Article image

Reassessing the potential of solar geoengineering to combat climate change

Solar geoengineering is the idea that spraying aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect the sun’s rays can help cool the Earth.

There have been numerous studies into the potential of solar geoengineering and the benefits and risks of using aerosols, but in the grand scheme of climate change research, very little has been dedicated to this particular “hack” for the planet. 

If geoengineering is to be a viable and safe solution for lowering global temperatures and slowing the impacts of climate change, more research and funding are needed.

David Keith from Harvard University and Kerry Emanual from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are two climate scientists working to realistically assess the risks of blocking solar radiation with aerosols and look for solutions that would ensure geoengineering is successful. 

Some of the more pressing political concerns of geoengineering are that it may negatively impact regional climates and increase the risk of droughts and severe hurricanes. However, the two researchers say that these risks may be overstated. 

Instead, Keith and Emmanual suggest an easy solution: If aerosol amounts were halved and used uniformly worldwide, it would lower the risk of regional climate catastrophes. 

Providing insurance to smaller developed countries worried about the risks of geoengineering would also be an important safeguard. 

“It takes concerns of developing countries seriously,” Joshua Horton, a research assistant who worked with Keith, told Scientific American. “It’s reasonable for them to be concerned. They want some measure of assurance that if things go wrong, they wouldn’t be screwed.”

Keith and Emmanual are part of a growing effort to fuel international interest in solar geoengineering and develop a regulatory framework that researchers can work under. 

Plans for a global geoengineering assessment proposed by Switzerland in March were rescinded after ten days due to opposition from several countries, including the US and Brazil. 

Time is running out to reach a consensus on solar geoengineering, and it may be a valuable tool to have in the arsenal against climate change as the world struggles to lower emissions and prevent further warming. 

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

Paid for by

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Aphelleon

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day