Geoengineering Soaring To New Heights

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I come from a pasty Norwegian breed. In my younger, devil-may-care years, I used to scoff at wearing sunscreen with the belief that the quickest way to skin cancer a bronzed bod was roasting myself at the beach without a drop of SPF in sight.

Not any more. I've read the reports and even witnessed my dad, who has a similar complexion, receive skin test results that came back malignant. Now I'm a liberal sunscreen applier when I go out. Plus, sunscreen makes you smell like you just came from the beach, and I like that. It's my new cologne.

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In some ways, our planet is of a pasty breed and needs adequate protection from the sun, too. Many scientists say our planet is getting hotter, compliments of us industrious folks who call Earth home.

Here in Missouri, the grass is brown and the leaves on the trees are wilted. The USDA has declared every county in the state as disaster area because of the drought. Just a random old hot-and-dry summer or the consequences of human-induced climate change?

Well, a couple of Harvard engineers aren't waiting around for your opinion. David Keith and James Anderson are preparing to spray thousands of tons of sun-reflecting sulphate aerosols into the sky over Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Why? They believe the particles will reflect the sun's rays back into space and help lower the Earth's temperature.

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They plan to do so by using a balloon flying 80,000 feet above the Fort Sumner. The geoengineering project aims to mimic the effects of volcanoes spewing sulphuric ash into the air.

Keith says the project could be an inexpensive way to slow down climate change, however other scientists warn that his methods could have dire effects on the planet's weather systems and food supplies. Environmentalists fear Keith's method is merely a stopgap that undermines efforts to accurately fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

The experiment will take place in a year and see the release of tens or hundreds of kilograms of particles that, besides measuring impacts on ozone chemistry, will also find ways to make the sulphate aerosols the correct size.

"The objective is not to alter the climate, but simply to probe the processes at a micro scale," Keith told the Guardian. "The direct risk is very small.

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However, Pat Mooney, executive director of the technology watchdog ETC Group, begs to differ:

"Impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, and disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions – potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people. It will do nothing to decrease levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or halt ocean acidification. And solar geoengineering is likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict — given that the modelling to date shows it poses greater risks to the global south."

What say you? Let the balloon fly or pop it with a BB gun before lifts off?

via the Guardian

Credit: NASA/Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS

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