No, scientists have not just suggested we reduce the sun to end climate change

Image: Johnson Space Center (NASA)

Last week, researchers at Yale and Harvard published an article proposing "solar mitigation" to mitigate the effects of climate change. The problem is that these reports misinterpreted the cited research, which did not suggest that we are engaged in what is called solar geoengineering.

Wake Smith, Lecturer at Yale, and Co-author Gernot Wagner, Research Fellow and Lecturer at Harvard, have attempted to calculate the cost of one of the most discussed solar geoengineering methods, aerosol injection stratospheric (SAI). basically involves throwing a bunch of particles reflecting sunlight into the upper atmosphere. The authors confirmed that such a strategy could be a "remarkably cheap" way to fight global warming. The search was published Friday in Letters of research on the environment.

"The subject of the paper is very different from most press statements," said Earther Wagner, co-director of Harvard's solar geoengineering research program. One of the biggest differences between how the report was covered and what the authors wrote is the assumption that they present research as a viable solution to climate change.

"Solar geoengineering is not a solution to climate change," Wagner said. "It does not directly concern CO2. There are indirect benefits, but frankly, it's a bit of a spectacle. It just does not deal with the root cause. "

The best way to think about the new research is to verify the facts of a proposed method – extremely controversial and potentially catastrophic – to tackle climate change in part. address. Researchers examined proposed methods to smooth sulfate particles in the lower stratosphere to lower temperatures on Earth and determined that a specialized high-altitude aircraft – named SAI Lofter (SAIL), and which does not even exist – would be the most cost effective way to do it. They estimate that such a program would cost a little more than $ 2 billion a year during the first 15 years of deployment and would aim to "halve the change in temperature from the first year of the program."

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"This is a very focused document that tries to quantify this scenario of possible deployment of solar geoengineering. That's all we do, "Wagner told Earther. "We would like to think that we are getting a better job by calculating the actual numbers, mainly because we have talked directly to aerospace companies and industry professionals in this highly hypothetical scenario, trying to quantify what a semi-realistic strategy. deployment scenario like this would actually cost. That's all. "

As the authors of the study note in their analysis, "solar geoengineering is often described as" fast, inexpensive and imperfect ". They recognize, however, the first point and present evidence for the second – and this seems to be what is lost in the translation around this research done by CNN, the Daily Mail and others, the authors write that they "do not judge not the opportunity of the SAI ".

"We're just showing that a hypothetical deployment program starting in 15 years, while being very uncertain and ambitious, would actually be technically feasible from an engineering point of view," they write. "It would also be remarkably cheap."

Another objective of the document was to know if such a technology could be deployed in secret, which, according to its authors, is unlikely "given the need for thousands of flights each year by planes of the same size." an airliner operating from a range of international bases ".

Wagner said the research was a major advance for a very narrow issue on solar geoengineering, but as noted by other experts in the field, it is critical to continue researching the topic. If the effects of solar geoengineering are not fully understood, such a method could be adopted without a clear understanding of its potential consequences.

"The genie is out of the bottle," Parker's Andy Parker of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, who also published a study on solar geoengineering, told Earther. "And I do not think that not talking about it will make the idea go away."

Following the publication of the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (you know, the massive federal climate change report that the Trump administration has attempted to bury), it is clear The potential impact of climate change on all aspects of life could be disastrous. And as the report indicates, its effects are already being felt across the United States.

But there is no simple or easy solution to mitigate climate change. Any suggestion to the contrary is probably a vast oversimplification.

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