The first stage of the test could occur as soon as next year, using only water and aiming to test the methodology and technology of the experiment itself. As the study progresses, new substances may be introduced and examined — including calcium carbonate, sulfates, or even diamond dust.
While the concept of geoengineering may be risky, the actual study proposed is not, Keutsch maintained. His team’s investigations will disturb the atmosphere far less than a jetliner.
Yet even holding a public debate about finding a technological solution for climate change may be problematic, said Gernot Wagner, head of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program.
The idea of exploring a relatively simple technological solution to the problem could potentially end up deterring world leaders from making necessary reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, he said.
“Of course, we understand that solar geoengineering is not the solution — it can’t be,” he said. “We have to reduce emissions. We have to mitigate. That is step one.”
Solar geoengineering “is both terrifying and nuts, in isolation,” Wagner said. “But the question is — nuts compared to what? Is it nuts to be staring down the climate abyss, the way we are doing right now?”
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Even if solar geoengineering worked perfectly, it wouldn’t solve all the problems associated with CO2 emissions, such as the acidification of the ocean caused by carbon build-up, Keutsch said.
Rather, he said, geoengineering should be seen as similar to a painkiller for a gravely ill patient — with similar benefits and associated risks.
Like a painkiller, geoengineering “won’t solve the underlying problem,” he said. “It can even encourage bad behavior, like when people do things they shouldn’t because they don’t notice the pain.”
Still, he said, studying the issue will help the world make educated decisions about possible risks and benefits of different strategies to deal with climate change.
“My view is we should always choose knowledge over ignorance,” Keutsch said.
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