Climate change plays animportant role in modern day engineering practices. Across the world, there hasbeen a consensus on the impacts of climate change and the need to mitigate thefactors that enhance this concept through various sustainable developmentpractices. The impacts of climate change are widely known, and so are themethods that are being instituted to help reverse these impacts. Theexponential growth in the rate of climate change in the recent years drives theneed for more sustainable methods of prevention and mitigation.
The chart belowshows the trends in climate change over the past years. Figure1: Trends in Climate Change (Source:Nasa (2017))Inthe engineering sector, changes in design and implementation practices towardssustainability are one of the themes that are pursued across the world toreduce the impacts of climate change. Structural engineering has changedsignificantly, with most developed countries beginning to shift towards greenbuilding technologies which are aimed at reducing energy consumption as well asreducing the impacts of buildings on climate change.
In the conversation aboutclimate change prevention, the concept of climate change engineering orgeoengineering comes into perspective.Geo-engineeringis described as a variety of technologies and techniques that are applied tointentionally change the global climate through forestalling the impacts ofclimate change (CEC, 2017). In the recent times, the discussions on climateengineering have intensified, with the focus being on the benefits of suchtechnologies rather than the other impacts of climate engineering. Factors suchas the feasibility, costs, challenges, and the risks surrounding geoengineeringhave been considered in the discussion on the implementation of climateengineering across the world. An important question that is still asked iswhether the risks associated with climate change engineering are worse thanthose related with climate change or not. Similarly, even though there is wideacceptance of the fact that climate change engineering is interconnected to avariety of other engineering and non-engineering fields, specific analogiesinto how this interconnectedness is achieved have not been highlighted. Thepresent paper, therefore, intends to dispel the perceptions that climateengineering has more risks compared to actual climate change and to expound onhow it relates to engineering sustainability. To accomplish this objective, thestudy is guided by the following hypotheses.
· Climateengineering has the potential of reducing the risks posed by climate changesignificantly.· Climateengineering has some elements of practice that rely on technology, which initiatesor drives sustainable engineering practices.Literature ReviewMethodsof Climate Engineering Climate engineering as a phenomenon aims at reducing theimpacts of climate change on the environment. Gawel (2014) defines climateengineering as the phenomenon of technologically managing the world’senvironment in large scale to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Indeed, varioustechniques have been used to help in the realization of reduced solar exposureto the environment, as well as a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxidebeing emitted to the environment to achieve this objective. According to theSecretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2012), none of themethods that have currently been suggested for climate engineering satisfy thethree criteria of safety, effectiveness, and affordability. Moreover, each ofthe methods in use is at a different stage of development, and will still taketime before the actualization of the application process. The methods forgeoengineering can be grouped into two categories, which are carbon dioxideremoval methods and solar radiation management approaches (Gawel, 2014).Methods such as carbon sequestration from the environment through enhancedweathering, ocean fertilization for enhanced CO2 absorption,increased carbon sequestration initiated by ecosystem management, and directcapture of carbon IV oxide from the environment are described as carbon dioxideremoval techniques, and they rely on an effective relay of infrastructures. Assuch, they are not only costly but also challenging to put up.
Similarly, othermethods that revolve around sunlight reflection (SRM) are also costly anddifficult to put in place. Most of them rely on gadgets in space to workeffectively, including space-based approaches, changes in the stratosphericaerosols to reduce their impacts as greenhouse gas covers, and increasingawareness of the climate engineering strategies. The picture below shows howclimate engineering aims at reducing climate change.
Figure 2: Geo- engineering and Climate change (Source: Vidal (2011))Themost commonly identified methods of climate engineering rely on the eliminationof carbon IV oxide from the environment. The objective of reducing carbon IVoxide and other greenhouse gases from the environment is to ensure that peoplework within the constraints of the environmental conditions without beingaffected by the infra-red radiation from the sun. With the greenhouse gasemissions covering the earth’s surface, the retention of infra-red radiation isquite high. This is the rationale for using techniques that remove greenhousegases and hence reduce the retentive probability for the earth’s surface. Thetechnique involves the first stage of capturing the gases from the environmentand the second stage where the gases sequestered are to be stored effectively.In this particular approach to climatic engineering, there must be impacts thatwould require long-term involvement to be registered.
