by ecorazzicontributor
Tags: , .
Photo: Flickr via Steve and Ruth Bosman

Sometimes when it gets really really hot in the summers I have fleeting thoughts like, “Why hasn’t anyone figured out how to block the sun?” or “Wish it wasn’t so darn hot…”

Well, apparently scientists have been having similar thoughts. In fact, a group of them recently convened at the Royal Society’s Chicheley Hall in the UK to ponder that fate of our planet as it grows ever warmer.

The group consisted of atmospheric physicists, oceanographers, geochemists, environmentalists, international lawyers, psychologists, policy experts and others, who all discussed the pros and cons of “geoengineering”— aka manipulating the Earth’s climate (in this case by dimming the skies).

“If we could experiment with the atmosphere and literally play God, it’s very tempting to a scientist,” said scientist Richard Odingo. “But I worry.”

The necessity for a meeting is a result of an increase in greenhouse-gas emissions and lack of a consensus among nations as to how to deal with it. And as the scientists see it, there are currently only a few plausible options as to how to reverse and/or stop global warming.

Among those include fertilizing the ocean with iron to grow CO2-eating plankton, and brightening ocean clouds with sea-salt particles to reflect the sun. But the leading contender seems to involve stratospheric aerosol particles.

According to the scientists, the particles would be sun-reflecting sulfates spewed into the lower stratosphere from aircraft, balloons or other devices. This experimentation with clouds or localized solar “dimming” could have the adverse effect of causing droughts or floods in some areas, the scientists admitted.

However, an Australian economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton who was present for the discussions said that if research proves the stratospheric pollutants can reverse global warming, unhappy people “would realize the alternative to reducing emissions is blocking out the sun,” and “We might never see blue sky again.”

That’s an awful thought.

Via Huffington Post

  • Brad Arnold

    “The vast majority of new power stations in China and India will be coal-fired; not “may be coal-fired”; will be. So developing carbon capture and storage technology is not optional, it is literally of the essence.” –“Breaking the Climate Deadlock,” Tony Blair, June 26, 2008

    But, Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide — a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars. “Beware of the scale,” he stressed.”

    “The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state.” –Dr James Lovelock, August 2008

    “Reversing global warming by a carbon diet is an unfeasible strategy. Luckily, there is a simple and cheap way to immediate cool the Earth: just add a little (more) sun dimming aerosol to the air.” –Brad Arnold,

  • Terry

    it seems the ocean/plankton option is much more feasible and will help all planktion chain based animals in the sea which the vast majority are.

  • John C Craig

    A cloud of 1 micron sized particles of diatomaceous earth located a short distance towards the sun from the earth-sun L1 Lagrange point, reducing insolation 1 to 2 percent, could have a lot fewer side effects and be cost effective compared to other schemes.

    • Chris H.

      How would you get the particles to stay in place? (I know what L1 is, I mean how would you arrest the particles’ motion after they are released from the delivery vehicle?) In a microgravity vacuum environment the particles would remain in motion, and would disperse quite quickly, wouldn’t they?

      Btw, I like the idea, but i just think that there may be a few problems.

      Perhaps a single larger object would be easier to control in terms of maintaining its position?

      • John C Craig

        The L1 point is not stable over the long haul, but that’s actually a good thing. The particles will require a slow replenishment, providing a built-in self-regulating mechanism. The particles can actually orbit around the L1 area for considerable time, and their effective solar insolation affecting region is on the order of hundreds of miles. Other considerations… One of our space probes traversed a cloud of 1 micron particles near Jupiter, with no damage, which minimizes that concern. Solar pressure can be balanced by placing the particles just a little closer to the sun than at the gravitationally balancing L1 point, extending their effective lifetime. 1 micron is nearly the perfect size for Rayleigh and Mie scattering of light with maximum efficiency for a fixed amount of mass. Diatomaceous earth has a low density, a low price, and is used for optical scattering purposes already. It works well and should hold up in the space environment just fine. Smoke particles are roughly 1 micron – compare the size of the shadow a log casts with the light scattering ability of that log converted to smoke particles. Tiny particles are very, very effective at scattering light. Technically, this whole project could be implemented much more easily and cost effectively than mirrors or similar satellite shields. It sure wouldn’t or shouldn’t be considered a solution, but it could provide a lifeline for this planet to buy us some time.

      • herwin

        it’s not a solution, nor a lifeline, in fact it’s adding to current problems.

        the effects of air pollution causing a reduction in sunlight and so causing a lower yield of crops is well known.
        To add EXTRA particles to block out even MORE sunlight will cause a further reduction of crops.

        Also, possible negative side effects of such a goovy, anti democratic and dangerous idea only can be guessed and only will be known AFTER pumping particles in the atmosphere.
        Guess what, i don’t want to find out ! >_<

        don't believe me, i am just ranting like usual, but here's an article about airpolution and reduced crops on a NASA website, and now THAT should be taken seriously i think…

      • herwin

        “cleaning up the air may help to feed the world”

  • Lee Norton

    Dimming the sun would reduce photosynthesis, the life giving equation that gives us our oxygen and allows plants (food) to grow. We’re just trading a catastrophic situation into a worse one.

    Seeding the oceans with iron has so far proved unsuccessful due to toxic substances emitted and killing life in the region. This one is also out.

    The only real solution is to get rid of the source of the problem of global warming. We have to reduce the level of carbon dioxide. We know that if we could control its concentration to 280 ppm, our world will continue as we know it. Scientists (James Hansen of NASA, GISS) have given us an upper limit of 350 ppm which, according to Myles Allen of U. of Oxford equals 2 deg above our pre-industrial mean temperature, and is a level which scientits say we may be able to adapt to. Unfortunately for our future generations, the earth’s climate has a lot of momentum and changes slowly in relation to our lifespans. If we don’t act now or continue to treat our scientists like we (the clergy) did in the past when science was against God and the scientists were persecuted, as they are now, we will become extinct and the earth will repair itself over millenia.

    • herwin

      yeah, all these funny ideas in this article already have been proven to be excellent Sesame Street material. Or should i say Charly Sheen material ?

      reducing sunlight also means crops will produce less. the farmers will be thrilled…

      believe it or not, but the oceans sometimes LIKE to be without too much plankton !
      more iron, more plankton, less visibilty, less penetration of the sun rays into the coastal waters, deeper emerged coral reefs die.
      Since coral reefs are essential for many commercial fish species (coral reefs are the habitat of many juvenile fish species), i am sure the fishers will be thrilled !


      it will be hard but when you dont want to get lung cancer you shouldnt smoke, and when you dont want global warming you should consume less fossil fuels.
      reduce cars, reduce meat consumption, reduce traveling, etc.

      we are living like there is no tomorow…

  • John C Craig

    The must particles at the L1 Lagrange point would not pollute the atmosphere. That’s the point. (The L1 point in space is roughly four times as far from earth as is the moon.) Also, a 1 or 2 percent reduction in insolation would not affect crops or other plant growth, as evidenced by the data we have from years of significant volcanic dust.

    I do agree that none of these ideas should be considered a solution, only a temporary band-aid to buy the planet enough time to get off carbon based fuels. However, if anyone thinks we can stop the damage before it’s too late while we’re on our current path, without taking SOME sort of drastic damage control measures, they are being naive and they aren’t understanding the human psychology of close-mindedness of those who are focused on simple economics with no vision of the common good.

  • peter paul & mary

    wakey, wakey – ‘stratospheric engineering’ was started 20 some years ago