Can faking volcanic eruptions save the climate? Science is spilt | Climate Crisis News

Taipei, Taiwan – At opposite ends of Southeast Asia, researchers Pornampai Narenpitak and Heri Kuswanto are both working on the same problem: Is it possible to mimic the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions to prevent warming? Global?

Using computer modeling and analysis, Narenpitak and Kuswanto are studying separately whether firing large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the earth’s stratosphere could have the same effect on global temperatures as Indonesia’s Mount Tambora eruption in 1815 or not.

The eruption, the most powerful in recorded history, spewed some 150 cubic kilometers (150,000 gigalites) of explosive rock and ash into the air, causing global temperatures to drop by as much as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). in what is known as the “year without a summer”.

Aerosol injection into the stratosphere is one of a number of new – and controversial – technologies in the field of solar geoengineering (SRM) that have been touted as a potential solution to mitigating the effects of climate change. climate change.

Other suggested strategies include lightening sea clouds to reflect the sun or disrupting heat-collecting cirrus clouds.

SRM is largely untested in the real world.

But in Asia, where many countries are responding to the need to try to keep the lights on despite outdated electrical infrastructure and strive to achieve carbon neutrality, the concept has been at the heart of a panel discussion. and growing academic research.

solar geoengineering
Spraying aerosols into the stratosphere is one of the nascent technologies that some scientists believe could be used to move climate change. [Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Narenpita and Kuswanto, who are researching the use of the technology in their homelands Thailand and Indonesia, believe that SRM at least deserves more research.

“There’s a lot we don’t understand about the climate system itself, let alone the SRM,” Narenpitak, a researcher at the National Agency for Science and Technology Development in Bangkok, told Al Jazeera.

“And when I say ‘we’, I think it means everyone, from every region of the world, because in the end the effects will be different for different countries. And to assess the impacts, I think it’s best to ask people who know the context of each country to analyze. We cannot make any informed decisions if we do not know about these things.”

Go to Indonesia.

Kuswanto’s team at Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology in Surabaya, East Java found that while SRM could have a positive impact in some parts of the country such as Sumatra and Kalimantan, it would lead to increased temperatures in places. other.

“Unfortunately, we have not done any further research on the causes of these different results in Indonesia, but of course to improve it we have to look at the climate systems and we more research is needed on it,” Kuswanto said. Al-Jazeera TV station.

Two scientists, whose work was funded by the Degrees Initiative, an NGO focused on promoting research and discussion on SRM in developing countries with funding from the Open Philanthropy-based in San Francisco, is neutral on whether SRM should be used to offset the effects of climate change. , but they share a view shared by many researchers: it’s better to know how the technology works, just in case.

Both are also careful to say that SRM is not a substitute or substitute for cutting carbon emissions, but should be seen as a complementary technology.

“Even after we reduce our carbon footprint, it still takes several years to remove the carbon that has been released into the atmosphere – its warming effect is still there,” says Narenpitak.

“There is a lag between when we can significantly reduce carbon emissions and when we see temperatures stop rising. In that sense, SRM can lower the temperature.”

Climate scientists say the world must keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change. However, achieving that goal seems increasingly unlikely.

In October, Simon Stiell, the UN’s executive secretary for climate change, warned that countries’ decarbonization efforts were far from complete. “There is nowhere like scale and speed emissions reductions needed” to meet the 1.5C target.

Whether SRM should be considered a solution is still up for debate. The technology is not included in the United Nations Environment Program’s 2022 Emissions Gap Report, which covers various strategies for climate mitigation.

Much of the main funding for SRM has been concentrated in the United States after a five-year research project by Beijing Normal University, Zhejiang University, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences ended in 2019. although the researchers concluded that China should continue to push for a global agreement on SRM.

This trend will continue after the US Appropriations Act of 2022 authorizes funding for a five-year project by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to examine how research works. SRM on a national scale – sets out the goals, concerns, funding needs and which agencies will actually oversee this work.

Explain why 1.5C is important
[Al Jazeera]

However, testing SRM outside of computer modeling is deeply controversial because of the unknown and unpredictable effects of chemical discharge into the stratosphere.

Since SRM involves firing chemicals into the atmosphere at an altitude of 20-30km (12.4-18.6 miles) above the earth’s surface, a country’s deployment of the technology could affect weather patterns in other parts of the world.

