Scientists from Harvard and Yale say they have demonstrated a technologically and economically feasible way to fix the problem of global warming. Unfortunately, it requires dimming our energy, the sun.
The proposed method is the injection of fine particles (aerosols) in the Earth's lower stratosphere, known as stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI). These particles would deflect the sun's rays and thus cool the Earth. While this all sounds very sci-fi, SAI falls within the research field of geoengineering. Crucially, though, the SAI would in no way limit the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. David Archer of the Department of Geophysical Science at the University of Chicago describes SAI as:
… a temporary band-aid covering a problem that will persist essentially forever, actually hundreds of thousands of years for fossil fuel CO2 to finally go away naturally
It will be tempting to continue to clean up our energy system, but we're going to be on a form of life-support. If a future generation failed to pay their climate bill they would get all of warming all at once.
It's also a drastic solution that comes with a huge amount of risks. Dimming the sun reduces the power of solar panels. Meanwhile, limiting sunlight could have devastating effects on the Earth's ozone layer and weather systems. According to a paper released Nature, it would also affect photosynthesis, thus proving disastrous to food security. To make matters worse, assuming the SAI process had the cooling effect, subsequently stopped it could lead to rapid warming that would endanger the entire species and ecosystems.
The scientists in charge of the study explained that they were not advocating for SAI, but exploring its feasibility from an engineering and economic viewpoint.
The media has been widely reported on the "ingenious" quick-fix for global warming. There are lots of headlines This did not escape the attention of many people on Twitter, who pointed out the contradiction at the heart of excellence. Writer Brandy Jensen summed it up perfectly:
lol We will fight the sun before we take on capitalism https://t.co/B5dqRfVmvT
– Brandy Jensen (@BrandyLJensen) November 23, 2018
This sentiment was echoed by others:
"What did you do about capitalism destroying the planet?"
"We blew up the sun." https://t.co/38OtwG1D1t
– Dave Anthony: "Vote for Rancid Ham 2020" (@daveanthony) November 23, 2018
You know what is easier than reigning-in wanton, unregulated, capitalism around the world and changing the world to be a better, more liveable habitat for everyone?
Anything else, apparently
– NKVLSD (@ComradeRice) November 24, 2018
Others pointed out the absurdity of the idea:
We go live to Harvard and Yale scientists: pic.twitter.com/i9OntM9G1n
– ?Robin?Carver? (@RobinSCarver) November 23, 2018
– Donny Johnson (@ Donny160170) November 23, 2018
Some people will suggest that playing around with sunlight, which is an essential ingredient in every ounce of food that we eat, may be a LITTLE adventurous
– Sir John Salmond (@johnsalmond) November 24, 2018
There are no easy fixes
It's not hard to see why people latch on ideas like SAI Because they are not able to change In its manifesto, the anti-geoengineering group Hands Off Mother Earth challenges this mindset:
Geoengineering perpetuates the false belief that today's unjust, ecologically- and socially-devastating industrial model of production can not be changed and that is why we need techno-fixes to its effects. However, the shifts and transformations we really need to talk about are the economic crisis, fundamental economic, political, social and cultural.
In a recent study commissioned by the UN, a group of independent scientists argue that the current dominant economic models do not adequately account for the coming climate change crisis. The inconvenient truth is that tackling climate change requires a complete rewiring of the global economic system.
Feature image via Jeff Sharp / Flickr