The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report on Friday about a relatively new technology called solar radiation modification that could be used in the fight against climate change.
According to the report, SRM is a form of “geoengineering” that “offers the possibility of cooling the planet significantly on a timescale of a few years.” The University of Oxford defines “geoengineering” as “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change.”
The report is titled “Congressionally Mandated Research Plan and an Initial Research Governance Framework Related to Solar Radiation Modification.” Congress directed OSTP to “provide a research plan for solar and other rapid climate interventions.”
The document focuses on “atmospheric-based approaches to solar radiation modification (SRM), specifically stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) and marine cloud brightening (MCB),” and mentions a technique called “cirrus cloud thinning (CCT).”
In an article about this report, Politico noted:
There are risks associated with each form of solar radiation modification, the report said, that can affect human health, biodiversity and geopolitics. That’s because modifying sunlight could alter global weather patterns, disrupt food supplies and lead to abrupt warming if the practice was widely deployed and then halted. It also wouldn’t address air pollution from fossil fuels or ocean acidification, a major threat to coral reefs’ ecosystems driven by the overabundance of carbon in the air and seas.
[T]he White House emphasized that it was important to compare those uncertainties with the present dangers associated with a hotter planet.
A White House statement about the report stressed that it “does not signify any change in policy or activity by the Biden-Harris Administration, which remains focused on reducing emissions, increasing resilience, advancing environmental justice, and achieving true energy security.” The statement added that there are “no plans underway to establish a comprehensive research program focused on solar radiation modification.”
Frankly, these words offer little solace coming from a White House that has repeatedly overreached its authority. Considering the mess the Biden administration has made of everything from the economy to U.S. foreign policy, can they really be trusted with implementing such an untested and potentially dangerous technology?
European Union officials weighed in on the topic last week. If possible, their alarm over global warming exceeds even the scaremongering coming from Washington. According to EU officials, “The triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, can exacerbate socio-economic tensions and trigger insecurity, even conflict, within and between states.”
Still, they’re not quite ready to deploy SRM techniques to solve the crisis. Mercifully.
The European Parliament and European Council issued a joint communication last week that said:
Guided by the precautionary principle, the EU will support international efforts to assess comprehensively the risks and uncertainties of climate interventions, including solar radiation modification and promote discussions on a potential international framework for its governance, including research related aspects.
This foolish attempt to manipulate Mother Nature is radical, dangerous and unnecessary. There are a thousand ways these solar radiation modification experiments could go wrong and the masters of the universe will only think of half of them. And sadly, mankind will be left suffering the consequences of their mistakes.
Maybe that’s the point.
STEVE adds: I dissent slightly from a categorical rejection of “geo-engineering,” though the reasons for deep skepticism are well justified. I’ve been following the debate about this for nearly 20 years, and wrote some early articles about the idea—chiefly the ferocious resistance to it among the climatistas. The IPCC ignored the idea in two of its decennial reports back in the aughts, and proposals even to conduct research were fiercely opposed by environmental groups, because their chief object is to destroy all fossil fuels and repeal the industrial revolution, and geo-engineering solutions to a warmer climate wouldn’t accomplish those Luddite goals. And since environmentalists were so adamantly against it, I was naturally for it! And one important aspect of this current turnabout by the so-called “consensus” climate community is that it represents a tacit understanding on their part that the crusade against hydrocarbon energy—Net-Zero by 2050—isn’t going to happen.
Suppose the climatistas turn out to be right (though for the wrong reason, like natural climate change instead of carbon emissions) and we have a much warmer world several decades from now. Geo-engineering technology would represent an “in case of emergency break glass” kind of fallback. We do have some knowledge about how atmospheric conditions, and the presence of high-altitude particulates, affect global temperatures from the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1992, which suppressed global average temperatures by about a degree for a year or more. It was the first such major volcanic eruption where we had copious satellite data and measurements to study.
The major scientific defect of the idea is identical to the problem with all the climate change projections today: the climate models would likely not be able to tell us whether our deliberate interventions (like high altitude sulfite particle injections, or increasing the iron content of the oceans to soak up more CO2) were affecting the climate, or whether it was natural variability from year to year. And I doubt this problem will be solved any time soon. In other words, I doubt we can truly invent a global thermostat.
But I think a serious research project into the matter is worth doing, in part because this may be one area where an international agreement is worth pursuing (and I hate most international agreements). Do we want a single nation (cough, cough—China—cough, cough) to decide to try to modify the world’s climate on its own? Or Elon Musk III? The analogy here would be the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty of the early 1960s—about the only positive contribution of the old arms control fanatics.
To be sure, climate modification could easily become the climate equivalent of “gain of function” research, and we know how that turned out. To the scientific defects of the idea must be added the political defects: does anyone trust our scientific establishment to undertake this research honestly, and without self-interest for the control of resources it might portend? I’m going to stock up on coal.