The more than 100,000 inhabitants of Kiribati, a small coral archipelago of the Pacific, urgently seek solutions to prevent their country from submerging under the crystalline waters of the ocean in less than two generations.
Some scientists believe that one could buy time with the large-scale measures proposed by climate engineering, such as injecting particles into the atmosphere to repel the sun's rays and cool the Earth, but British researchers have warned that this will not save the republic from your demise. They also believe that they can take us away from the most pressing objective: reduce polluting emissions.
Sea level has grown between 1 and 4 millimeters a year since measurements began in Kiribati, in 1993, and it is estimated that a large part of its 33 atolls will be flooded before the end of this century. Global warming also means that hurricanes, which until recently did not frequent these equatorial regions, are increasingly attacking the former British colony.
The fatal fate that awaits the archipelago is reflected in a documentary premiered this week at the Science Museum in London. Anote's Ark, nominated in the documentary film festival of Sundance, which narrates the efforts of former president of the republic, Anote Tong, to convince the international community of the need to take drastic measures to combat climate change and find a new home for their fellow citizens.
"The problem with solar geoengineering is that if you start using it, you should always do it. You may be able to give the people of Kiribati another decade, but they will end up covered in water anyway, because you will not have done what you had to do "
The desperate situation of the archipelago led in 2014 to Tong to buy 20 square kilometers of land in neighboring Fiji to which to transfer their citizens come the worst. The problems associated with moving 100,000 immigrants to another country are far from being solved, however. He also discussed with Japanese engineers the possibility of building floating islands, highly technological but at an exorbitant cost to a nation like Kiribati.
Tong, who presided over Kiribati until two years ago, is not the only one who claims that he can only face the challenges of climate change with a good dose of imagination. In a article published in the magazine Nature in April, a group of researchers in developing countries proposes that solar geoengineering-injecting aerosol particles into the stratosphere to reflect part of the radiation-be considered as a measure to save time until emissions of polluting gases can be reduced.
Despite recognizing that this technology borders on science fiction, the authors of the article, led by Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Center for Advanced Studies of Bangladesh, in Dhaka, say that "it could slow, stop and even reverse the rise in global temperatures in one or two years." Rahman and his colleagues argue that places like Kiribati can not wait decades for other technologies under development, such as plants to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and bury it deep underground, develop and generalize.
The scientific community, however, has not reached consensus on climate engineering, as evidenced by a debate organized by the Royal Society and the Science Museum in London after the première British documentary, directed by Matthieu Rytz.
Joanna Haigh, physics of the atmosphere at Imperial College London, affirmed that solar geoengineering not only will not save Kiribati, but can distract from what it considers should continue to be the priority: reduce emissions of polluting gases.
"The problem with solar geoengineering is that if you start using it, you should always do it. As soon as you stop, the temperature will rise again to the levels you had previously reached. You may be able to give the people of Kiribati another decade, but they will end up covered in water anyway, because you have not done what you had to do. "
Of the same opinion is Jack Stilgoe, responsible innovation expert at University College London and author of a book on geoengineering. "We do not want to fool ourselves with this magical way of thinking where we continue to inflate the speculative bubble that suggests there are technologies, if not right now, just around the corner, that could come to our rescue. There is a lot of speculation among those who study solar geoengineering. I'm not saying we should not talk about it, but maybe we should talk about it in another way. "
Most of the proposals for solar geoengineering are only "ideas and theories" that are still far from being able to be put into practice, agreed Naomi Vaughan, senior researcher at the University of East Anglia specializing in climate engineering.
The scientific writer Oliver Morton, author of the book The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World, consider, however, that solar geoengineering deserves an opportunity. "Nobody thinks that I'm going to solve all the problems. What we should think about is how much risk we could reduce with it. Obviously, no one responsible is thinking about applying solar geoengineering instead of reducing emissions, "he said. "We have a duty to those who will come to start thinking about the possibilities, the advantages and the disadvantages, and how it could be developed. To say that this technology is ridiculous means to discard something that could save many lives if applied fairly and sustainably. "