Spraying antacids in the sky to solve climate change

There can be no denying it, climate change is happening.

Ice from both polar caps is melting. Lakes around the world are warming at rapid rates. Plants are changing their time patterns. And even animals are changing their migration patterns.

Earth is heating up, and the consequences are bound to be catastrophic.

Three Harvard and Yale scientists (David KeithZhen Dai, and Frank Keutsch) want to reverse the effect of global warming by releasing a sun-dimming sky chemical this year.

You might say, hold on a minute. What?

Exactly my reaction. Scenes from sci-fi movie Geostorm flashed in front of my eyes, too.

Yes, it’s controversial, to say the least. After all, his would be the world’s first foray into solar geoengineering.

But it’s actually an ingenious plan.

Basically, the research proposes a plan to spray a compound into our stratosphere.

The purpose?

To reflect some of the sun’s energy back into space.

The study, which was published last year in the Environmental Research Letters, contains plans to try and use a technique called stratospheric aerosol injection – at least on a smaller scale – to test its potential risk and rewards to curb climate change.

How do they plan to ‘dim the sun?’

If successful, this could turn out to be a cost-effective way of cutting the rate of global warming in half – costing as little as $2 billion a year.

So how exactly are they planning to spray the sky and dim the sun?

There’s a more detailed explanation published in Nature, but the crux of it is to send two navigatable balloons, which contain 100 grams of calcium carbonate each and release them up into the Earth’s stratosphere.

Why calcium carbonate, particularly?

Calcium carbonate is a compound used commonly in cement. Medicinally, it is used in antacids.

However, in this case, the scientists believe that calcium carbonate is effective in staying in the air for years while it reflects sunlight.

Once the compound is released, a laser imaging system will be used to observe how the particles disperse. Through the data they gather, they’ll be able to predict how larger quantities of the compound will behave.

This experiment is set to take place 20 kilometers above the south-west of the USA.

Lead scientists Keutsch and Keith will ideally launch the experiment in spring of this year. However, they adamantly want an external advisory committee to fully review the SCoPEx project before the experiment begins.

Controversial Concerns

Theoretically, it could work. And who doesn’t want a cheap and effective solution to our world’s most pressing problem?

However, critics are not shy to talk about their concerns regarding this experiment.

Some say that these geoengineering efforts are nothing but band-aids to a gaping wound. This might treat the symptoms of climate change, but it does nothing to fix the cause.

And instead of pushing global efforts towards fixing the root of the problem, people would end up choosing the easier and more attractive short-term solution.

Some detractors speculate about the long-term effects of tampering on our already fragile ecosystem, saying that there is a possibility of “termination shock” if the practice is forced to stop.

Not to mention how it could possibly affect the cultivation of our food crops and could even kill humans if temperatures drop by mistake.

Many things could terribly go wrong. These are, after all, some glaringly untested waters.

The philanthropically-funded team, however, does not wish to file a commercial patent.

Regardless of their critics, the team, which is funded by passionate planthoppers, “strongly discourage” the commercialization of their project. They will not be filing a patent.

The scientists want to maintain a level of integrity to what they are doing. They want the public to have a transparent view of the matter, so there could be room for informed decision-making.

They wish, to simply spark an open conversation about solar geoengineering.

And perhaps, that in itself is valuable.

Even if this experiment fails, at least it will create some noise and awareness about the extent of climate change.

It’s true that there are currently no simple or easy solutions to mitigating global warming. But a step towards that direction, as long as done cautiously, is a step towards something actionable, at least.

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