Climate crisis solution?

A startup is attempting to combat climate change by seeding the skies with sulfur dioxide–filled balloons. Mount Holyoke’s Kevin Surprise says scientists think the venture is full of holes.

Solar geoengineering, the idea that humans can hack the atmosphere to slow global warming, is getting the cold shoulder from scientists, even as Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists continue to pump it up.

One startup company dedicated to turning down the sun’s heat recently made an international splash by launching unsanctioned balloons in Mexico to release sulfur dioxide and reflect back some of the sun’s rays before they heat the Earth. The Mexican government stepped in, and the company is now working back in the states. Time spoke to Kevin Surprise, lecturer in environmental studies, about the feasibility of the venture.

“I have not seen a single person in the field say this is a good idea,” he said.

According to Vice, the United Nations Environment Programme is calling for a “full-scale global review” of the technology and a “multinational framework for how it should be governed,” despite having issued a report in February which found that the technology is not yet safe or viable.

Surprise, who was a signatory on an open letter calling to stop the normalization of solar geoengineering as a way to address climate change, says one of its biggest issues is the fact that the approach does not address the underlying causes of global warming and may, in fact, exacerbate them.

“Where is a discussion of the political and economic interests that will actively work to use solar geoengineering to expand fossil fuels and maintain other polluting activities that enrich the wealthy and corporations?” he said.

Surprise was also interviewed on an episode of Vox’s podcast “Today, Explained” titled “Block the sun, save the earth?” 

“It’s rooted in a very Silicon Valley way of thinking about problems,” he said. “Hack the planet rather than going through the hard work to get to the root of the problem.” Surprise noted that the very reforms that may be needed to reduce production of planet-warming gasses may threaten the economic elite.

Furthermore, he told Vox, in the geopolitical reality we face today, maintaining the alliances and infrastructure to support a global solar geoengineering project in the long term is not realistic.

“I don’t know why we would want to embark on such a risky venture in the world that we have now where we can’t even agree on some of the most basic measures to deal with climate change,” he said.

“If we do not draw down carbon and reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” the underlying issue will continue to worsen, he said. “[If we] mask the warming effect with solar geoengineering, we are setting ourselves up for a really dangerous situation that is often referred to as the ‘termination shock.’”

Read the full story in Time.

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