A rogue solar geoengineering start-up claims to have begun using balloons to launch reflective clouds into the stratosphere for the purpose of changing the weather.
Although the initiative may be presently little more than a publicity stunt, Luke Iseman, cofounder and CEO of Make Sunsets, told the MIT Technology Review that he hopes this provocative cloud-seeding effort will help launch what may be a lucrative "cooling" industry.
What are the details?
According to Make Sunsets' website, "we need to start cooling the world immediately."
While Iseman condoned property destruction in a blog entry as one way to bring about this end, the method he has personally resolved to use is geoengineering, specifically by way of "albedo enhancement" or albedo modification (i.e., the reflection of sunlight).
David Keith's research group at Harvard University defined albedo modification as a solar geoengineering method designed to "reflect a small fraction of incoming sunlight back to space in order to attenuate anthropogenic changes in temperature and other climate variables."
Spraying sulfate aerosols and other reflective substances (e.g., calcium carbonate particles, aluminum dioxide, or diamonds) into the atmosphere, around 12-16 miles above the Earth, can allegedly accomplish what volcanic eruptions have otherwise achieved in the way of partially blocking sunlight and temporarily cooling global mean temperatures.
MIT Technology Review reported that Make Sunsets appears to have launched balloons containing reflective particulates from a site in Mexico.
The company's website claims the test flights deployed less than 10 grams of "clouds" each, suggesting that "one gram of sulfur delivered to 20km altitude creates as much radiative forcing as one ton of CO2 released in the atmosphere does in a year."
Iseman claims that his artificial clouds, not composed of vapor but rather of fine particles, will remain in the sky anywhere from six months to three years, depending on the altitude and latitude at which they are released.
It is not clear where Make Sunsets' test balloons went or what effect they might have had, because Iseman did not equip them with monitoring apparatuses.
These experiments were potentially deleterious feats of "geoengineering activism" carried out "basically" to "confirm that [he] could do it."
While Iseman's team did not seek or acquire any approvals from government authorities ahead of the tests, the Biden administration recently expressed interest in developing technologies that could help partially block out the sun.
TheBlaze previously reported that President Joe Biden signed Congress' "Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022" on March 15, providing funding for a five-year research plan to be coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The OTSP will come up with a "scientific assessment of solar and other rapid climate interventions in the context of near-term climate risks and hazards."
Stratospheric aerosol injection, the method employed by Make Sunsets, is among the various solar geoengineering interventions the OTSP will study.
While government agencies proceed with these studies, Iseman intends to continue with his tests "as quickly and safely as we can," convinced they are not "morally wrong."
The real dangers of fake clouds
Like Iseman, Chris Sacca, founder of the climate tech investment fund Lowercarbon Capital, is convinced that "sunlight reflection has the potential to safeguard the livelihoods of billions of people."
Others in the field do not share their confidence.
Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, told the MIT Technology Review, "The current state of science is not good enough … to either reject, or to accept, let alone implement" these geoengineering efforts.
"To go ahead with implementation at this stage is a very bad idea," said Pasztor.
Noah Diffenbaugh, professor at Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, told KNTV that this type of geoengineering is "a relatively cheap, relatively effective potential intervention at the global scale that’s likely to have a lot of side effects."
A 2017 study published in Nature Communications indicated that while SAI might be used to produce "preferential local climate responses ... for the geoengineering parties, there could be potentially devastating impacts (eg, Sahelian drought) in other regions."
Dr. Anthony Jones, lead author on the study, told Carbon Brief, "If solar geoengineering were to be deployed solely in the northern hemisphere, then the resultant changes would reduce precipitation in the Sahel, and other regions such as India, and reduce the number of storms in the North Atlantic basin."
"To put it short, northern hemisphere solar geoengineering would be good for the southeast US, the Caribbean, and Mexico in terms of dissipating storms, but be very bad for the Sahel. In contrast, solar geoengineering in the south would enhance precipitation in the Sahel, but would also enhance the number of storms in the North Atlantic," added Jones.
Lili Fuhr of the Center for International Environmental Law suggested that SAI initiatives amount to a "gigantic gamble with the systems that sustain life on Earth. It could be weaponized, it could be misused – imagine if, say, India and Pakistan disagreed over one of them doing this."
A 2016 study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics suggested that "for stratospheric particle injection schemes, stratospheric ozone depletion would be a major concern ... especially in the near future."
The Guardian reported that 380 scientists signed an open letter demanding a global non-use agreement for solar radiation management, citing a number of the above concerns and others.
One of the chief concerns raised in the letter is that the "risks of solar geoengineering are poorly understood and can never be fully known. Impacts will vary across regions, and there are uncertainties about the effects on weather patterns, agriculture, and the provision of basic needs of food and water."
The scientists demanded that experiments like Iseman's be banned internationally.
Making a cool profit
Although Make Sunsets' efforts down the road could possibly help generate cyclones, hurricanes, and droughts further afield, it might not be a total loss for Iseman and the two venture capital funds backing him. Iseman's company is already selling "cooling credits."
For $10, Make Sunsets promises to "release at least 1 gram of our clouds into the stratosphere for you, offsetting the warming effect of 1 ton of carbon for one year."
This promise stands despite the founder's admission that there was no equipment on the balloons he launched to verify the efficacy of the tests. The company also noted on its site that "there's a lot of uncertainty and assumptions here" concerning its claims about offsets and utility.
Edward Parson, an expert in environmental law at the University of California Los Angeles, told the Guardian that Iseman's claim that his company could restore the world to its pre-industrial temperature norms is "absurd."
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