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It’s time to begin reflecting sunlight back into space says UN

An open letter has been signed by more than 60 US scientists calling for funded research into ‘solar engineering’ as a global warming deterrent. In laymen’s terms, they want to explore methods of reflecting Earth-bound sunlight back into space.

While most ecological NGOs and activists continue to obsess over bringing emission levels down, a cohort of scientists are exploring a potential Earth cooling cheat code.

When talking mitigation, it’s no secret that there’s room for improvement. Our efforts to curb global warming are ‘not on track to meet the 1.5C Paris Agreement goal,’ according to the UNEP. With certain impacts of the phenomenon already deemed ‘irreversible,’ understandably, many aren’t considering means of de-escalation beyond 2050.

This week, however, a cohort of forward thinking scientists have come forth with a pretty outlandish proposal to bring global temperatures down for centuries to come.

An open letter with 60 signatories hailing from the US, Canada, and Europe has requested funding and manpower to assess the feasibility of ‘solar geoengineering’ as a potential solution.

Otherwise known as ‘solar radiation management,’ this currently dubious concept involves actively blotting or reflecting Earth-bound sunlight back into space and rapidly cooling the planet. Basically, dialling down the globe’s natural thermostat.

Before you dismiss the idea as being sensationalist or pure hokum, it’s worth mentioning that brilliant minds are considering the possibility – or, at the very least, want further assessment into the science. The letter is led by a certain James Hansen, the renowned ex-NASA researcher credited with bringing early awareness to climate change back in the 1980s.

A separate report published on Monday, authored by UNEP’s Govindasamy Bala and eight independent experts, claimed that solar radiation management is ‘the only option that could cool the planet within years,’ while conceding that indefinite maintenance would cost of tens of billions a year per 1C cooling.

‘Climate change is taking the world into uncharted lands, and the search is on for all viable solutions,’ said Andrea Hinwood, UNEP chief scientist. ‘However, all new technologies must be clearly understood, and potential risks or impacts identified before being put into use’.

In terms of what such projects could look like in practice, Thred has already covered ‘cloud brightening,’ the process of spraying ocean salt vapour into clouds to reflect sunlight away from vulnerable Arctic regions, and potentially using plumes of moon dust at the Earth’s first Langrage point to scatter photons off into the universe.

The most logistically feasible method at this avenue is spraying reflective particles into the atmosphere from plentiful sources such as sulphur. Even then, though, the idea is ‘fraught with scientific uncertainties and ethical issues’.

Scientists have yet to eliminate concerns surrounding a long list of potential dangers, such as damage to our ozone layer and ‘termination shock’ whereby spraying particles into the atmosphere could unleash a concentrated burst of dormant global heating. Suffice to say, we need more research before proceeding.

In the present, one can imagine that talk of far-off technology and questionable research is music to the ears of the world’s biggest polluting companies and governments. While we await any scientific breakthroughs to come, however, the reality is that radical systemic change is needed now to begin healing.