The alternative approachto climate engineering would involve sun reflection techniques, whosefoundation is on preventing the dangerous sun rays from reaching the earth’ssurface. To some extent, this is slightly dangerous especially when there arefailures in the sunlight reflection systems. Any failures can result in therelease of high concentrations of the reflected infra-red and UV rays to theearth. As much as climate engineering is aimed at helping inreducing climate change and its impacts, the rate of human-driven climatechange is significantly high. Hence, reducing climate change will depend highlyon the reduction of the human activities that result in climate change.
Morethan 95% of the climate change that occurs in the contemporary times isattributed to human behaviors (Liu and Chen, 2015). Moreover, the 450 * 10-6scenario as described by IPCC AR is also an indication that humans are largelyresponsible for climate change occurrences (Liu & Chen, 2015). Thebiodiversity plays an important role in the maintenance of the environment withregards to the circulation of greenhouse gases in the biosphere.
Any changes inthe population of the animals and plants in the biosphere, therefore, resultsin significant changes in the concentrations of carbon dioxide and othergreenhouse gases in the biosphere. Currently, determining whether the methods used forclimate engineering would be successful or not depends to a large extent on theimpacts associated with the two methods that are under study. Liu and Chen(2015) assert that it would be difficult to determine whether climateengineering methods could compound the climate change problems currently beingfaced as a result of climate instability. This is furthered by the fact thatthe methods used in climate engineering are still not well understood and thatthere could be slight errors resulting in huge damages to the environment.Risksand Impacts of Climate Engineering According to NAS (2015), current uncertainties in themodeling of the complex climate change and its far-reaching effects make itdifficult to accurately predict what could be the environmental, social,economic and even legal implications of implementing climate engineeringpractices across the world. It is even more difficult to obtain or to describequantitative information regarding the concept of climate engineering and itsimpacts. NAS, therefore, suggests that climate engineering is used only as alast resort to the resolution of the climate change problem, where there hasbeen a massive failure in the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Liuand Chen (2015) also opine that more studies should be conducted on climatechange impacts based on the approach taken and the practices only beimplemented if the risks involved are less than doing nothing.
Otherwise, noneof the methods should be used. TheSecretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2012) mentions some ofthe challenges or implications that would arise from the practice of climateengineering. These implications are described based on the type of climateengineering approach to be applied.
For the SRM methods, one of theimplications mentioned is that the effectiveness of the process in thereduction of global warming is not known with certainty. This means that theonly method towards evaluating this effectiveness is through reliance on andcomparison with measures such as climate change, which would be acting as acontrol measure for global warming. Liuand Chen (2015) have categorized the impacts of climate engineering into threeareas which are the direct impacts on the environment, indirect impacts, and those(both direct and indirect) on climate change policies and politics. On theother hand, Gawel (2014) opines that it is still difficult to understand orexplore the implications that climate engineering would have on the social andpolitical climate change policies due to lack of quantitative data to back upthe research conducted on the practice. Direct environmental impacts asdescribed by Liu and Chen include water and air pollution from the iron powderand sulfates, which are injected into the water and air respectively in a bidto fertilize oceans and increase the reflective capability of the air. Suchchemicals pollute the environment and affect biodiversity. All the methods thataim at reducing the biological concentration of carbon dioxide also have thecapacity for inducing carbon dioxide leakages into the environment.Theindirect environmental impacts, on the other hand, include reduction of globaland local temperatures in a bid to avert global warming.
In this way, it isprobable that when climate engineering methods are applied, they could resultin reduced impacts on precipitation levels and local temperatures, whicheventually affect the agricultural practices. With a probability of more than2% change in the global precipitation levels, this could be the most notableprecipitation change over both land and the equatorial regions. Regarding thepolicies and politics, the realization that climate engineering could changethe impacts of climate change in the environment, it is quite possible for somecountries to do away with their policies on climate change prevention. Thiscould be through reducing the emphasis on green technologies as the way towardsclimate change prevention (Li & Chen, 2015).DiscussionClimatechange engineering is an emerging field of technology, aimed at reducing theimpacts of global warming through preventive measures.
