Geoengineering

Climate change is a global problem, and surely requires global solutions. It makes sense that the most effective solution to climate change would be preventative: stop doing whatever it is we’re doing to cause the climate to change (curb our greenhouse gas emissions!). But some have proposed solutions that aren’t preventative in nature at all, in fact quite the opposite. Some propose fertilizing the upper layers of the oceans with iron in order to promote phytoplankton growth, which would increase CO2 consumption. Others believe we should spray the stratosphere with tons of sulphur based aerosols, increasing the reflectivity of our atmosphere. Still others believe that super-pressurized CO2 should be stored underground, leading to (modest) dangers of violent depressurization. These solutions all fall under the umbrella of geoengineering.

Geoengineering is the large scale manipulation of the natural environment to mitigate the negative impacts of human activity on the environment, and these days it is perceived ever more by influential policy makers as the solution to climate change. Beyond the unforeseen environmental problems that are likely caused by these monolithic projects, it is argued that the very existence of geoengineering as a potential solution to climate change relieves popular and political pressure for meaningful carbon-reduction strategies.

But the question of particular concern for me is: how will these proposed geoengineering solutions impact the developing nations of the world, and international development in general. It is well-known by now that the impacts of the climate change will be felt most sharply in the developing world, especially amongst women. It makes perfect sense that should any of these geoengineering solutions fail, or worse should they cause vast environmental problems that we couldn’t see happening, that the consequences of failure would impact the developing world hardest. Take for example the proposed solution of adding vast amounts of chemicals into the upper atmosphere in order to increase our planet’s reflectivity: should we really add hundreds (thousands? millions?) of tons of substances into the atmosphere in order to negate the effects of the other millions of tons of substances we put there? The science of ecology is lightyears away from perfection, and I think most ecologist would agree that we have NO IDEA what we’re doing when we tamper with local ecosystems (let alone global ones).

Another important consideration is that these geoengineering solutions, due to their extreme cost, will of course be implemented by the first-world countries; the USA, Europe, and of course Canada. In short, I feel like we (the rich countries) are playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette, except the gun is pointed at hundreds of millions of marginalized people around the globe.

Welcome To EWB

Picture this: you are sitting in front of your computer on a Tuesday night, your lab report isn’t quite done yet, but you need a break. You are a smart person; you are not going to waste your down time. You are going make the most of it by maybe watching a TED video, reading your favourite blog, or even updating yourself on the latest world events. Alright, so now you have learned something, what are you going to do with this newfound knowledge? As amazing as the internet is, it is not an incubator of great discussions. (See every single YouTube comment.)

This is where Engineers Without Borders steps in. EWB provides an avenue to share your wealth of knowledge with others, or learn from the wealth of knowledge of likeminded people. The wide scope of EWB allows you to tailor any event you run to suit your own knowledge and interests. I like to think that the “Without Borders” applies to the expansive array of developmental topics covered in our events, and not to our equally awesome work overseas which I will talk about at a later date. How exactly you get involved in Engineers Without Borders is entirely up to what you feel comfortable doing, and what skills you want to develop. For example, if you want to develop your interpersonal skills, but speaking in front of a large crowd makes you want to curl up in the fetal position and wish everyone staring at you would fall off the face of Earth, never to be seen again; Public Outreach may be for you.

The methods in which you can get involved are numerous, and with this wide array of roles there also comes a wide array of involvements. It goes without saying it takes a lot of time to be the president or a vice president, but it takes only an hour or so to attend a learning session. There are many levels between these extremes that could include simple activities such as writing a letter to your MP about smart aid, or you could drop by to flip hamburgers at a fundraising event. As you are reading the highlights of some of the work EWB does here at Waterloo, I hope you have noticed that none of these roles require you to be an engineer! That’s right; Engineers Without Borders is for more than just engineers. Anyone who wants to take a critical and well thought out approach to development can join EWB.

To find out what roles are needed, and where you can really develop your skills, visit us at the first general meeting at 6:00pm on Tuesday January 18 in RCH 306.

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