If we must research climate engineering, sucking carbon dioxide out of the air ought to be higher up our list of priorities
CLIMATE engineering experiments have an unfortunate habit of going wrong before they get going. Earlier this year, a project to test the feasibility of pumping sun-blocking particles into the stratosphere was cancelled after a mix-up over intellectual-property rights. Another high-profile test – of dumping iron particles into the ocean to stimulate plankton growth – failed miserably after being disrupted by protesters.
Such failures may be a source of satisfaction for those who find the idea of engineering the climate abhorrent. But the unpalatable truth is that we need to find out what works. There now appears to be little chance of avoiding at least 2 °C of warming over pre-industrial levels. At some point we may have to try to engineer our way out of trouble.
That is why long-awaited results from an ocean fertilisation test are good news (see “Geoengineering with iron might work after all”). The technology has always looked promising but has acquired a bad reputation, not least because companies have tried to use it as a means of making a profit through carbon credits.
Now a publicly funded test has shown that the technology can work. It is not a panacea: at best it might soak up a tenth of emissions, and the effects of doing it on a large scale are not known. But it is something.