The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has announced a five-year research plan to study the possible ways of implementing “solar geoengineering” — reflecting some of the sun’s light in order to cool Earth.
The White House research plan would study different ways to limit Earth’s exposure to the sun as well as the effects that this could have on the environment and human health.
“The focus of this plan will be on research associated with climate intervention,” OTSP said.
The research plan was passed by Congress in its 2022 spending plan and signed by President Joe Biden in March, CNBC reported.
While there are many theories on how to implement solar geoengineering, the three main ideas are stratospheric aerosol injection, marine cloud brightening and cirrus cloud thinning.
Stratospheric aerosol injection means spraying reflective particles into the stratosphere (the second layer of the atmosphere), thereby creating a global dimming that would cool the planet.
Marine cloud brightening is similar. Instead of releasing the reflective particles into the stratosphere, however, they would be closer to the ocean’s surface.
Edward Parson, a UCLA professor of environmental law, told CNBC that this technique would be implemented on a much smaller scale and wouldn’t last nearly as long as it would in the stratosphere.
Cirrus cloud thinning, according to CNBC, would involve “thinning mid-level clouds, between 3.7 and 8.1 miles high, to allow heat to escape from the Earth’s surface.”
The three approaches draw both support and criticism from experts. Some say solar geoengineering could slow global warming, while others say it could do more harm than good.
One notable supporter of the idea is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who in the past has funded research aimed at experimenting with the idea.
Gates has funded Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, launched in 2017.
One research project in partnership with the Swedish Space Corp. would have mimicked a volcanic eruption by spraying millions of tons of particles around the globe in order to cool the planet.
However, the project drew criticism from many who worried about the possible effects that it could cause. This included the native Saami people whose land was near the launch site in Sweden.
In June 2021, over 30 groups of indigenous peoples from around the world urged Harvard to scrap the experiment.
In a letter drafted by the Saami Council, they said the idea of “solar geoengineering” went against their “understanding and experience of how to respect and live in harmony with nature.”
“The essence of solar geoengineering technology is composed of unknown risks we cannot take as a global community, for the sake of our future generations to come. What we need is real and notable action that deals with addressing the root cause of the climate crisis and solar geoengineering does not,” the letter said.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined the groups in speaking out against solar geoengineering.
“There is a perfect metaphor for solar geoengineering: When you’re in a hole, stop digging. We cannot move out of this crisis with the same mindset that got us into this,” Thunberg said of the idea in a video titled “#SayNo2SolarGeo.”
The Gates-backed project was ultimately forced to postpone the study last year.
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