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Hacking the Planet’s Climate Won’t Work. Eradicating Fossil Fuels Will.

The scariest aspect of Bill McKibben’s recent article “The Enormous Risk of Atmospheric Hacking”  is the ominous prospect of permanently changing our blue sky to one that’s milky gray.

That could be a viable outcome if geoengineering scientists eventually manage to spew calcium carbonate and sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere in an attempt to cool the planet — which McKibben calls “hacking the planet’s climate by reflecting some of the sun’s light back out to space before it can reach the ground.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.’s authoritative voice on climate matters, has stated that cutting our emissions 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 could successfully put us on track to limit temperature rise in 2050 to the 1.5-degrees-Celsius target set in the Paris accord. That seemingly fast-moving timeline has panicked scientists from Harvard who are currently planning to test a flight platform from which the above mentioned aerosols can be sprayed out to Earth’s upper atmosphere.

McKibben calls this a “break-the-glass response to the climate crisis.” The risk-reward calculus of this solar geoengineering approach has been debated for years. Critics have raised many possible deleterious after affects. Not only is it an unproven technology with potentially catastrophic consequences, but used as a quick fix, it could slow or even stop efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide emanating fossil fuels used by power plants, cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, farms, factories and heating units. A man-made equivalent to producing a permanent cloud of volcanic ash could disrupt monsoons over Asia and see continued acidification of the oceans.

McKibben references the new book, “Under a White Sky” by Elizabeth Kolbert where she quotes Harvard scientist Daniel Schrag who is cautiously in favor of geoengineering because the many dire climate change warnings over the last 30 years have all been ignored. For Schrag, geoengineering may be Mankind’s only hope to avoid a climate catastrophe.  

Ultimately, McKibben stresses that it is essential we stay the course we’re already on: principally building more solar and wind farms and producing affordable batteries to store the power. And in so doing, we have more chances to keep our sky blue.

image: A man walks along Rajpath amid smoggy conditions in New Delhi on January 28, 2021. (Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images). https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/02/11/kolbert-white-sky/

Suggested Reading List:

https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/
https://www.discovermagazine.com/environment/if-the-earth-is-warming-why-not-just-cool-it
https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/10/19/opinion/when-it-comes-solar-geoengineering-were-still-very-much-dark/
https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-a-warming-planet/the-enormous-risk-of-atmospheric-hacking

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