We know that the world’s climate is changing, in large part thanks to us. If we can impact the world in this way quite by accident, it makes sense to think that we can also produce these kinds of effects conscientiously. This is the insight that guides researchers like David Grinspoon, who argues that a radical new process called geoengineering might be the only way to save us from climate change.
Grinspoon, an astrobiologist and planetary scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, researches the climates of other planets to see how they have changed over time. He then attempts to use this knowledge to predict how changes in the Earth's atmosphere might happen, and what effects they could have. Grinspoon says that this study of other atmospheres gives him "a little bit of a different kind of perspective on our climate evolution". It's this perspective that has led him to consider the possibility of geoengineering.
"Left to their own devices" Grinspoon claims, "planetary climates do change in ways that would be dangerous to our civilization". He emphasizes that, though currently we are concerned with man-made climate change, in the long run climate-related dangers would present themselves with or without our influence. Because of this, Grinspoon suggests we may have to "assume this role of sort of caretaker" for the planet's climate.
Our environment will change over time regardless, we need to make sure it changes in ways that do not endanger us. This is where geoengineering comes in. Geoengineering involves a deliberate intervention into the planet's natural systems with the aim of counteracting climate change. Many different strategies can be involved, but what they share is the desire to coordinate our impact on the environment on a mass scale.
Grinspoon emphasizes, though, that this approach should be regarded as a last resort. He says that we could "make a cure worse than the disease". He argues that we can combat climate change effectively for the time being merely by changing our habits on a personal level, and by gradually moving away from fossil fuels. "I think that 30 years from now, that transition is going to be really accelerated".
In the past, we have often thought of ourselves as helpless before nature, tending to our small domesticated patches of it but unable to control it on a larger scale. Even now, when we seem in many ways to have conquered nature, we rarely think of the responsibility and power this gives us. "We cannot stop being planet changers" Grinspoon says, what we have to figure out is "how to be smart planet changers". If the Earth is truly a human planet, we might have to start putting more thought into what we do with it.