Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Scientists at Harvard and MIT think geo-engineering by injecting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere could help cool the Earth without severe impacts on most of the regions of the world. But the research is still very preliminary, Meanwhile the world continues to move toward disaster with few concerned enough to take meaningful action.

Climate Change

New Harvard/MIT Geo-Engineering Study Says Less Is More

Scientists at Harvard and MIT think geo-engineering by injecting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere could help cool the Earth without severe impacts on most of the regions of the world. But the research is still very preliminary, Meanwhile the world continues to move toward disaster with few concerned enough to take meaningful action.

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

There are a lot of people who shrug off the threat of an overheating planet with these words: “When it is absolutely necessary, humanity will find a way to ‘science its way’ out of the worst consequences.” These are largely the same people who were sitting on the fantail of the Titanic listening to the band play “Nearer My God To Thee” and expecting the captain and crew to somehow “science their way” out of the impending disaster.


Credit: Almay

The whole concept would be amusing if it weren’t so sad. By and large, these are the same people who deny the work of climate scientists and deny that the Earth is heating at all. Why they would put their trust in science on the one hand while bashing scientists on the other is an enigma.

For the “We’ll science our way out of this” crowd, geo-engineering is a magic bullet that will allow the world to continue dumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere indefinitely. Basically, it involves injecting enormous amounts of sulfur dioxide — the stuff that spews out of volcanoes when they erupt — into the stratosphere where it would prevent some of the sunlight supplied by the sun from reaching the surface of the air.

The Krakatoa Effect

Call it the Krakatoa effect. When that volcano erupted in 1883, it lead to a period of global cooling as its dust and gases blotted out the sun. Some suggest Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream was not some surrealistic composition created while the artist was under the influence of recreational drugs but rather an accurate depiction of the sky over Norway at the time it was painted.

Many critics of geo-engineering suggest it is a blunt instrument that no one knows how to control with any degree of accuracy. It could easily disrupt climates in one part of the world more than others, bringing floods to some and drought to others.

A New Study From Harvard & MIT

But a study published by scientists at Harvard and MIT in the journal Nature Climate Change on March 11 entitled “Halving warming with idealized solar geoengineering moderates key climate hazards,” suggests cutting the amount of sulfur dioxide roughly in half compared to what most geo-engineering advocates are recommending could mitigate much of the harm climate scientists say will result from runaway carbon emissions.

Co-author Kerry Emanuel of MIT tells Science Daily,“For years, geoengineering has focused on compensating for greenhouse gas induced warming without worrying too much about other quantities like rainfall and storms. This study shows that a more modest engineered reduction in global warming can lead to better outcomes for the climate as a whole.”

“The analogy is not perfect but solar geoengineering is a little like a drug which treats high blood pressure. An overdose would be harmful, but a well-chosen dose could reduce your risks. Of course, it’s better to not have high blood pressure in the first place but once you have it, along with making healthier lifestyle choices, it’s worth considering treatments that could lower your risks.”

David Keith of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science says,”Some of the problems identified in earlier studies where solar geo-engineering offset all warming are examples of the old adage that the dose makes the poison. This study takes a big step towards using climate variables most relevant for human impacts and finds that no IPCC-defined region is made worse off in any of the major climate impact indicators. Big uncertainties remain, but climate models suggest that geoengineering could enable surprisingly uniform benefits.”

Lead author Peter Irvine of Harvard adds, “The places where solar geoengineering exacerbates climate change were those that saw the least climate change to begin with. Previous work had assumed that solar geoengineering would inevitably lead to winners and losers with some regions suffering greater harms; our work challenges this assumption. We find a large reduction in climate risk overall without significantly greater risks to any region.”

Professor Keith tells The Guardian, “I am not saying we know it works and we should do it now. Indeed, I would absolutely oppose deployment now. There’s still only a little group of people looking at this, there’s lots of uncertainty. There is the possibility that solar geoengineering could really substantially reduce climate risks for the most vulnerable.”

Some Scientists Aren’t Convinced

Not everyone is so sure. Alan Robock, a geophysics professor and researcher at Rutgers University, tells The Guardian the study does not examine the potential effects of spraying aerosols into the atmosphere. “They focus in this paper on temperature and water availability in different regions Those are only two things that would change with stratospheric aerosols.”

He adds that his studies examine 27 reasons why cooling the Earth with aerosols might be a bad idea, not the least of which are that the technology could cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year and pose complicated ethical questions, such as whether people have a right to see a blue sky. (See The Scream, above.)

“We’re not able right now to say whether, if global warming continues, we should ever decide to start spraying this stuff into the stratosphere,” he says. “Would solar-radiation management, would geoengineering make it more dangerous or less dangerous? That’s the question we have to answer, and we don’t have enough information.”

Some people suggest the solution to global warming could be bio-engineered humans with a social conscience rather than geo-engineering the environment. The world is made up of two kinds of people — those who make things happen and those who wonder what happened. Since the overwhelming majority of people fall into the latter category, the prospect of the human race taking any realistic action to address global heating is imperceptibly small.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

EV Obsession Daily!

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

Tesla Sales in 2023, 2024, and 2030

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.
Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


You May Also Like

Energy Storage

Imagine a supercapacitor made from ordinary and abundant materials like water and carbon black. The possibilities are endless.


Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News! Aviation’s huge carbon footprint could shrink significantly with...


Researchers at MIT are discovering new ways of making concrete that will release less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Clean Transport

What can be done to minimize EV's impact on the grid? A recent MIT study concludes that coordinated BEV charging is a potential tool...

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.