Climate change has become one of the most intensely politicized issues over the last several decades. Even though the majority of climate scientists agree that human activity has accelerated the warming of our planet, experts agree that such warming will continue even in the best (and incredibly unrealistic) case scenario where the burning of fossil fuels completely ceased (due to a latency period between emission and peak effect). Are we doomed to endure the effects of human induced climate change, or is there a way to reverse and combat the effects of global warming?
Harvard physicist and solar geoengineer David Keith has proposed a simple solution to counteracting the effects of global warming that holds great promise – spray chemicals into the atmosphere to offset the effects of greenhouse gases. While the general idea of spraying chemicals into the atmosphere has been popular among conspiracy theorists for a long time (they maintain that “chemtrails” are distributed into the atmosphere for nefarious purposes such as mind-control), Keith’s proposal is grounded in solid science. The idea is to use jets to carefully release small amounts of sulfuric acid into the atmosphere which then combine with water vapor to form sulfate aerosols capable of reflecting a small portion of the Sun’s light back into space.
This scheme is appealing for a number reasons. First, according to Keith, the effects of global warming could potentially be cut in half after only one year of such operations. Second, the cost of maintaining such a program is relatively modest – Keith estimates an annual cost of less than $1 billion for these operations in the middle of the century (for comparison, the US military budget for 2016 was $580 billion).
Before you get overly excited, it is worth mentioning that one of the biggest skeptics of Keith’s proposal is Keith himself. There is a lack of research concerning the large scale distribution of sulfur into the atmosphere, as well as a lack of experimental evidence supporting the feasibility of such operations. Clearly, much more work needs to be done for scientists to evaluate the effects of deliberate climate modification. Despite these hurdles, it always fascinates me how some of the most powerful ideas in science are also the simplest.