Scientists are looking to dim the sun to fight Climate change!
Stagnant climate reforms, failing environmental pacts and fossil fuel capitalism, this is the modern-day reality of climate movements worldwide. Another dangerous reality is the Climate change, whose effects are already being seen, across the planet. The year 2021 saw record-breaking heat waves in the Western North America, European summer floods, disastrous Chinese floods and unprecedented monsoons across Asia. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that we are already on the course to breach the 1.5°C mark by as early as the 2030s. It’s quite evident by now, that transition from fossil fuels to renewables would take some time. Hence, scientists and researchers have started to look for some alternative ways to fight climate change.
One of the key prospects here, has been to dim the Sun by spraying a bunch of particles into the stratosphere, which would cool the planet by reflecting some of the sun’s rays back into the space. Firstly proposed, by the Harvard University’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, this project falls under the controversial and much debated term of “Solar Geoengineering”. Just in — Geoengineering is the term used for man-made technologies that can alter Earth’s physical qualities on a large scale. The concept of geoengineering is not new to science and has been there since the 1960s. For most of the last 50 years, solar geoengineering has been at the fringes of modern science and society, with next to no traction from the mainstream media. But the evolving issues of climate change have forced researchers and scientists to finally have a look towards the aspects of geoengineering.
What the Harvard Researchers are proposing?
David W.Keith a professor of applied Physics at the Harvard University and a key contributor to the Solar Geoengineering team believes that a blanket of Calcium Carbonate particles in the upper atmosphere would help Earth cool down significantly, buying us the precious time needed to achieve net-zero emissions. The experiment for this program, popularly known as the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) has been for long facing public backlash and hence been postponed several times. The general idea from the Harvard scientists is to release calcium carbonate aerosols into the stratosphere, which would block and scatter some of the Sun’s rays leading to the eventual cooling of the planet. Keith on the other hand is pretty optimistic about the project and believes that conversations about this need to happen more openly, before its too late to take any action.
According to a report from IPCC the SCoPEx program if successful, could help lower the global temperatures by 1.5° C for an annual expenditure between $1-$10 billion. Keith, who also runs a carbon capture company named “Carbon Engineering”, is a major advocate for more research on solar geoengineering. He states that at the rate at which our planet is warming, it is inevitable that future leaders would have to push into this or any other technology. According to him, solar geoengineering is the cheapest and most plausible, immediate remedy we have to fight climate change. Keith from the start has been pretty vocal about putting more and more research into this technology. In his own quote he has said “solar geoengineering is an imperfect technology with myriad risks, but has serious potential to save lives, especially for those in vulnerable regions of the globe”.
What makes Scientists think that Solar Geoengineering would help fight climate change?
To be frank the Harvard scientists aren’t sure and they are speculating their chances. Calcium Carbonate is pretty much an abundant-and-harmless-compound at the surface but is completely absent in the atmosphere. So the repercussions of the calcium-carbonate mixing with other ingredients-of the stratosphere is anybody’s guess. Most of the research has been carried around another aerosol-chemical already present in-the-atmosphere, “Sulfuric Acid”. And before you ask, no it can’t be used for solar geoengineering as it is a pollutant. But how did it even get there? The answer is from “Natural-Geoengineering” from erupting Volcanoes.
Actually the whole idea of this geoengineering is from the consequential observation of the natural volcanic eruptions that happen on Earth periodically. Take for account the 1991 Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption. This single event injected about 20 million tonnes of sulfuric-acid into the stratosphere. Which created a haze of sulfate particles, that cooled the planet to around 0.5 °C for 18 months. Harvard Scientists are trying to replicate the same-thing but artificially, and are hoping that the results remain the same. If they succeed, we might buy ourselves some precious time for achieving net zero goals. But despite of all the positives, Solar Geoengineering has faced heavy criticism and backlash from climate activists and environmentalist’s worldwide. So much so, that it has failed to implement any of it’s experiments till date.
The Criticism’s and the Concerns
To be fair Solar Geoengineering is a pretty nascent technology when it comes to practical experiments. Supporters of the project might say that it hasn’t been given a fair opportunity though, which is somewhat correct. It was only in last year, that the initial experiment for SCoPEx (postponed several times before) scheduled to be done in Sweden was called off, due to objections from the local residents and authorities. The area upon which the experiment was to be conducted belonged to a group of indigenous people, who strictly rejected to the experiment. Several Environmentalists and Climate scientists who oppose-this-project, believe that such-an-unproven-science comes with unpredictable-risks, including extreme shifts in weather patterns. Environmentalists fear that such applications would dent the mitigation strategy to fight climate change. Which-would-in-turn act as a green light for continued emissions of greenhouse gases with no changes in consumption and production.
Opponents of this technology like Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, a Physics-professor at the University-of-Oxford state that the cooling effect from aerosols would last only one-to-two-years, meaning the aerosol injection would require continuous upkeep. The discontinuation of the process might come to bite us back with a hefty price, within the span of five-to-ten-years. Another Renowned Author and Climate advocate Naomi Klein has warned that conducting tests for geoengineering is a fallacy. Since these tests need to be conducted at a large scale enough to impact global temperatures. But that wouldn’t be a test of geoengineering, rather it would be the direct implementation of the entire-thing. Solar geoengineering would alter rainfall patterns disrupting agriculture and waters-supplies. According to Silvia Ribeiro, the Latin-America-Director for ETC-group injecting-sulfate-aerosols into the stratosphere would disrupt the monsoons-in-Asia and increase droughts-in-Africa. Which would endanger the food and water sources for over two-billion-people.
The Principal author of the blog Just Logically Speaking, Susanta Ray is an enthusiast for information and learning. He thrives in subjects related to Modern Technology, Science, History, Space, Finance and Global Affairs.
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