Across the centuries, humans have adapted to the challenges presented by nature through the development of increasingly sophisticated technologies. In all cases, these technologies have altered the environment to some degree. As the global human population has grown into the billions, these impacts are now so substantial that the resources, including the services provided by earth system upon which humans depend for their livelihood, health, and well-being, are in jeopardy. Arguably, the most important of the earth's systems, global climate, is changing in a manner that is difficult to predict - due to human activities.
Seen as a delaying tactic or as a possible "last resort" action to limit catastrophic climate change, geoengineering is receiving increasing attention among academic, government, and commercial groups. The claim that geoengineering may become necessary as a means of mitigating the consequences of our continuing global dependence upon fossil fuels reflects the philosophy that the earth's climate system can be explicitly and successfully managed with human technology. This philosophy has yet to be evaluated in a systematic analysis that integrates existing knowledge of the earth system response to significant perturbations of the type and scale that would result from geoengineering projects. Given the scale of the potential effects of attempts to directly manage global climate, the international community must engage in just such a thorough analysis.
Should the global community conclude that some form of geoengineering may be both feasible and effective at rapidly mitigating climate warming; the immediate and long-term costs of implementation of the proposed projects must be evaluated. Cost, in the context of a geoengineering project assessment, must include an accounting for the complex, potentially undesirable side effects of altering large components of Earth's climate system. It will be these costs, in addition to the costs of implementation and maintenance of the scheme, that must be weighed against the assessed costs of the alternatives, such as aggressive GHG mitigation policies, as well as the costs associated with continued reliance on fossil fuels without strict GHG emissions controls, our "business as usual" status.
The existing scientific literature is, however, insufficient for the task of judging the efficacy and global impacts of current geoengineering proposals. Therefore, the essential first step that must be taken in advance of serious consideration of large-scale geoengineering is targeted, thorough scientific evaluation of the proposals under discussion.
While the degree to which geoengineering should or can be employed as a climate management strategy is the subject of debate, the scientists participating in these discussions agree that aggressive action towards cutting GHG emissions should not be supplanted by geoengineering. The earth system may not recover from the sustained implementation of some of the proposed strategies. Geoengineering, at best, should be regarded as a short-term strategy in the long-term management of Earth's climate system.
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