Science for Human Security: Natural Geoengineering Methods for Cooling the Planet

Online | February 28, 2024 from 1:00 to 2:30 pm CET

Opening and Introduction (10 minutes)

Nebojša Nešković
Vice President, World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS);

President, Serbian Chapter of The Club of Rome
Ugo Bardi
National Interuniversity Consortium of Materials Science and Technology, University of Florence, Italy; Full Member, The Club of Rome; Fellow, World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS)
Introduction & Moderation: Natural geoengineering methods for cooling the planet

Introduction: Natural geoengineering methods for cooling the planet

The current acceleration of global warming is generating considerable interest in geoengineering technologies. Since it appears unlikely that it will be possible to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases fast enough to avoid dangerous warming, the idea of cooling the planet using different approaches may be a way out of the impasse. Geoengineering is a vast field that includes two main approaches: ”Solar Radiation Management” (SRM), to screen part of the solar radiation on Earth, and ”Carbon Capture and Sequestration” (CCS), to remove part of the emitted carbon in the form of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Both methods are expensive and their results uncertain and it cannot be ruled out that they would be counterproductive. Hence, softer methods based on the management of the biosphere may be an alternative or, at least, a better starting point. In this webinar, the speakers examine some of the possibilities open to us to cool the planet by managing the marine, coastal, and forest environments. These possibilities are evaluated from a global viewpoint that includes the needs of poor countries and the alternatives in terms of SRM technologies.

Anastassia Makarieva, Theoretical Physics Division, Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, Russia; Institute for Advanced Studies, Technical University of Munich, Germany

The role of water vapor phase transitions generated by forests in cooling the atmosphere: Can forests regenerate a healthy climate?

Global climate change has two manifestations, global warming and global climate destabilization including an increasing frequency of weather extremes including floods and droughts. While a major part of global warming is robustly linked to CO2 accumulation, assessing and predicting climate destabilization, e.g., via the attribution studies, has proved to be challenging. (Among the more recent indications, climate models suffer to reproduce humidity levels in regions most susceptible to droughts.)

Natural ecosystems, on the other hand, have evolved homeostatic ways of interacting with their climates – in simple words, it is beneficial to be able to support conditions that are beneficial for you. Independent of their influence on global warming, the on-going loss of natural ecosystems may have a disproportionately large role in global climate destabilization. These processes of ecosystem’s active climate-regulating impacts are not investigated intensely enough, as the crucial differences in the functioning of ecosystems with different degrees of disturbance are not commonly recognized and acknowledged. (The capacity of disturbed forests to stabilize the climate is impaired.) Accordingly, the potential of the relatively undisturbed ecosystems to contribute to climate stability, especially in terms of cloud cover regulation and atmospheric moisture transport, to be discussed in this talk, is not properly taken into account in the regional and global mitigation/adaptation strategies. This situation undermines our chances of avoiding a global ecoclimatic collapse. It is urgent to undertake efforts bringing the ecosystem’s climate-regulating function to light, in the research community and beyond.

Edward W. (Ted) Manning, President, Tourisk Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Full Member, The Club of Rome

Living with nature as a means to mitigate negative impacts

All ecosystems support a wide range of environmental functions. How we utilize terrestrial systems, and what is protected, sustained, or restored can contribute to negative or positive impacts on these functions. One cluster of these functions supports the sequestration and/or release of carbon. My work with land planning and management worldwide shows that central to the ability to influence natural and/or managed capacity to absorb carbon is land use planning (with a holistic approach recognizing a full range and sensitivity of environmental functions), and to a great extent protecting and sustaining current capacities and how individual lands are managed.

