Simulated volcanoes and man-made 'sun blocks' can rescue the planet

Scientists back radical 'geoengineering' projects to stop climate change

It would be 100 times cheaper to shield the Earth from sunlight with a man-made "sun block" than to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. This is one of the reasons why the world needs an international project to investigate ways of safely manipulating the global climate in addition to cutting greenhouse gases, scientists have said.

Simulating a volcanic eruption by putting man-made aerosol particles into the atmosphere to reflect the Sun's heat would rapidly lower global temperatures and could provide a vital respite from global warming until cuts in carbon dioxide emissions begin to have the desired effect, they added.

It is important to start tests in "geoengineering" now rather than leave it until a full-blown emergency, according to three environmental scientists who argue that governments should establish a multimillion-pound fund to pay for research into solar-radiation management – techniques for shielding the Earth against sunlight.

"The idea of deliberately manipulating Earth's energy balance to offset human-driven climate change strikes many as dangerous hubris," said David Keith of the University of Calgary in Canada, Edward Parson of the University of Michigan and Granger Morgan of Carnegie Mellon University, writing in the journal Nature.

"Many scientists have argued against research on solar radiation management, saying that developing the capability to perform such tasks will reduce the political will to lower greenhouse gas emissions. We think that the risks of not doing research outweigh the risks of doing it," they wrote.

Until recently, even discussing the idea of manipulating the global climate artificially to combat rising temperatures has been considered a taboo subject among scientists. However, last year a survey of 50 climate scientists by The Independent found there was a growing appetite to at least investigate the idea, an approach supported by a report into geoengineering last September by the Royal Society.

The latest call by David Keith and his colleagues emphasises that there are serious potential problems with building a solar shield, and that it should never be seen as an alternative to cuts in greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, they argue that it is better for an international research project to be established rather than leaving it until a "rogue state" decides to go it alone.

"It is plausible that, after exhausting other avenues to limit climate risks, such a nation might decide to begin a gradual, well-monitored programme of deployment, even without any international agreement on its regulation," the scientists said.

"In this case, one nation – which need not be a large and rich industrialised country – could seize the initiative on global climate, making it extremely difficult for other powers to restrain it."

An international research effort into such a project could begin with an annual budget of about $10m (£6.3m), rising to about $1bn by 2020. It could investigate the risks, such as altering weather patterns, as well as known drawbacks, such as it doing nothing to combat the increasing acidity of the oceans.

Scientists have suggested that generating sulphate aerosols in the upper atmosphere, which are naturally emitted during a volcanic eruption, could quickly lower global temperatures, which happened after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. Another possibility is to spray fine droplets of seawater into the air to create low-level clouds that would lower daytime temperatures over the oceans.

"Opinions about solar radiation management are changing rapidly. Only a few years ago, many scientists opposed open discussion of the topic. Many now support model-based research, but field testing of the sort we advocate here is contentious and will probably grow more so," the three scientists wrote.

"The main argument against solar radiation management research is that it would undermine the already-inadequate resolve to cut emissions. We are keenly aware of this 'moral hazard'; but sceptical that suppressing research would in fact raise commitment to mitigation.

"Indeed, with the possibility of solar radiation management now widely recognised, failing to subject it to serious research and risk assessment may well pose the greater threat to mitigation efforts, by allowing implicit reliance on solar radiation management without scrutiny of its actual requirements, limitations and risks," they said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory