The idea of “solar geoengineering,” or shooting untold dollars’ worth of particles into the stratosphere to reduce the warming of the Sun, has long been seen as a last resort for tackling a growing climate crisis.
Despite plenty of opposition to the idea of meddling with entire ecosystems at once, an increasing number of scientists are starting to seriously study the possibility, The New Yorker reports.
Just last month, the White House announced a five-year research plan to study geoengineering, a sign that the idea has moved out of the realm of science fiction amidst a period of rapidly rising temperatures and failed climate targets.
Even with an almost complete halt on the use of fossil fuels, humanity is headed towards a catastrophe. The Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, was adopted by 196 countries, who agreed to try their best to limit global warming to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible.
But achieving that target has proven nigh impossible. According to an October report by UN Climate Change, our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been insufficient to meet that goal by the end of the century.
That kind of bleak outlook has more and more researchers turning to investigate geoengineering as a potential last resort.
Just like particles released by a massive volcano — previous eruptions have been shown to lead to dropping temperatures — injecting aerosolized sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere could have similar results.
While there’s consensus among experts that there’s a good chance these particles could actually shade and cool the surface below, we’re only starting to understand the possible side effects, particularly on a global scale.
For instance, temperature fluctuations could kick off extreme weather, such as flooding, in unexpected locations around the world. An increase in local reservoirs could even allow for disease like malaria to spread, as The New Yorker reports. Then there’s the fact that one country’s geoengineering efforts could have vast and potentially disastrous political ramifications as well. (READ MORE)