Because farmland and other inhabited properties are in a majority of cases privately owned and most already in use, change to favor CO2 removal and storage is often much more of a challenge than in oceans (normally not privately owned although some areas are under government control or protection) and forests (also with large areas under extensive government or private control or designation, often with little management). We can identify some land management and cultivation methods including the choice of crops and cropping methods which can be done to favor greater carbon sequestration, but in most cases leaving the current areas providing natural carbon removal and sequestration is much more extensive and cost-effective than changing the uses to favor it. There is rising evidence that work to regenerate past ecosystems such as forests, wetland, or grasslands can have positive effects where done properly. A recent presentation to the Canadian Association for the Club of Rome provided considerable empirical detail on the differential capacity of crops, reforestation, and other land management approaches in Canada to serve this objective. (Desjardins’ presentation on CACOR Zoom on January 17, 2023, ”The Evolution of Agrometeorological Research in Canada – Emphasis on Mitigating Climate Change”, is an excellent portrayal of key factors). His work documents that via reduction of cover crops, restoration of some changes to legumes, natural covers, use of biochar, and planting tree varieties in Canada do the most sequestration after at least 30 years. (Note that capacity and cropping choices are very different in tropical and semitropical ecosystems, where positive impacts on carbon sequestration can be much more rapid than in colder regions.)

The selection of ecosystems, crop mix, species, and cultivation methods, which are all able to affect the ability to absorb and sequester carbon, is performed. The most promising approaches are generally holistic relative to the known ecological conditions and also can involve agro-forestry and land management aimed at helping positively affect other capacities downstream (such as wetlands, watercourses, and coastal areas) as all are interrelated. Much of this can be characterized as relatively small-scale environmental engineering with cumulative effects on many thousands of properties all choosing good ecological management (an example is rural properties in the central US and Canadian prairies).

One important factor is whether the current economic or political system provides any incentives to the owners and managers of land to respect and/or enhance the provision of the crops and practices that do provide these services. While in some places there are incentives for land preservation and specific conservation or management systems (as in the Great Lakes Water Quality protocol), they can also enhance capacity to sequester or limit carbon. Such steps as zero cultivation, planting crops with good soil retention capacity, crop selection for specific or native plants, limiting use of agricultural chemicals, and contouring and other methods, including hedgerows, berms, setbacks, and other means to limit, direct, filter, or contain runoff, can support other environmental objectives. These steps often enhance ability to sequester carbon or to sustain current capacity.

Note: The objective of carbon sequestration or retention is not central to many conservation programs in most regions; most often, they have specific objectives such as water quality protection of limiting erosion. Until land management agreements at local and regional levels explicitly require or in some way incentivize practices to sustain and enhance carbon sequestration on land holdings, large-scale impacts are unlikely.


Anitra Thorhaug, Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA; President, Greater Caribbean Energy and Environment Foundation, Key Biscayne, Florida, USA; Full Member, The Club of Rome; Co-President, US Association of the Club of Rome

Natural climate engineering from the marine environment: Plans for large-scale blue carbon enhancement in tropical & subtropical nations

The oceans not only absorb 68% of the excess carbon dioxide from human activity (such as driving vehicles and fossil fuel burning), but also comprise more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. The oceans absorb much of the incoming solar radiation. A portion of the climate warming is due to the ratio of incoming solar energy vs. reflected energy (Corell et al., 2024, ”Human activity is said to produce 2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, but recent data indicates that it could be 0.8–0.9 billion tonnes larger.”).

Recently, natural processes for the amount of carbon dioxide sequestration by the major coastal ecosystems globally have been shown to be 5 to 10 times more efficient than terrestrial tropical forests, previously considered the zenith of sequestration. Our own studies comparing global tropical coastal ecosystems’ blue carbon show in the top meter of mangroves 200–500 MgCorg/ha, for seagrass 125–250 MgCorg/ha, and for salt water marshes a lesser amount. When taken regionally, seagrasses generally occupy more extent than mangroves. Mangroves are only found in tropics & subtropics, whereas boreal areas are mostly marshes. We have begun our marine sequestration overview in the tropics, where sequestering periods per year are substantially greater than temperate or boreal. For combined total of Gulf of Mexico (480.5 TgCorg), Caribbean (1,621 TgCorg mangroves alone), and Southeast Asian (4,778.67 TgCorg) basins, we have calculated per nation the mangrove and seagrass and then combined them to find the total estimate of these 3 basins which is 6,879.5 TgCorg. We presently are working on the Indian Ocean, likely to result in slightly less than the other basins. Estimates for the depths of sediment makes the whole 5 times more dense or 34,397.5 TgCorg. This coastal tropical sequestration rate is clearly larger than temperate (salt marsh & seagrass) or boreal (salt marsh & seagrass). This is partially due to extended physiological optimum growing periods with warmer temperatures and more solar insolation wherein the sequestration of carbon material is formed. Additionally, boreal areas have lesser seagrass extents than temperate. Unfortunately, much human growth is occurring at the interface between land and sea, creating degradation of coastal ecosystems. The degradation is intense throughout industrial and urbanized areas. However, this gives us an opportunity to regenerate these ecosystems.

