There is no denying the fact that the topic of global warming is one of those ‘hot button’ topics that keep coming up both here in the United States, as well as globally. In fact, according to a 2017 poll released by Gallup, 62% of Americans believe that ‘the effects of global warming have already begun,’ while 45% ‘worry a great deal about global warming’, and 42% believe that global warming will ‘pose a serious threat in their lifetime.’ All of these numbers are up from previous years, reflecting the growing concerns that sweep our nation.
Despite the large buy into the fact that global warming is a very real situation that needs to be addressed, the problem is so big that many Americans find themselves feeling completely overwhelmed. Where do you even start to fix a problem on such a grand scale, and is there anything that one person can do that will make any difference in the bigger picture?
For a pair of Harvard scientists and professors, David Keith and Frank Keutsch, this was a challenge that they were determined to take on. The pair is preparing to complete a number of small-scale atmospheric experiments, assessing the feasibility of a concept that was first introduced in a 2014 paper. The paper theorized that we could actually cool down the planet by spraying a specific type of particles into the stratosphere, which would reflect heat back into space rather than allowing it to pass through the atmosphere.
While the paper may be the first to introduce this theory in relation to our efforts to stop or reverse global warming, it is certainly not the first time that this particular technique has been put into action. In fact, it can be witnessed following a large volcanic eruption, when the volcano releases sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. This gas is then converted into sulfate aerosols which act to reflect the sun’s light, resulting in a cooling of the Earth’s surface below.
Taking this model, Keith used computer simulations to explore what other materials may be used in the same way, without the negative impact on the ozone layer that is associated with sulfur dioxide. Using this research, he published a paper outlining the idea of using calcite, a mineral made of calcium carbonate, which he theorized “may cool the planet while simultaneously repairing the ozone layer.” Other options that he has considered include alumina and diamond dust.
As the team prepares for the coming experiments, Keith wants to assure everyone that they will have little to no environmental impact as they will be small-scale, using no more than a kilogram of materials. He believes, however, that this is what is needed in order to better understand the capabilities and dangers of this technique, which he believes could play an important role in the fight against climate change.
The MIT Technology Review reports that the funding for these experiments will come from grants that were provided to both Keith and Keutsch as new professors at Harvard. Any additional funding required may then be taken from Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, “a multidisciplinary effort launching this spring to study feasibility, risks, ethics, and governance issues surrounding geoengineering.” The article goes on to state that, “As of press time, it had raised more than $7 million from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the Hewlett Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Harvard-internal funds, and other philanthropists.”
Despite the research and study that has gone into the project up to this point, and the promise of low environmental impact from the experiments, Geoengineering critics believe that the potential risks to the environment are too high to continue. They also predict that discussion of there being a way to ‘fix’ the problem in this manner may take the pressure off businesses, corporations and the general population to cut back on their greenhouse gas emissions.
Image via Technocracy News