Biden admin outlines hypothetical geoengineering research program
The US Office of Science and Technology Policy has outlined what a geoengineering program in the US might look like in a report published on Friday. The researchers stressed that their work was not meant as an endorsement of such technologies, but was merely commissioned by Congress last year as part of an appropriations bill to research “solar and other rapid climate interventions.”
The report looks at how best to research the risks, benefits, and feasibility of “solar radiation modification,” which aims to control Earth’s climate by increasing the percentage of the Sun’s rays reflected back into space. Stratospheric aerosol injection (shooting reflective particles into the atmosphere), and marine cloud brightening (creating whiter clouds) are both being considered.
While computer modeling suggests both methods could cool the planet “within a few years,” even the models have thrown up what the researchers call “potential unintended outcomes in the climate system.” Other scientists have clarified that cooling the atmosphere in one area with geoengineering causes heating elsewhere and risks a rebound heating effect in the original area if the geoengineering is stopped.
While acknowledging that the risks of meddling with Earth’s atmosphere are likely to be as great or greater than those limiting climate change mitigation efforts to ground-level initiatives like limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the report highlighted the critical importance of being able to detect when and where “other public and private actors” – those with a greater risk tolerance or, more ominously, less understanding of the issues involved – were experimenting with the technology.
“A research program characterized by transparency and international cooperation would contribute to a broader base of trust around this issue,” it states, perhaps hinting at the lack thereof that has accrued to private sector experiments in the field, which have already resulted in at least one country – Mexico – banning geoengineering entirely.
Any research into the science must thus also include research into the technology’s societal aspects, such as potential geopolitical fallout, risk to human health, and how its implementation will affect populations compared to how those populations would otherwise be affected by climate change, according to the report.
Despite 44 pages of contemplating the ins and outs of modeling experiments in Sun-dimming to save the planet, the Biden administration in a statement accompanying the report reassured readers that there are “no plans underway to establish a comprehensive research program focused on solar radiation modification.”
The European Commission published its own report on the national security implications of climate change on Friday, expressing strikingly similar disinterest in engaging in solar radiation modification itself but intense concern over whether others were experimenting with it. The EU’s climate policy chief warned against attempting large-scale geoengineering projects without full cooperation from the bloc.