How We Can Dim the Sun to Survive Climate Change

May 1, 2019 by

The Daily Beast


Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast/Photos Getty

All it takes is a fleet of planes spraying aerosols, diamond dust, or sea salt into the stratosphere.

Climate change is here, whether you believe in it or not.

Fighting climate change is a different matter entirely. It’s political. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has suggested carbon farming, or laying compost on undeveloped land to absorb carbon dioxide, as one of many viable plans that could help fight climate change.

But what if we could inject particles into the stratosphere to actually dim sunlight and reduce warming?

Solar radiation management, or SRM, is a serious option—one that scientists and policymakers are entertaining more and more. It works like this: A fleet of planes able to reach the stratosphere, originating from several equatorial regions around the planet, spray particles into the stratosphere regularly to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the troposphere (where we are).

These particles can range from sulfate aerosols, currently one of the most popular nominees because of how they dim sunlight after a volcanic eruption. But some scientists are even considering the idea of spraying diamond dust into the atmosphere. Researchers are also looking into using sea salt to brighten clouds, which would make them more reflective of sunlight.

One big obstacle to any of these methods is cost. To successfully deploy SRM, it would take a powerful country with a lot of reach, like the United States, or a group of countries to be in charge of managing these efforts.

Despite the cost factor, SRM comes at a crucial point for our planet. If we do not drastically increase efforts to combat climate change, the U.N. claims we’re on a path to see global temperatures rise by 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To put that in perspective, sea level is expected to rise over 7 feet per degree of warming. The sweltering heat alone would kill millions. A 3-degree Celsius increase would have calamitous effects across the globe.

Politicians have proposed reducing emissions, but scientists aren’t waiting around, instead looking at how to geoengineer the atmosphere to fight climate change. Besides SRM, carbon dioxide removal (CDR)—or literally sucking CO2 out of the air—has also gained traction.

But even that has sparked controversy. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia recently blocked a U.N. effort to study the benefits and risks of certain geoengineering concepts that could help fight climate change, like CDR and SRM. Reports claimed the countries did this to protect fossil fuel industry interests. The United States’ U.N. ambassador’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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