Why solar geoengineering climate credits are a bad idea

Beware of these: A dubious new climate credit is available for purchase.

For example, traditional carbon offset credits for protecting forests or planting trees have a track record of not actually reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Solar geoengineering, a controversial response to climate change, is now being sold as credits by a startup for its attempts to alter the planet’s ability to reflect sunlight.

A letter from prominent scientists that was published yesterday warns that this kind of climate intervention is probably never going to be ready for commercial use. James Hansen, a scientist who used to work for NASA and is now a professor at Columbia University, is a big name on the letter. He is famous for warning Congress in 1988 about climate change.

The letter calls for more research into solar geoengineering’s potential impact, which could reduce some of the dangers brought on by climate change or even create new issues. The scientists do not actually endorse solar geoengineering as a strategy for combating climate change because of this uncertainty. They don’t think it should be implemented without an “international decision-making process” on how to use such technologies and a “comprehensive, international assessment” of its potential effects.

Make Sunsets, a troubled solar geoengineering startup, attempted to release reflective particles into the atmosphere from Reno, Nevada, this month, and from Baja California, Mexico, last year. The statement comes in response to those attempts. The idea is to replicate the way volcanic debris reflects solar radiation, which has previously cooled the planet temporarily. A couple of co-founders actually light fungicide on a grill, use the gas to fill weather balloons with reflective sulfur dioxide particles, and then let go of the balloons.

“Cooling credits” from Make Sunsets can be purchased for $10 per gram of sulfur dioxide released. “The warming effect of one ton of carbon dioxide for a year” is supposed to be offset by each gram. However, the business has no discernible effect on the climate. To begin, it emits insufficient amounts of sulfur dioxide to offset the billions of tons of pollution produced annually by burning fossil fuels. Additionally, Make Sunsets is unable to determine whether the reflective particles it has released have even reached the stratosphere, where they are supposed to perform their intended function, as it has not been able to collect precise altitude data on the five balloons it has launched thus far.

Most of the time, the balloon launches by Make Sunsets have been successful in angering people who want to see more legitimate research into geoengineering. A press release issued on February 13 by the non-profit organization SilverLining, which supports research in geoengineering, states, “There can be no room for selling snake oil.” SilverLining strongly condemns Make Sunsets’ attempts to market fraudulent “cooling credits” and its unauthorized material releases into the atmosphere.

Following the launch of Make Sunsets balloons there, Mexico stated that it would prohibit solar geoengineering experiments. Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources stated that the move was intended to safeguard the environment and nearby communities. The release of a lot of sulfur dioxide has the potential to worsen the Antarctic ozone hole, cause acid rain, and irritate people’s lungs. When it comes to the potential effects, there are still too many unanswered questions.

It is still too risky to monetize even if scientists discover more about the effects of solar geoengineering and decide that the benefits outweigh the risks. It “does not address the cause of climate change,” according to the letter that was released yesterday. “It likely will never be an appropriate candidate for an open market system of credits and independent actors,” the letter states.

Naturally, all of our fossil-fueled power plants, factories, and gas-guzzling automobiles are polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, which is what is causing climate change. We are currently in a predicament that has scientists considering a drastic action like geoengineering due to humanity’s failure to reduce pollution. Whether they come from solar geoengineering or more conventional tree planting programs, carbon credits do nothing to stop that pollution.

Yes, trees are capable of absorbing and storing planet-warming carbon dioxide. However, they release it once more when they die, burn, or are cut down. It won’t work forever. Make Sunsets’ attempt at solar geoengineering is not either. Because sulfur dioxide doesn’t stay in the air for very long, the startup’s $10 credit is only supposed to cover a year’s worth of cooling.

Therefore, you must establish a routine if you want to have an impact in this manner. This kind of climate intervention becomes addictive if it ever achieves scale. The world quickly warms up once you stop putting reflective particles into the atmosphere. Even eruptions of volcanoes that released enough sulfur dioxide to raise global temperatures only had a brief effect. Earth’s surface was roughly two years cooler as a result of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991.

It is already difficult for the world to give up using fossil fuels. Credit can also lead to addiction. Additionally, if we are not careful, we run the risk of wasting the limited amount of time we have available to take real action to address the climate crisis before it significantly worsens.

The majority of this letter is completely in my favor: In an email to The Verge, Make Sunsets founder Luke Iseman states that additional research is absolutely necessary. What we do in the face of uncertainty is my question. Do we wait for some international consensus, which may never come, or do we take measures that we know will result in cooling and, as a result, the saving of lives?

Iseman’s assertions that geoengineering saves lives are not supported by any evidence. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that switching to clean energy can.

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