Top US Scientists Propose Research Into Blocking Sun to Fight Climate Change
Is this really our answer to climate change?
In a new report, the US National Academies of Sciences (NAS) is recommending a budget of between $100 and $200 million over five years to study the feasibility of dimming the Sun, thereby making a dent in the fight against climate change, The Guardian reports.
The technique, called solar geoengineering, involves either blocking sunlight by releasing tiny reflective particles — a “solar shield,” high up in the stratosphere to block sunlight, making clouds and oceans more reflective with those same particles — or thinning high altitude cirrus clouds.
It’s a similar principle to volcanic eruptions, which send up particles high in the atmosphere, often causing the surrounding climate to cool.
“Preliminary modeling work indicates that these approaches do have the potential to reduce some near-term risks of climate change,” a summary of the report reads.
It’s a highly controversial idea that has its supporters, but also plenty of critics. That’s why NAS decided to take a careful approach.
“Given the urgency of the climate crisis, solar geoengineering needs to be studied further,” Marcia McNutt, NAS president, told The Guardian. “But just as with advances in fields such as artificial intelligence or gene editing, science needs to engage the public to ask not just can we, but should we?”
In its report, the academy suggests that we should look into the feasibility of solar geoengineering to understand it better. The goal is not to fund actual solar geoengineering efforts, but to come to a place where we understand the consequences of such interventions.
“The report’s focus on research and research governance is important for one simple reason: the current discussion is — and should be — all about research into solar geoengineering, certainly not about deploying the technology, where, if anything, a firm moratorium would be appropriate,” Gernot Wagner, a professor from New York University, told The Guardian.
Despite plenty of criticism, a group led by Harvard University is experimentally releasing several hundred grams of mineral dust from a balloon high above Sweden some time this year, the first project of its kind.
“We really need to do the research because I’m really worried where we’re going with climate change, as action is just not fast enough,” project lead Frank Keutsch told New Scientist.
The Harvard project, called SCoPEx, has faced significant opposition from Swedish environmental groups, who argue that the risks outweigh any possible benefits. They also worry that the ozone layer could end up being damaged and result in disrupted ecosystems.
It’s an existential question to an existential dilemma: should every stone be upturned in the search of a solution to climate change, even if we don’t fully understand the effects of our interventions? The NAS, at least, believes it’s worth investigating further.
READ MORE: ‘Dimming the sun’: $100m geoengineering research programme proposed [The Guardian]
More on solar geoengineering: Scientists Have a Plan to Stop Climate Change — Dim the Sun
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