The Commonwealth Club Event

Our founder, Dr. Leslie Field, and Xros founder, Dr. Armand Neukermans, recently presented at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, addressing the safety of using engineering to address climate change. Leslie began the panel by presenting the dangers of sitting idly while we wait for a decarbonized economy. Most notably, if no action is taken, the world will be more than 50% likely to experience warming over 5°C by 2100, leading to extinction of more than 40% of known species and sea level rise of 13-20 feet.

With the need for engineering to address climate change justified, Leslie discussed the concept of reversible environmental engineering. Reversible environmental engineering is a localized method of preventing the adverse affects of climate change that can be completely reversed if necessary. Her team’s solution is engineered to be, first, bio-safe so that when it degrades it simply becomes sand, and, second, completely removable if it is no longer needed.

Armand introduced the concept of “marine cloud brightening” to the audience. His technology essentially adds water droplets to clouds to make them brighter and reflect more solar radiation. He noted that marine cloud brightening is already happening unintentionally from the emissions of cargo ships crossing the ocean, but with more harmful sulfate molecules. Neukermans’ technology would outfit ships with a modified snow canon that would up-spray salt particles around which water could condense and, thus, brighten marine clouds.

Concluding the event, both took questions from the audience, with the most concern surrounding who, if anybody, approves climate change engineering projects in the Arctic or in the ocean. Leslie responded that there is no existing body to approve of or fund these projects that affect the entire world, not just a specific country. Armand noted that a similar concern existed around genetic engineering of humans and the scientific community formed a governing body that set the rules for scientists in the field; and it may be the same in the case of climate change engineering. However, with the need for immediate action, Leslie stressed the importance of making sure that, regardless of a governing body, our climate change solutions must be reversible.