Geoengineering proposals can sound like science-fiction, but as natural disasters become ever more costly and disruptive, regional planners and community developers just might want to keep an eye on some of the smaller scale ideas.
Reports that the IPCC predicts the earth will exceed the 1.5 degree Celsius global warming threshold by 2032 are fueling interest. No less a media eminence than The Economist filed a report last November that "Solar Geoengineering Is Becoming a Respectable Idea." There were over 80 geoengineering side events at COP-28.
These ideas tend to focus on three different approaches for addressing global warming: solar radiation management, earth radiation management, and carbon dioxide removal.
Earth radiation management focuses on making it easier for the earth to release heat into space by thinning clouds or otherwise tinkering with the heat capture effects of the atmosphere.
Greenhouse Gas Removal or Carbon Geoengineering includes a range of strategies to remove carbon from the atmosphere including afforestation, biochar, ambient air capture, ocean fertilization, and ocean alkalinity enhancement.
While mitigating these global challenges may not seem as relevant at the local level, there is also increasing interest in exploring technologies that can help communities cope with hurricanes and typhoons better, renew and replenish arid and drought-ridden environments, and withstand tidal waves better.
A Japan research team is working on TyphoonShot, a project designed not only to abate large storms, but to harness their energy to reduce home electrical bills.
With only 12% of its territory comprised of arable land, China is developing strategies to reclaim deserts through soil replenishment techniques and afforestation.
Combatting desertification is taking on new urgency in the American southwest, Europe, and Africa as well. This includes replenishing groundwater, desalination, and other mechanisms to overcome water deficits.
Mangroves, wetlands, and other natural defenses have also been shored up in recent years to mitigate the destructive power of tidal waves and tsunamis. Louisiana is taking a page from the Netherlands and the Emiratis and undertaking a multi-billion dollar project to reclaim 21 square miles of land in Plaquemines Parish by 2070.
None of these ideas should be considered lightly. Proposed geoengineering solutions can sometimes be worse than the problem, or cost more, or create different problems down the road. This is why controlled habitat research and digital modeling is so important to ensure positive outcomes.
That being said, geoengineering has been around since humans built the first dam and levee. What's different now, is that the stakes are much higher. Experts believe that sea level rise could cost coastal economies that depend on travel and tourism billions of dollars. One specialist in housing elevations estimates that the U.S. has a trillion dollar flooding problem because houses and roads built for one type of climate a few generations ago aren't suited for the conditions they face today.
Unfortunately, it does not look like there will be any global solutions for mitigating extreme weather or adverse climate changes any time soon. For emergency managers, economic developers, regional planners and community leaders, small-scale geoengineering is a way to fundamentally attack local vulnerabilities in the meantime. If you are living in a place that used to flood 8 times a year and now floods 200, you know that bandaids won't do. Diverse options have to be on the table.