With the effects of global climate change becoming more acute, interest in solar radiation management is growing. The question is, who would control the thermostat if the world were to adopt such a model?
As the prospect of a warmer planet becomes reality, scientists are seeking ways to control the climate and keep the planet cooler. It’s a risky and highly controversial idea and, if successful, could imperil the ozone layer and lead to changes in rainfall patterns worldwide. It could also pit nations against one another as they try to control the weather or even use it as a weapon.
“Whose hand would be on the thermostat?” a leading climate scientist at Rutgers University, Alan Robcock, asked the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in 2009. “What if Canada or Russia wanted the climate to be a little warmer, while tropical countries and small island states wanted it cooler?”
The major danger of this approach is that it would create one more source of conflict. Nations with aspirations to become more powerful like Canada might want the weather warmer so that it would be able to exploit the oil that is lying underneath the North Pole. African nations might want it cooler in order to mitigate droughts. The US might use it as a weapon in order to keep the Middle East in conflict. These are just possible examples.
Consequently, most of the nations of the world have already signed a convention to ban the use of widespread solar radiation management until the issue is studied further. But some US states are already using other forms of weather control; ten different US states are already using some form of cloud seeding. This includes the states of California and Nevada. However, cloud seeding has not mitigated the present droughts in those two states.
One of the main obstacles to implementing a Solar Radiation Management system is cost. One of the main arguments used to oppose cloud seeding has been cost; it is likely that the cost of putting together a Solar Radiation Management system would be astronomical.
And there are unintended consequences anytime a project that is this drastic is proposed. Any such system would interfere with weather patterns that farmers have relied on for generations. Therefore, such a system would risk disrupting the production of food, either for good or for bad.
But there is also a risk in doing nothing. According to the main article:
Despite that, the increased emphasis on the study of SRM began when Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Cruzen suggested it in a 2006 paper. Attempts to lower greenhouse gas emissions have been “grossly unsuccessful,” he argued. A worst-case scenario of warming — a 5 degree Celsius increase in this century — could melt the ice sheet of Greenland or the poles and cause the sea level to rise dramatically. SRM could possibly prevent that, he wrote.
Since Cruzen’s paper was published, more climate scientists and physicists have begun studying the technology and its effects. But most are quick to state that they hope it is never needed.
“The solution to global warming is to stop putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” says Robock. “Every person working on geoengineering will tell you that. Nobody really wants to be working on geoengineering. They want mitigation to work.”
But the risk of a worldwide Solar Radiation Management system is that it would decrease the incentive for nations and corporations to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases. And making such a decision would be irreversible; if the plug were to be pulled on such a system for whatever reason, the earth, as the article notes, would likely revert back to a high degree of global warming in a short period of time.