Now is the time to answer questions about climate engineering disease impacts

September 28, 2018 by Lisa Palmer, University of Maryland
climate
Credit: public domain

Radical solutions to climate change might save lives, but a commentary in the October 2018 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change calls for caution because geoengineering still lacks a "clean bill of health."

With global fossil-fuel emissions reaching an all-time high and the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, experts have become increasingly interested in "," a set of ambitious and largely undeveloped technologies that could artificially counteract global warming. One proposed approach, called solar radiation management (SRM), would reduce incoming sunlight by injecting tiny aerosol particles into the stratosphere or by brightening clouds. Other approaches would directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Even if some combination of these worked, scientists warn that the climate wouldn't be the same as it was before climate change. And those differences might make a big difference for global , ecologists Colin Carlson and Christopher Trisos argue in the Nature Climate Change article. The article was written while both were postdoctoral fellows at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), a unique University of Maryland center funded by the National Science Foundation that brings together science of the natural world with science of human behavior and decision-making.

So far, Carlson and Trisos say, almost nothing is known about the potential health consequences of such geoengineered "solutions."

"We're a step before saying these technologies will probably save lives or saying they're too dangerous to use," says Carlson. "Right now, what we know is climate and disease are already closely linked, and that raises basic questions about climate engineering. Now, we need answers."

Carlson gives the example of malaria, a disease mostly confined to the tropics today, but was once widespread in Europe and North America. Recently, scientists found that malaria transmits best at cooler temperatures. In some projections, SRM would disproportionately cool off the tropics—and that might make malaria worse.

"But it's all guesswork—we can qualitatively talk through possible risks, and that's what we do here. But we can't make any judgements without solid, quantitative evidence. And no one's run those models yet. There's no data to go off."

Carlson and Trisos hope to shed some light on these issues over the next two years. They are part of an international, interdisciplinary team that has been recommended for a $50,000 grant from the DECIMALS Fund (Developing Country Impact Modelling Analysis for SRM), which was launched by the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative to help scientists understand how SRM could affect the "global south"—a term that refers to less developed countries. Eight projects will receive DECIMALS grants that will be announced in October. The fund is administered by The World Academy of Sciences.

"Links between climate change and health are often complex, so climate engineering may impact health in unexpected ways," says Trisos, now a research affiliate at the African Climate and Development Initiative. "Governments have pledged to prevent 'dangerous anthropogenic interference' with the climate system, so it's critical that we can compare public health risks from climate change to those from climate engineering, in order to decide if climate engineering should even be considered."

Carlson and Trisos' DECIMALS research proposal was put together in collaboration with lead researchers Shafiul Alam and Mofizur Rahman (International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh) and includes epidemiologist Shweta Bansal (Georgetown University), climatologist Alan Robock (Rutgers University), and world-renowned microbiologist and cholera expert Rita Colwell (University of Maryland, formerly the ninth director of the National Science Foundation).

Their team is designed to produce important results on a fast deadline.

"Climate scientists, ecologists and public health researchers are increasingly working together to understand what climate change means for infectious diseases," says Trisos. "We're lucky to take advantage of that partnership to tackle a problem this complicated—and this urgent."

In a perfect world, understanding the possible health impacts of climate engineering might help policymakers make the right call, if other options seem limited. But Carlson says there's another reason this work is important.

"From a public health standpoint, we're not likely to be the ones making the call about climate futures. But we want to know what's coming if climate engineering does happen, and we want to be prepared, first in places like Bangladesh that might have the most to gain but also have the most to lose."

Bangladesh is the world's hot spot for cholera and has led the global research program to prevent the disease for several decades, with medical care reducing fatalities from 50 percent to less than 5 percent. Climate change will only increase the pressure that countries like Bangladesh face from infectious diseases like cholera and malaria.

"Whether or not the climate engineering 'button' gets pushed, the research we do here still helps us," Carlson explains. "We're building our toolbox and getting better at predicting cholera and malaria, and that should save lives, whatever looks like."

Explore further: Global climate models for public health? Useful, but not in the way we think

More information: Colin J. Carlson et al. Climate engineering needs a clean bill of health, Nature Climate Change (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41558-018-0294-7

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12 comments

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Hyperfuzzy
5 / 5 (2) Sep 28, 2018
Too late?
doogsnova
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2018
The only way to solve these problems is to stop overbreeding like vermin.
Hyperfuzzy
not rated yet Sep 30, 2018
No! 1st. Remove the nonsense. Define the land or ocean where extremely large mega-structures, housing gardens, living areas, work ares...interconnected buy high speed tubes. May be used in the ocean and outer space. Obviously contained. There's more than enough for all time to come.

It bothers me people only focus upon nonsensical horror, when we have the ability to do anything! Just remove the money grubbers and doogs.
Hyperfuzzy
not rated yet Sep 30, 2018
So we can't repair the climate, at this time. How do we get to tomorrow and how much time do we have to build; even in the horror to come, there are seasons; so, we need lots of people. Conundrum? No, we have what we need. 20 years to educate an intellectual Army as we build a safe harbor. If cities can't ensure this for its residents; then get the hell otta town.
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2018
So any disease impact would be by design! A$$HOLES!
Hyperfuzzy
not rated yet Sep 30, 2018
Pretty sure China is in progress, further along than we are.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (5) Sep 30, 2018
Man-made interference with the weather is already happening. Chemtrails.
Starting around 1950, they were invisible at first, but still caused the number of tornadoes to cease being a nearly constant 180; the development of the first new cloud species since the founding of the Cloud Atlas, cirrus intortus; and the only December hurricane, Alice, in 1955.
The atmosphere became saturated in 1997 and that's when they became visible. That's also when massive changes like the warmest weather; the largest year-to-year drop in Arctic sea ice coverage; the worst "el Nino" event; the worst hurricane season; the development of undulatus asperatus began
And there are no photographs before 1997 of dozens of vapor trails in the sky at the same time. Shills try to pass off snippets of contrails, or views of air shows or sky writing, but there were no pictures of chemtrails such as now before 1997.
Old_C_Code
3 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2018
Chemtrials? ugh... if they wanted to "infect" the nation, we wouldn't they use the water supply? A million times easier to pollute the water... you are totally nuts with your insane chemtrail BS. They are CONDENSATION TRAILS from condensed water vapor.

None of the 90's weather was out of the norm for Earth, you're nuts. 30's worse, what happened then?
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2018
It's planning. You may review history, select what worked; but, your present thoughts necessary and sufficient for life on Earth. w/o a Plan for Mega-Structures, connected-high speed tubes; optimized wind, solar, geothermal. aqua; systems and structures capable of being in water for an infinite amount of time; all connected; all people humanely monitored, kept safe, clean, healthy environment, ...
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2018
While doing so we affect the weather, trees, areas of organic and only organic waste. Foods are fresh and not prepossessed. Everything defined for the Earth, People, while we explore Infinity!
Hyperfuzzy
not rated yet Sep 30, 2018
If you say it can't be done; well, there you are! Gimme a shovel and I'm not digging my grave. I'm building a home for those who live.
Hyperfuzzy
not rated yet Sep 30, 2018

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