I don’t think anyone doubts that the climate is always changing; change is the only constant not just in weather, but in life. The cause of climate change may be disputed but the effect becomes more clear each passing year. Scientists are looking for ways to reduce this change, to even out the long term changes in weather, and one group thinks they have an answer. They want to engineer the sky to reduce the impact of sunlight upon the earth. One group from Harvard plans to launch a geo-engineering experiment soon.
Their idea is to put a thin layer of reflective material in the stratosphere. The stratosphere is the 2nd layer of our atmosphere; it’s from 6 to 32 miles above the earth. Scientists think that a layer of light-colored particles placed there will cool the planet by reflecting some of the sun’s rays back into space. They think this because we’ve already seen this happen. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it sent sulfate particles into the sky that stayed aloft for two years or so and cooled the planet by around one degree.
Geo-engineering is the large-scale manipulation of an environmental process to affect the earth’s climate. We’ve done small versions of this for years – cloud seeding, for example, to create rain or to increase the amount of rain that falls during a storm. We’ve also found ways to break up hail to reduce crop damage and created fog banks to confuse enemies during military engagements. These are small scale changes, but they can be scaled up.
Should we be concerned about this? Yes. It’s an interesting but frightening approach to manipulating our climate. It might work, but it might also trigger catastrophic flooding or drought. We just don’t know.
The test the Harvard scientists are working on will put a minuscule amount of an inert substance – either water or Calcium Carbonate – in the stratosphere and study how it disperses. If their study shows it works, they could create a relatively uniform blanket that would affect the entire planet by reducing the intensity of the sun’s rays. But that blanket is a frightening prospect. Scientists say the potential side effects are many and no one can predict the outcome. The unintended consequences could be catastrophic.