may aid our current climate emergency and reduce the overshoot of greenhouse gasses, it is also evident that this new method of mitigating climate change entails several risks and uncertainties. These risks may correlate with governance, ethics, and impacts on sustainable development (Reynolds, 2020). 

Hence, its reception in the climate expert community has been incommensurate despite its substantial potential (Reynolds, 2020). 

Recent research refers to the impact of geoengineering (especially SRM) as comparable to a volcanic eruption. Climate scientists have identified that geoengineering may have pronounced implications on regional climates. As perceived by past volcanic eruptions, stratospheric injections of sulfate aerosols may lead to reduced participation, soil moisture, and river flow. Furthermore, recent volcanic activity in the tropics ushered winter warming in the Northern hemisphere and enfeebled monsoons in Asia and Africa and decreased participation. As a matter of fact, scientists even today believe that the months-long eruption of the Laki fissure in Iceland between 1783-1784 added to the famine in India, Japan, and Africa (Robock, 2008). 

Research shows geoengineering also has “the known downside of contributing – albeit to a limited extent – to acidification of soils and surface waters” (Honegger, Michaelow and Pan, 2020). Acidification is the process in which carbon dioxide is absorbed by the seawater, causing a number of chemical reactions to take place and the concentration of hydrogen ions to increase. This prompts the seawater to become more acidic and causes carbonate ions to become less abundant (National Ocean Service, 2023). It leads to several concerns – such as potential conditions created by geoengineering that might “eat away at the minerals used by oysters, clams, lobsters, shrimp, coral reefs, and other marine life to build their shells and skeletons” (NOAA Fisheries, 2024). This harms animals that are sensitive to acidity and life forms that rely on carbonate-based organisms, thus seriously impacting the food chains (EPA, 23). 

Given the reality that solar geoengineering does not remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but rather reflects sunlight back into space, the pressing issue of ocean acidification won’t cease (Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Program, 2024), particularly if parties don’t introduce policies that restrict continued generation of carbon emissions. An overall increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses would only mean that the world’s oceans would become more acidic, “as about half of all excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is removed by ocean uptake” (Alan Robock, 2008). Currently, the oceans are already 30% more acidic than they were prior to the Industrial Revolution, and continued acidification would only increase the proportion and impacts and its associated risks. 

Climate change analysts have identified that “there is potential for secondary effects on the ozone layer and cloud formation that could arise from aerosol interaction” ( Honegger, Michaelow and Pan, 2020). The ozone layer is a thin layer of gasses in the atmosphere that absorbs a large volume of the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet (UV) light (National Geographic, 2024) – a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths shorter than that of visible light. Given that SRM geoengineering injects sulfur dioxide particles into the stratosphere, it is anticipated that it will have a significant effect on the ozone layer, as these particles serve as the cornerstone for the chemical reaction that harms the ozone layer in similar ways as water and nitric aerosols in the polar stratosphere produced the Antarctic ozone hole ( Robock, 2008). This constant increase of aerosols will harm much larger areas of the ozone layer, warm the planet, and increase the damage created by UV light. Moreover, it is also thought that it will bring about heating of the lower tropical stratosphere, which, in turn, will “increase water vapor concentration causing additional ozone loss and surface warming” (National Library of Medicine, 2016). Greater amounts of UV light may have a number of consequences, such as increased risks of potentially eye blinding diseases and skin cancer (CDC, 2024). UV light can penetrate organisms’ skins and cause harm to one’s cells and DNA and weaken one’s immune system (American Cancer Society 2024). 

Also, climatologists have pinpointed that geoengineering also has implications for acid deposition. Acid deposition is any form of precipitation with acidic components, such as sulfuric or nitric acid (EPA, 2023). Considering that sulfate will be regularly injected into the stratosphere with geoengineering, it is likely that acid deposition will intensify as the material passes through the troposphere – the atmospheric layer closest to earth’s surface (Alan Robock, 2008). More acid deposition will likely mean more acute implications on the ecosystem, as it will be more challenging for plants to grow and for aquatic life to survive (EPA, 2024), and public health – the gasses (nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide) that provoke acid rain may bring about respiratory diseases. 