Govindasamy Bala, a professor at the Center for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences of the Indian Academy of Sciences, discovered in experiments using computer modeling that the effects of aerosol injections can vary depending on to the latitude at which the injection was performed.

For example, a climate model predicted different effects for monsoon rain depending on the hemisphere: aerosols introduced at 15 degrees north reduced monsoon rain in the Northern Hemisphere and increased precipitation in the northern hemisphere. Southern Hemisphere and vice versa.

Other research has shown different effects on hurricanes in the Atlantic compared to hurricanes and tornadoes elsewhere.

“I think the only conclusion we have right now is that if we spray aerosols into the stratosphere, it has the potential to reduce global warming. We know it will work, but it will also have side effects and uneven effects,” Bala told Al Jazeera.

“If we can do this, that means humans can control the climate, right? We have the ability to control the climate, but the harder question is who will decide?”

Such concerns are one of the reasons the Swedish Space Agency in 2021 canceled a joint project with Harvard University to conduct a landmark engineering test of SRM in the Northern Ring. Pole using a high-altitude balloon following public outcry, most notably from the indigenous Saami people living in the area. land.

Project SCoPEx was intended as a test run to navigate 600kg (1,323 pounds) payloads at more than double the height of commercial aircraft.

Some climate activists have also raised concerns about moral hazard, arguing that the technology could undermine countries’ commitments to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to license climate change projects. The company continues to pollute.

Meanwhile, there are outstanding questions about how the technology will be managed given the global impact of unilateral action, especially by major powers like the United States and China.

Dhanasree Jayaram
Climate change expert Dhanasree Jayaram says there are concerns solar geoengineering could divert attention and funding away from other climate change mitigation measures [Courtesy of Delphi Economic Forum]

“Benefits themselves [of SRM] can be questioned in the sense that, do we need this when we have other means like mitigation, which is what we need to push at this stage,” said Dhanasree Jayaram, a researcher Researcher at Earth System Administration and assistant professor at Manipal Center for Climate Research of the Institute of Higher Education in India, told Al Jazeera.

“For example, does it really ignore research investments and other resources that really need to go into mitigation? Is this a distraction from the real requirements of climate governance?”

SRM also raises geopolitical questions as developing countries grapple with their own energy transitions, Jayaram said. She may also feel pressured into joining the SRM “music group” to make sure they can still get a seat at the table, she said.

While such questions preoccupy academia, some of SRM’s most enthusiastic champions have emerged in Silicon Valley.

Make Sunsets, a two-man team based between the United States and Mexico, is preparing to conduct micro SRM experiments with Amazon-bought weather balloons, helium, and small amounts of sulfur dioxide. Their long-term goal is to use the bubble to sell cooling credits to private companies.

“Our theory is basically that companies can only respond [carbon] Luke Iseman, founder of Make Sunsets, told Al Jazeera.

“We can issue a lot of these cooling credits and we don’t wait about 20 years to see if these trees grow, we actually put them in the air and can see the impact. within a few years.”

Make Sunsets has encountered some difficulties since its October 2022 launch.

So far, only a handful of individuals have purchased credit, according to Iseman.

More seriously, flights were suspended in Mexico after the government there banned the company from conducting experiments following several hot air balloon launches over the Baja Peninsula, citing possible environmental damage. school.

Last week, Make Sunsets announced it had launched three balloons containing a small amount of sulfur dioxide in the state of Nevada, USA.

INTERACT Global net zero emissions targets
[Al Jazeera]

However, SRM researchers like John Moore argue that the world needs to grasp how this technology works as soon as possible, rather than learn later during a global emergency.

“What people tend to worry about is that in a sense, people will panic and suddenly turn to geoengineering because some terrible climate change disaster is happening somewhere. . And then people try to launch balloons or spray aerosols into the stratosphere,” said Moore, a research professor at the University of Lapland’s Arctic Center in Finland and head of the five-year SRM project. of China, told Al Jazeera.

John Moore
John Moore believes the world needs to understand solar geoengineering as soon as possible [Courtesy of John Moore]

This is especially true, says Moore, for countries that are feeling the harshest effects of climate change despite historically contributing fewer greenhouse gases.

“I know there are some pretty well known people who say doing any research on solar geoengineering is bad because of this moral hazard argument, and I completely disagree with that.” he say.

“Basically, I think we really have an obligation to people in developing countries who don’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, who are suffering disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. of climate change.”


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