Sunlight: A Geoengineering Fix

The sun blotted out from the sky
May 11, 2013
Elizabeth Svoboda

  Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008 10:50 AM UTC

Gregory Benford thinks Al Gore‘s a good guy and all, but he also thinks the star of “An Inconvenient Truth” is a little delusional. Driving a hybrid car, switching your bulbs to compact fluorescents and springing for recycled paper products are all well-meaning strategies in the fight against global warming. But as UC-Irvine physicist Benford sees it, there’s a catch. Those do-gooder actions are not going to be effective enough to turn the temperature tide, and even incremental political changes like reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mining alternative fuel sources are not forward-thinking enough. “I never believed we were going to be able to thwart global warming through carbon restriction,” Benford says. “Carbon restriction requires nations to subvert short- and midterm goals for a long-term goal they’ve read about online, and that’s just not going to work.”

As an alternative, Benford has cooked up a plan that amounts to a manmade Mount Pinatubo eruption. He has proposed shooting trillions of tiny particles of earth into the stratosphere, where they will remain suspended to help blot out incoming solar rays. Dirt is cheap, chemically unreactive and easily crushable, he argues, making it a simple matter to test this strategy on a small scale over the Arctic before total global deployment. This plan might seem a little too sci-fi to take seriously — fittingly, Benford moonlights as a Nebula-winning novelist — but he’s far from the only scientist to lobby for a so-called geoengineering fix.

Researchers all over the world have begun advocating large-scale climate control strategies that sound like something “The Simpsons’” Mr. Burns might endorse, including erecting sun-blocking mirrors in deep space, spraying tiny droplets of sulfur or ocean water into the atmosphere to deflect sunbeams, and seeding the oceans with iron to spur the growth of CO2-sucking phytoplankton. When a panel of scientists addressed the ethical implications of geoengineering at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in February in Boston, it was a clear sign of how far this seemingly out-there field has advanced toward legitimacy. (Read more)


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