Can the science behind solar geoengineering save the world from climate catastrophe?
Solar geoengineering is the practice of cooling the earth by reflecting sunlight back into the atmosphere but it is a controversial technology.
However, Dr Peter Irvine, Lecturer in Climate Change & Solar Geoengineering at University College, London says it is certainly worth considering:
“It’s worth thinking about where we’re at with climate change,” Dr Irvine told Futureproof with Jonathan McCrea.
“I think it’s wrong to say we aren’t making progress. We are.
“Britain has made a significant cut in its emissions, the US has made significant cuts, there’s big advances in renewable technologies. Solar and wind are outcompeting fossil fuels at the margin.
“The change is beginning but that change is against a backdrop of a world where the economy is booming… and energy demand is growing evermore each year.”
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Dr Irvine acknowledges that the prospect of artificially changing the atmosphere sounds “frightening” but, given the gravity of the situation, he thinks it is worth considering:
“There are two main ideas that have real traction here; one is stratospheric aerosol injection [or] geoengineering.
“This is an idea draws its inspiration from the effect of major volcanic eruptions… powerful eruptions that produced a plume of particles that reached into the upper atmosphere and there they spread around the world and reflected light and cooled the planet for a couple of years.
“So after the 1815 eruption, they called it ‘The Year Without a Summer’... So that idea would work, we know that adding particles to the upper atmosphere scatters light and cools the planet.
“Now we’re not going to cause volcanic eruptions to get there. How we’d get there is to use high altitude jets.
“Aircraft can’t fly that high typically but there’s no reason they can’t do it… And it would be relatively cheap to do so. The engineering assessments all come back saying this would cost tens of billions of dollars per year.
“But that pales in comparison to the hundreds of billions of dollars [we’d] need for adaptation and the trillions of dollars that’ll be needed to change our energy system.”
Main image: A plane in the sky. Picture by: Denys Bilytskyi / Alamy Stock Photo.