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Engineering Solar Radiation Is a Crazy Idea

Engineering Solar Radiation Is a Crazy Idea
The BriefGet Up To Speed

Geoengineering is an ambitious set of experiments proposed by scientists to help mitigate the effects of climate change. And one type in particular, called solar geoengineering, has been the subject of debate. This process involves, among other techniques, injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere to reduce the amount of sun and heat that reaches the planet. The goal? To decrease global temperatures. Proponents argue this process would be inexpensive and effective. Plus, they say, it could limit changes in glacier melt and lessen the intensity of tropical storms. But challengers argue these techniques do not address the underlying issues of climate change, and they worry that solar geoengineering could alter weather systems or possibly even cool the planet too much. They also point to governance issues: Any country could engage these strategies, triggering the possibility of unintended consequences that could affect us all. Is solar geoengineering a radical idea? Or is it likely to emerge as an important, supplemental tool in the fight against climate change?


"The idea of cooling the climate with stratospheric sunshades that would shield the planet from the sun’s warming rays moved up the international agenda this week, with mixed results."

Thursday, March 14, 2019
The Economist

"How hacking the climate came to be seen as our least worst option for averting a global climate catastrophe."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Ty McCormick

An interactive map of geoengineering projects around the globe. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019
ETC Group and the Heinrich Boell Foundation
For The Motion
"A growing number of people are now considering the once-unthinkable strategy of geoengineering our way out of the climate crisis. Proposed approaches vary widely, but all share a few key features: they are technologically uncertain, environmentally risky, and more likely to accelerate the climate crisis than to reverse it."
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Carroll Muffett

"Geoengineering is a risky business. It is so risky, in fact, that it should be banned."

Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Silvia Ribeiro
"Dimming the sky won’t save the world’s harvests."
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Robinson Meyer

"When most people hear “climate change,” they think of greenhouse gases overheating the planet. But there’s another product of industry changing the climate that has received scant public attention: aerosols. They’re microscopic particles of pollution that, on balance, reflect sunlight back to space and help cool the planet down, providing a crucial counterweight to greenhouse-powered global warming."

Thursday, February 8, 2018
Eric Holthaus

"It’s called solar geoengineering, and while it’s not happening yet, it’s a real strategy that scientists are exploring to head off climate disaster. The upside is obvious. But so too are the potential perils—not just for humanity, but for the whole natural world."

Monday, January 22, 2018
Matt Simon
"Proponents of geoengineering imagine that technology can operate in a political void. It’s a dangerous illusion."
Monday, June 1, 2015
Rachel Riederer

"Among the key messages of the IPCC Special Report, it is noteworthy that they state that with radical emissions cuts, transformative pathways and protecting and restoring ecosystems, it’s still possible to keep global warming below 1.5º C (or very close to that) without using geoengineering techniques."

Sunday, November 4, 2018
Silvia Ribeiro
"As a rapidly warming world manifests heat waves, floods, droughts and hurricanes, geoengineering – large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s natural systems – is being presented as a strategy to counteract, dilute or delay climate change without disrupting energy- and resourceintensive economies. Alarmingly, current debates about this big techno-fix are limited to a small group of self-proclaimed experts reproducing undemocratic worldviews and technocratic, reductionist perspectives. Developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities are excluded and left voiceless."
Thursday, February 1, 2018
Biofuelwatch, Heinrich Böll Foundation and ETC Group
Against The Motion
"Geo-engineering won’t hurt a bit, at least compared with climate change—and it deserves serious investigation, according to the authors of a recent study."
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Robinson Meyer

"We should stop hemming and hawing and try building an emergency backup cooling system for the planet."

Friday, March 15, 2019
Ronald Bailey

"Pumping aerosols into the stratosphere may buy us more time, but it’s no substitute for cutting carbon emissions—and we still don’t know enough to do it responsibly."

