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Back in 1991, one of the 20th century’s largest volcanic eruptions occurred at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. It ejected nearly 20 million tonnes of sulphur into the upper atmosphere, which then partially reflected the sun’s rays, causing global temperatures to fall by nearly half a degree Celsius in just one year.
The manner in which this event caused temperatures to fall so quickly and across such a large area, created great interest with environmental scientists who began to devise new methods that would be able to replicate such conditions to help in the fight against global warming. Solar geoengineering is the science of artificially releasing thousands of tonnes of sulphur into the atmosphere in order to reverse the rise in global average temperatures.
Mount Pinatubo 1991 eruption.
If utilised, solar geoengineering would be a very powerful, fast-acting, cheap, and effective tool to help counter most of the global warming predicted to occur over the next century or so. David Keith, a physicist at Harvard University, is one of the strongest advocates for employing solar geoengineering in the world, and is keen to encourage more intensive studies into the positive and negative effects of using jets to release sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere in order to partially reflect the sun’s rays.
The studies will be vital in order to better determine the full impact that such a scheme might have on the environment and geopolitics. It is thought that solar geoengineering, as well as cooling the planet, would have the side effect of making it drier, affecting the monsoon season around India, and creating droughts in other regions. It may well begin to destroy the ozone that protects most of the planet from the most harmful of the sun’s rays, and does nothing to counteract the acidification of the oceans as they absorb more and more CO2 from the air.
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Many people around the world are against the idea of solar geoengineering, fearful that it would give politicians an easy excuse to avoid any attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but possibly the greatest fear is that it could lead to war. If nations cannot agree on how best to implement a solar engineering scheme, or to what temperature the planet should be cooled, then conflicts could erupt, eventually leading to armed confrontations.
Alan Robock, a climatologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said that his “greatest concern is societal disruption and conflict between countries.”
Yet Environment 360 reports that despite the risks and aversion associated with solar geoengineering, 2010 saw the very first major cost estimates for implementing methods to inject sulphur particles into the atmosphere. In 2012, for the first time, China included geoengineering in its list of earth science research priorities; in 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change mentioned geoengineering in its summary statement; and the National Academy of Sciences is currently working on a CIA funded report into geoengineering.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com