Controversial solar engineering could be the solution to the world’s problems
The Make Sunsets Experiment: Exploring the Atmosphere to Release Solar-Geoengineering Sulfur dioxide Particles
Some believed it to be a stunt. It is not clear if any particles were actually released or if the balloons made it to the uppermost level of the atmosphere. The experiment made by Make Sunsets is significant for crossing a line when it comes to the debate of climate solutions.
The plan was to have the balloons filled with helium and sulfur dioxide float up into the sky. They burst and spread their load of sun-reflecting sulfur dioxide particles and cool the Earth, just a tiny bit.
Solargeoengineering is a fix we cannot ignore as the world hurtles toward climate disaster. Critics should not research it because it is a dangerous technology.
Cirrus cloud thinning targets wispy clouds higher up in the atmosphere, seeding them with aerosol particles in an attempt to thin them, so they trap less heat.
In April 2022, the start-up company Make Sunsets launched balloons into the stratosphere to release sulfur dioxide to make the atmosphere more reflective. This and other solar-geoengineering techniques try to counteract climate change by bouncing solar radiation into space. Make Sunsets’s experiments were not public knowledge until MIT Technology Review published a piece on them last December (see go.nature.com/3xvcb).
The idea is a result of volcanoes. When Mount Pinatubo exploded in the Philippines in 1991 it temporarily cool the planet by putting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.
The world is on track to pass critical warming thresholds, beyond which the chances of extreme flooding, drought, wildfires and food shortages increase dramatically.
Is There No Geoengineering in Africa, or Should We Allow It to Go Unnoticed? A Comment on “Measure Sunsets” by David Iseman
Scientists have even gone as far as to propose blowing moon dust toward the Earth to act as a sun shield, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the planet.
“I wish there was no geoengineering!” In an email, Iseman told CNN that he is the founder of Make Sunsets. He said there are no options to stay below 2 degrees.
The world needs to cut emissions, “no question,” David Keith, professor of applied physics and public policy, at Harvard University told CNN. But it doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore other climate solutions, he added.
There are fears fiddling with the planet’s thermostat could alter rainfall patterns and shift monsoons, with potentially devastating consequences for crops.
The professor of global climate and environmental governance at Alex Ekwoeme Federal University in Nigeria said that the poor suffer the most when things go wrong.
People are suggesting African countries to test the technologies. “It is a distraction from the sort of policies and help that should be coming to Africa.”
The Challenge of Global Sustainability Governance in Sungeoengineering: How to Be Diversified and Why Not to Be Afraid
Sungeoengineering would have to be maintained continuously because aerosol particles do not stay in the atmosphere for more than a year. If halted, there is a risk of “termination shock,” unleashing all the pent-up warming “waiting in the wings, ready to slap the Earth in the face,” Raymond Pierrehumbert, professor of physics at Oxford University, told CNN.
It would also require unprecedented international cooperation, Frank Biermann, professor of global sustainability governance at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, told CNN. Those currently at war would have to work together forever, he said.
In 2019, Congress allocated $4 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for stratospheric research, some of which was for solar geoengineering. And last year, the Biden administration announced a five-year research plan to explore the concept.
Funding is also provided by research organizations. In February, the UK-based Degrees Initiative announced $900,000 for research in countries across Africa, Asia and South America to look at how the technology could affect the Global South.
Second, we must diversify the field to avoid bias. For example, women are, on average, more risk averse than men, so a field dominated by men will have overly optimistic framings. Researchers from powerful, well-resourced countries might be more optimistic about agency in global decision-making than those from poorer places.
Research that is diverse will not be seen as legitimate by the full range of stakeholders. If you are a scientist working on solargeoengineering in Europe or North America where most of the research has been done, you should work to get more people involved.
Finally, model based research should reflect reality. The models think there will be global cooperation, but it isn’t possible in the real world. Models should instead reflect the likelihood that, without governance, schemes will be uncoordinated and regional.
A few studies have modelled regional approaches — one by my group found that reversing a drought in northern Africa causes one in East Africa (K. Ricke et al. Geophys. Res. Lett. In the year of 2021, there are 48. There is need for more and different research groups should tackle regional possibilities on their own. The patterns emerge and inform the policy.
Influencing Decision-Making in Latin America and the Caribbean via Spectral Analysis: A Case Study of a Latin American Consultative Group
This approach has resonated with decision-makers, such as a group of diplomats and civil servants in Latin America and the Caribbean that I met with last summer. In turn, these interactions help to generate salient research questions.