Friday, February 16, 2018
Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman

"That is where engineering the climate comes in. Last month, scholars from the physical and social sciences who are interested in climate change gathered in Washington to discuss approaches like cooling the planet by shooting aerosols into the stratosphere or whitening clouds to reflect sunlight back into space, which may prove indispensable to prevent the disastrous consequences of warming."

Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Eduardo Porter
"As climate change accelerates, a handful of scientists are eager to move ahead with experiments testing ways to counteract warming artificially. Their reasoning: we just might get desperate enough to use this technology one day."
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
James Temple

"We have this same conversation about intentional, large-scale tinkering with the climate to counteract our ongoing, less-intentional tinkering with the climate because climate change is scary, and it is dangerous, and because we are paralyzed. But the dark not-really-a-secret of solar radiation management, as the primary idea is known, is that it is absurdly cheap."

Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Dave Levitan

"Kim Stanley Robinson argues that blanket opposition to intervening in the climate is wrongheaded."

Saturday, July 28, 2018
Alexander C. Kaufman

"Yet new research, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, acknowledges these problems but finds a potential fix: only deploying enough reflective specks in the atmosphere to reduce about half of Earth's warming, rather than relying on geoengineering to completely return Earth to the cooler, milder climate of the 19th century. In other words, giving Earth a geoengineering dose that would reverse a significant portion of the warming, but not enough to stoke the problematic side effects."

Monday, March 11, 2019
Kark Kaufman
Climate Change
"This chapter frames the context, knowledge-base and assessment approaches used to understand the impacts of 1.5°C global warming above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas
emission pathways, building on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty."
Monday, October 8, 2018
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
"Countries will discuss whether to commission a study of technologies to blunt the effects of climate change."
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Jeff Tollefson

"Setting aside the false promise of geoengineering and focusing on both accelerating the energy transition and truly protecting and restoring our ecosystems so that they can act as carbon sinks, is the safest and surest way to confront the climate crisis."

Monday, March 11, 2019
Lili Fuhr
"The United States joined Saudi Arabia to derail a U.N. resolution that sought to improve the world’s understanding of potential efforts to lace the sky with sunlight-reflecting aerosols or use carbon-catching fans."
Friday, March 15, 2019
Jean Chemnick
"In recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consideration has been given to two approaches to alleviate the impacts of climate change which are often referred to as ‘geoengineering’. They include mitigation measures such as large-scale Carbon Dioxide Removal and remediative measures known as Solar Radiation Modification. Both approaches face uncertainties around feasibility, acceptability, sustainability and governance. So, what exactly is geoengineering and why does it need governing?"
Friday, February 1, 2019
Janos Pasztor et al.

"New technologies, such as social media and do-it-yourself biotechnology, alter the capacities and incentives of both state and nonstate actors. This can include enabling direct decentralized interventions, in turn altering actors’ power relations. The provision of global public goods, widely regarded as states’ domain, so far has eluded such powerful technological disruptions. We here introduce the idea of highly decentralized solar geoengineering, plausibly done in form of small high-altitude balloons. While solar geoengineering has the potential to greatly reduce climate change, it has generally been conceived as centralized and state deployed. Potential highly decentralized deployment moves the activity from the already contested arena of state action to that of environmentally motivated nongovernmental organizations and individuals, which could disrupt international relations and pose novel challenges for technology and environmental policy. We explore its feasibility, political implications, and governance."

Thursday, November 1, 2018
Jesse L. Reynolds and Gernot Wagner

"Geoengineering technologies aim to make large-scale and deliberate interventions in the climate system possible. A typical framing is that researchers are exploring a ‘Plan B’ in case mitigation fails to avert dangerous climate change. Some options are thought to have the potential to alter the politics of climate change dramatically, yet in evaluating whether they might ultimately reduce climate risks, their political and security implications have so far not been given adequate prominence."

Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Olaf Corry
"Geoengineering: A national strategic plan for research on the potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences of climate remediation technologies."
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The Bipartisan Policy Center
Playing God?

"For religious communities, geoengineering can bring up the question of playing God, as humans are intentionally interfering with the climate system."

Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Rosalie Chan