Geoengineering is a word that is applied to a few different things. This is a little confusing, so I’m going to set the record straight on why this occurred and also provide a clearer definition of what geoengineering is.
In the past, geoengineering merely meant the technical methods used to exploit the Earth’s subsurface resources. In tandem, environmental engineering developed, which deals with the surface interactions of humans with the Earth, mainly with the aim of improving our environment. And more recently, the concept of climate engineering has taken hold, and among the public, climate engineering has become better known as geoengineering.
What is the most useful definition of geoengineering to use? I would have thought it be the one that targets the most basic meaning of the word, one that does not restrict the word to a smaller area of remit.
Here on this blog I use the term geoengineering to refer to any human interaction or intervention with the Earth system. The climate, the environment, the Earth’s subsurface petroleum resources, these are all part of the Earth system, and by using the term as such, I can gain a better understanding of all the aspects – potential benefits and pitfalls – of human interaction with our home planet. It’s easy to become blinkered when you’re only looking at one aspect of a system, and in an age where we are seeing the results of our interactions with the Earth on a grander scale, it is all the more important to understand every way in which we are changing our home. The grander the scale the more complex the interconnections become, so I find the above to be the most useful definition of geoengineering.