Despite studies showing potential for devastating environmental consequences Harvard researchers will launch a real world solar engineering experiment in 2019.
Researchers with Harvard University are planning to launch a solar engineering experiment to test the effects of spraying calcium carbonate into the stratosphere. The research team includes physicist David Keith, a longtime proponent of geoengineering. Geoengineering is the deliberate and large-scale manipulation of the weather and climate using a variety of technologies. One popular form of geoengineering being explored by scientists is known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM), a process which involves planes spraying aerosols in the skies in an effort to reflect sunlight in an effort to combat climate change.
The team is currently using computer models to predict the results of their experiment. Past studies have shown attempts at blocking the sun via spraying the sky with aerosols could cause a loss of blue skies, smaller crop yields, droughts and other environmental disasters.
“If all goes as planned, the Harvard team will be the first in the world to move solar geoengineering out of the lab and into the stratosphere, with a project called the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx). The first phase — a US$3-million test involving two flights of a steerable balloon 20 kilometres above the southwest United States — could launch as early as the first half of 2019. Once in place, the experiment would release small plumes of calcium carbonate, each of around 100 grams, roughly equivalent to the amount found in an average bottle of off-the-shelf antacid. The balloon would then turn around to observe how the particles disperse.”
The Nature report states that the experiment started as a partnership between atmospheric chemist James Anderson of Harvard and David Keith. Keith has previously worked on another project under the same name which was supposed to test balloons releasing calcium carbonate over the skies of Arizona. Keith has been promoting climate engineering for around 25 years. He is also the founder of the company Carbon Engineering which promotes the use of geoengineering technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. He has also received research funding from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Keith told Nature the Harvard team have not faced any opposition from the public. Except for “the occasional conspiracy theorist”, a reference to those who claim weather modification and geoengineering programs have been covertly active for decades. Instead, Keith states, the challenge comes from “fear among science-funding agencies” that environmentalists will protest investments in geoengineering. Keith also stated that an upcoming analysis by his team has reportedly found that that the whole world would benefit from a “moderate solar geoengineering program”.
“Despite all of the concerns, we can’t find any areas that would be definitely worse off,” he told Nature. “If solar geoengineering is as good as what is shown in these models, it would be crazy not to take it seriously.”
Despite the claims by Keith, a recent study published by Nature found the potential for lower crop yields. This study is not the first one to draw attention to the dangers of beginning geoengineering programs. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, if geoengineering programs were started and then suddenly halted, the planet could see an immediate rise in temperatures, particularly over land.
Another study published in February 2015 by an international committee of scientists stated that geoengineering techniques are not a viable alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat the effects of climate change. The committee report called for further research and understanding of various geoengineering techniques, including carbon dioxide removal schemes and solar-radiation management before implementation. The scientists found that SRM techniques are likely to present “serious known and possible unknown environmental, social, and political risks, including the possibility of being deployed unilaterally.”
Jim Thomas, co-executive director of ETC Group, an environmental advocacy organization near Montreal, Canada, noted that the launch of geoengineering programs will not only represent a potentially hazardous step forward, but also “an experiment in changing social norms.” Quite simply, if these programs move forward it will create a cultural shift where engineering the climate becomes the new norm.
The Harvard researchers are but one aspect of the push towards a future where humanity regularly manipulates the climate. Last month the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report that essentially called for climate engineering as the “last ditch” option to save humanity from environmental disaster. As I have written before, the closer geoengineering moves to reality the more calls for a global governance framework to guide the programs. Geoengineering is a gateway to global government.
Nature notes that, “some organizations are already trying to promote discussions among policymakers and government officials at the international level” and “Janos Pasztor, who handled climate issues under former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, has been talking to high-level government officials around the world in his role as head of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative.”