We are now focused on coastal blue carbon management by creating fact-based plans for regenerating key ecosystems to balance nature with anthropogenic activity (past and present). We place much emphasis on the tropics where large-scale restoration is needed. Natural regeneration of degraded areas is far slower than by means of human intervention. These plans would take significant labor potentially furnished with salaries for labor by donor searching for ”carbon credits”, which facilitates a wealth transfer. The ”newly industrializing nations” are in general in the tropics (Caribbean, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Island Nations, etc.), meaning that these are excellent sites to store carbon with large extents available and low labor costs for maximum cost benefit.

Ian Dunlop, Senior Member of the Advisory Board, The Breakthrough – National Centre for Climate Restoration, Melbourne, Australia; Australian Security Leaders Climate Group, Melbourne; Full Member, The Club of Rome

Perspectives of marine cloud brightening

Global action to address climate change has been totally inadequate to avoid worst-case climatic outcomes being generated by the accumulating atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Accelerating climate impacts over the last two years in particular indicate that humanity runs a rapidly increasing risk of climate change moving into irreversible ”Hothouse Earth” conditions even in the short term. Rather than limiting temperature increase to the 1.5–2 C range of the Paris Agreement, current global emission reduction commitments indicate an outcome of 3–4 C and social collapse. If this is to be avoided, emergency action is required to cool the planet and protect vital systems, in addition to a rapid drive to reduce emissions and large-scale carbon drawdown from atmosphere, far sooner than before 2050.

Marine cloud brightening is a technique to generate low, white, thick clouds to increase the amount of solar radiation reflected back into space, and hence cool selected areas of the planet, for example, in the Arctic, to buy time whilst global climate action is, hopefully, accelerated. It uses natural sea salt nanoparticles, sprayed into the Marine Boundary Layer below existing clouds, to create whiter and more extensive cloud cover, hence increasing the albedo effect.

Chaden Diyab, Founder, IES EMEA (Industrial Environment & Sustainability) and Green Education Program in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, Paris, France

Geoengineering: The view from the South of the world – Exploring sustainable alternatives innovations

“Nature has been defined as the first principle of motion and rest in that to which it belongs essentially rather than accidentally” (Avicenna, “The Physics of the Healing”, p. 40). In other words, we can explain that nature can have its own-based solutions to produce healthy ecosystems and protect the environment. Could it mean that we ignore this aspect of the nature of dialogue and regeneration? How can we apply the concept of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and frugal innovation to maybe be inspired by our means in the climate crisis and make intersection a sustainable, permanent, and moral way of looking at the repair of the climatic relationship between the Earth and humans? How can we be inspired by nature to produce sustainable solutions and innovations, and derive economic and social benefits?

The climate crisis is, in reality, a consequence of human activities that have led to changes in the global climate. However, some consider that these climate changes are a response, an “expression,” of the Earth to human actions. Our daily decisions related to consumption, politics, construction,
industrialization, etc. have caused climate change. These human decisions are often delayed, habitual, traditional, or logical in our way of being. This can truly lead to a reaction in response to the climate. How can we ensure a permanent interaction between nature and humans?

The way the South interacts with nature in hard climatic and economic conditions is inspired by local innovation; it has effectively integrated the interaction in nature and the use of its materials for construction as well as for addressing climate issues in architecture, water irrigation systems, and agriculture. How can we learn from local technology to create suitable innovation for adaptation to climate action and use other resources in different ways, different logics, values, knowledge, and materialities, in a productive space to deploy more radical forms of climate action?

Can this perspective provide a different viewpoint regarding the awareness of the climate crisis, as both aspects complement each other to present a deep belief in the Earth’s ability to regenerate and interact with it to repair the damage caused by humans (resource depletion, armed conflicts, water crises, uncontrolled urbanization)? Does this mean that there is another dimension of innovation and technology to be a solution that enters into the subject of the environment and climate, which can be in harmony with a more humane axis, something that is often overlooked?