The startup claims to have received permission from the FAA to launch
The Blame of Make Sunsets: Solar Geoengineering to Resolve Climate Change Containment in the U.S.
Three balloons carrying atmosphere-altering particles were released by Make Sunsets in Reno, Nevada. It’s an escalation of the company’s questionable climate change-fighting tactics, which got it banned from launching balloons in Mexico in January. The company says that it was given the green light from the FAA and local authorities, but officials don’t think so.
The plan was for the balloons to be filled with sulfur dioxide and then float high into the air. There they would burst, dispersing their load of sun-reflecting sulfur dioxide particles and cool the Earth, just a tiny bit.
A 2021 report from the National Academy of Sciences called for the US to allocate up to $200 million to a research program to better understand solar geoengineering, including its feasibility, impacts on society and the environment, and public perceptions.
In order to thin clouds higher up in the air, rending seeding is used, which seedings them with particles in order to trap less heat.
Making Sunsets: Reflecting Solar Geopolitics with Spontaneously Injecting Sulfur dioxide in the Atmosphere
The most-researched method, however, is stratospheric aerosol injection. It involves spraying aerosols – such as sulfur dioxide particles – into the stratosphere, more than 12 miles above the Earth’s surface, to reflect sunlight back into space. It could be done with balloons or specialized airplanes.
The idea is taken from volcanoes. The effect of the sulfur dioxide in the air after the Mount Pinatubo eruption was to temporarily cool the planet.
The world is on track to pass critical warming thresholds, beyond which there is a high chance of extreme flooding, droughts, fires and food shortages.
They have suggested blowing moon dust toward the Earth to act as a sun shield, limiting the amount of sunlight reaching the planet.
Make Sunsets is attempting to replicate the way volcanic eruptions have temporarily cooled the planet in the past. When sulfur dioxide islched it combines with water in the sub-osphere to create a hazy layer of acid droplets that reflect sunlight. Spontaneous aerosol injection or solar geopolitics has been a topic for a long time. The two-person team at Make Sunsets is not afraid to go for it regardless of the consequences.
The need for climate solutions in the 21st century, according to a new CNN analysis of solar dilution and monsoon heating
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.
When things happen, the poor people suffer the most, said Chukwomerije Okereke, a professor of global climate and environmental governance.
Africans are being suggested as a testing ground for the technologies. “It is a distraction from the sort of policies and help that should be coming to Africa.”
Continuously maintained solar geoengineering would be needed because aerosol particles don’t 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. “It would mean that countries have to collaborate forever,” he said, including those currently at war.
Make Sunsets: A Rough-and-tumble Exploration of the Stratospheric Impact of the Global South and the Reno, Italy, Airport Authority
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was allocated $4 million by the Congress for stratospheric research. Last year, the Biden administration proposed a five-year plan to explore the concept.
Research organizations are also providing funding. 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.
The irreverence with which Make Sunsets tackles such a loaded topic is easy to see from its website. “We’ll happily debate anyone on this, just confirm an audience of at least 200 people and we’ll find the time to try and convince you,” the FAQ page says with a winking emoji in a section underneath the subtitle “I would like you to stop doing this.” The company blog post attempting to explain what SAI is was mostly written using ChatGPT. Andrew Song told Time he got a potential new slogan, “Sunscreen for the Earth”, after asking the digital assistant to explain where the earth is.
The startup’s rough-and-tumble experiments are even more telling. Song and co-founder Luke Iseman lit up fungicide on a grill to create the sulfur dioxide gas in a cringey scene Time describes as a “sulfur barbecue” in a Reno parking lot with families passing by cluelessly. Make Sunsets then funnels the gas into three weather balloons to unleash the small amount of sulfur dioxide on the stratosphere.
Officials might have kept clear heads, but they don’t seem to have given Make Sunsets any official “OK.” Public affairs coordinator for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority Nicolle Staten said in an email that the agency “did not give any permissions or approvals … We are not certain on our authority to give approval on something like this, however if asked, our answer would be no.” The Airport Authority referred Make Sunsets to the FAA after they received a call. In an email, the FAA said that it doesn’t need to give approval for an undisclosed balloon flight unless it requires a waivers.
The experiments that Make Sunsets are doing are so small they are unlikely to have any impact at all. The balloons carry less than 10 grams of sulfur dioxide. The US emitted about 1.8 million tons of sulfur dioxide in 2021 alone, mostly from burning fossil fuels. The figure has fallen due to the policies of the Clean Air Act. As a pollutant, sulfur dioxide can cause acid rain and breathing it in can have harmful effects on the lungs.
The FAA is not a science if you don’t have numbers: Making Sunsets is a Technology Demonstration
The FAA also notes in an email that it “is an aviation safety agency and our regulations pertain to aviation safety.” In other words, it’s not in charge of monitoring any attempted geoengineering. Policy just hasn’t caught up with that kind of atmospheric tampering. While there’s a quasi-de facto moratorium on large-scale geoengineering from a 2010 United Nations biodiversity conference, it’s vague and excludes small-scale scientific research.
What Make Sunsets is not a science, according to experts. “I don’t even know what to call it,” Paul Newman, Chief Scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told The Verge in a January interview. The numbers are the focus of science. There’s no science if you don’t have numbers. It was a technology demonstration.
The cooling credit order was not fulfilled by Make Sunsets since it couldn’t confirm whether the two tracked balloons reached an altitude greater than 20 km. But the company was haphazard with that decision, too. “A friend who is also a customer” released the third balloon in Reno without any tracking device at all, according to Make Sunsets’ blog. Per the friend / customer’s wishes, that balloon counted despite lacking any concrete data on its success. “They decided to count this as fulfilling their order of 1 Cooling Credit: first paid deployment done!” The post on the blog says so.
The Prospects for Aerosol Injection in the Future of the Solar Mesosphere and the Role of Sulfur in Changing the Ozone Layer
Scientists are also studying the impact SAI might have on Earth’s ozone layer as it changes the chemistry of the stratosphere. If you began to do aerosol injections you would make the ozone hole worse, we are confident of that.
One of the major challenges is making collective decisions on how to deploy this kind of technology. The guys grilling sulfur are trying to make a profit, while the others are just letting their balloons fly.