The White House is studying the fight against climate change by spraying particles into the atmosphere

Is it a good idea?

Desert of the Real

Once seen as a dystopian last resort that could only be achieved in films like “The Matrix” or “Snowpiercer”, the idea of ​​reducing the amount of sunlight hitting our planet to reverse climate change has, in recent years, gained some ground. traction. And now, CNBC reports, the White House will officially coordinate a five-year research plan to assess the feasibility of so-called “solar geoengineering.”

Clearly, implementing sunlight blocking carries enormous risks, both for humans and the environment. But some supporters think the idea is at least worth entertaining and see the White House’s cautious interest in it as a positive sign.

“Sunlight reflection has the potential to protect the livelihoods of billions of people, and it’s a sign of White House leadership that they are advancing research so that all future decisions can be grounded. in science and not in the geopolitical chasm,” Chris Sacca, founder of climate technology investment fund Lowercarbon Capital, said. CNBC.

No alternative

According to the outlet, this isn’t the first time the US government has toyed with the idea. A report to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 detailed a plan to spray the ocean with reflective particles at an estimated cost of $500 million per year. Today, the cost of similar aerosol-based Earth-cooling initiatives has risen to $10 billion, an environmental law professor has said. CNBC.

One of the prime candidates for injecting stratospheric aerosols would be sulfur dioxide, the smelly substance that escapes from volcanoes when they erupt – and from the chimneys of coal factories.

But since the use of sulfur dioxide is so polluting, others are proposing to implement sea cloud thinning, a process in which the reflectivity of clouds is increased by injecting them with sea salt.

Climate Roulette

While these are all great solutions, many fear they are just a band-aid to a problem that requires global systemic change to fix. Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, reaffirms that emission reductions are essential to combat climate change, but does not dismiss alternative solutions as being complementary to reducing CO2 emissions.

“You can’t judge what the country is doing in terms of modifying solar radiation without looking at what it’s doing in reducing emissions, because the priority is reducing emissions,” Pasztor said. CNBC. “Modifying solar radiation will never be a solution to the climate crisis.”

So solar geoengineering could be a useful tool – and that’s a big “could” – but it’s not a substitute for reducing emissions. Ultimately, we just don’t know what kind of unintended consequences implementing these ideas might have. And the consequences that we box predict, such as acid rain and respiratory disease in the case of sulfur dioxide use, are quite difficult to ignore.

Learn more about climate change: Scientists have bad news for South Florida

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