As of now, the methodsthat have been studied as potentially effective in the practice of climateengineering are the sunlight reduction methodologies and carbon dioxidereduction practices. However, there are yet to be any quantitative indicatorsof any of these practices, thus making it difficult to accurately predict theoutcomes of the implications of any climate engineering practices andactivities. According to most of the literature reviewed, climate engineeringas a concept is yet to gain wide application. Many studies have also shown thatthere could be both direct and indirect implications of climate engineering,which would increase risks associated with climate change relative to doingnothing. One of the impacts of climate engineering as derived from theliterature is that it may affect decision making regarding policies andpolitical beliefs surrounding climate change discussions.
Sustainable Engineering and ClimateEngineering Climate change as a subject has risen to capture theattention of most well-meaning organizations and nations across the world. Theimpacts of human activities are considered to be the greatest drivers ofclimate change in the world today. According to various studies, climate changeis currently under constant surveillance, with many organizations andgovernments making efforts to reduce impacts of human activities on climatechange. The technology uses across different industries are aimed at reducingthe emission of greenhouse gases and protecting the ozone layer from depletion.
This has in effect led to the initiation of engineering practices such as greenengineering, which is also described as sustainable engineering measures. Theobjective of such measures is to reduce the release of greenhouse gases as muchas possible through the use of clean fuels, green building technologies, andgreen energy sources across the world. Governments are also putting in placeinitiatives through which those who constantly practice green technologies inthe building as well as in the transportation industries obtain extra benefitsfor their services and products. One of the most phenomenal features that arose as aresult of the desire to control climate change across the world is that of LEEDcertification, where organizations which are focused on green building andenergy management are awarded certification and global recognition. In suchcases, organizations make extra efforts to engage in practices that reduceclimate change probabilities. With climate change engineering, the impacts onengineering sustainability are evident. For instance, Swanson (2006) assertsthat engineers may find it difficult to plan for the future where it isimpossible to see the future. In this regard, climate change models have helpedto construct designs that can withstand policies and regulations on climatechange impacts in the future.
Therefore, this means that with the uncertaintysurrounding the impacts of climate engineering, it can be all the moredifficult for engineers to plan their roles satisfactorily. This concept bringsabout the adaptability issue to engineering practice, where environmentalchanges drive engineering technologies towards better adaptation andpreparation for the future (Scott, 2014). According to Swanson (2006), the issue of adaptability isnot the only concept that would affect engineering sustainability in the faceof climate engineering. The other factor is the ethical responsibility forengineers to mitigate climate change. In the absence of climate engineering,the responsibility to reduce emissions and thus prevent climate change lieswith the engineers in the design of equipment, buildings, and application ofvarious technologies. However, with the inception of climate engineering, thisethical responsibility also has the potential to fade away. When technologieshave been put in place to control the climate through sunlight reflection andcarbon dioxide reduction, there would be no need for engineers to design greenbuildings anymore. This is all the more possible where it has been establishedthat climate engineering has a potential positive outcome with regards topreventing climate change.
It is therefore probable that engineers may losetheir professional code of ethics with regards to responsibility for climatechange with the invention of climate engineering.ConclusionGeoengineeringas an emerging concept has brought about a wide range of discussions about itsrelevance to the climate change scenario across the world. While there isinformation that practices such as sunlight reflection and carbon dioxidereduction could result in positive outcomes with regards to reducing climatechange, there is still a general lack of quantitative information on howclimate engineering could impact the environment. It is however purported thatin case the risks and implications associated with geoengineering are worsethan those associated with inactivity, it would be better for the entireconcept to be shelved. Not only will climate engineering change the globalclimate but it will also result in a modification of engineering practices.
Forinstance, the success of climate engineering approaches in the prevention ofclimate change could drive engineers towards the loss of their ethicalresponsibility to prevent climate change.