Scientists have also discovered that with the inauguration of geoengineering, solar radiation levels would decrease by almost 2%. Even this minimal reduction would significantly affect the radiation available for renewable energy and solar power systems (Robock, 2008). Thus, making geoengineering an indefinite race – on one hand, earth’s citizens are tirelessly attempting to reduce the effects of global warming, but on the other hand, citizens are continuously producing more greenhouse gasses without a clear technical pathway to net zero emissions. 

Researchers have also recognized that if geoengineering is integrated in the portfolio of options to combat climate change, there is no going back: current studies fail to reveal how long it may take to shut down a geoengineering system or even if it is possible. In addition, rapid warming is expected to follow, which would produce much more pressure on the environment and society than moderate climate change (Roboeck, 2008).

The Ethical and Political Implications of Geoengineering

Like with any major human innovation, geoengineering also holds political and ethical implications that must be widely considered. Some of these ethical and political implications are discussed below. 

Firstly, it is recognized that political leaders, especially in authoritarian countries, would lean towards initiating geoengineering, as it acts as a bold and quick solution to global warming that shows their ability to act swiftly and under pressure. As the leader must be seen in direct control of their country’s problems, easy approaches that can be understood by their electorate are attractive, especially if it allows them to maintain their political authority. However, often such decisions can generate significantly negative effects: under such circumstances, the leader can push through much more risky decisions than would be possible under a democracy with checks and balances, protection of vulnerable groups, and a willingness to consider scientific assessments (Michaelowa, 2021). 

What’s more, geoengineering begs several important questions that must be carefully considered before its implementation. Such deep political and ethical concerns query who will be involved in determining if and how geoengineering will be implemented – will vulnerable groups that play a small role in climate change have a seat at the table, and how will the global community come to a consensus of what method will be carried out and what climate will be established (Morrow, 2017). What happens if China, for instance, desires a warmer climate, while India desires it cooler? And if geoengineering gets deployed, who will be responsible for its consequences – the wealthy, powerful countries such as the United States or China that play a substantial role in the climate emergency, or the poor, vulnerable nations such as the Pacific Island Nations (e.g. Vanuatu) that play a minor role in global warming? Could there be an international legal or governmental framework that monitors its execution and repercussions? Would the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice be involved? Or can its positive and negative impacts be fairly distributed across the globe – will all countries benefit equally or be of disadvantage evenly, or will some nations profit more from it than others? Finally, will the implementation of geoengineering gamble with future generations and condemn today’s generation to continue an activity they will wish we had never begun with? (Morrow, 2017) 

At the end, one crucial moral question is emerging: “Will the results of deploying geoengineering be worse than the alternative – inaction in the face of accelerating climate change? (Suarez and Aalst, 2016) Until politicians, scientists, and policymakers answer this question faithfully, geoengineering may never become a reality. 


The climate emergency has already had catastrophic impacts on the environment and humans, such as droughts, floods, droughts, wildfires, and rapid glacier recession. This research assesses the controversy that surrounds geoengineering. On one hand, the climate emergency is getting substantially worse with each year as its implications are intensifying. The global community is in a desperate position to find a bold and quick solution to the issue at hand, and many believe that geoengineering technologies can help them in doing so. However, while geoengineering has the potential to stop the immediate most severe impacts of climate change, there are also substantial risks associated with this technology, such as increased acidification, effects on regional climates, depletion of the ozone layer, and more acid depletion. Based on current global research, the risks associated with geoengineering still outweigh its benefits. Therefore, most governments are reluctant to consider its application, despite the immediate positive impacts it may have. However, if the global community does choose to deploy geoengineering, it could only help humans to manage the immediate impacts of climate change on earth in a more controlled manner, buying the planet time to adjust and making society better adapted (Reversing Climate Change with Geoengineering, 2022). 

Building on this literature research, Rye High School students will have the opportunity to learn about this important topic through an official Rye High School Forum event as this generation will be responsible for making decisions surrounding geoengineering. Panelists from different backgrounds will be invited to discuss key concepts in the field of geoengineering with my peers. Panelists will include Adam Rogers (former United Nations senior advisor), Ely Sandler (Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School), Ignacio Neri (Columbia University; Earth Institute SUMA Fellow), Joshua Schwarz (Research Physicist specializing in Atmospheric Composition and Chemical Processes at the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado), among others. 

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