Research to cool Earth by reflecting back sunlight is being advanced by the White House.
The White House is coordinating a five-year study plan to investigate how solar geo-engineering, also known as light reflection, can be used to alter the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth in order to temper the effects of global warming.
According to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, the research plan will evaluate local weather interventions, such as spraying aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into the earth's atmosphere. It may also include objectives for research, what is required to analyse the atmosphere, and what impact these types of local weather interventions may have on Earth.
The research plan was mandated by Congress to be created in its 2022 budget plan, which President Joe Biden signed in March. Some of the techniques, including dispersing sulphur dioxide into the air, have been shown to be harmful to both the environment and human health.
Researchers must figure out the best way to balance these risks against a potentially catastrophic increase in the Earth's temperature, according to scientists and local weather officials who are worried that humankind will exceed its emissions targets.
Preparing for research is a crucial first step, but it's noteworthy that the White House is formally supporting what is usually seen as the stuff of dystopian fiction. In the science fiction book 'The Ministry for the Future' by Kim Stanley Robinson, India experiences a heat wave that kills 20 million people, and out of desperation, India chooses to apply its own method of restricting the amount of sunlight that would reach Earth.
It is wise for the White House to be leading the research effort, according to Chris Sacca, the founder of the weather technology investment fund Lowercarbon Capital.
Sacca advised CNBC that 'sunlight reflection has the potential to protect the livelihoods of billions of people, and it's a demonstration of the White House's leadership that they're furthering the research so that any future decisions may be established in science rather than geopolitical brinkmanship.'
Harvard professor David Keith, who began researching the issue in 1989, said it is now being treated with far greater seriousness.
He refers to a legitimate claim of support for research made by a group he advises called the Overshoot Commission. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Union of Concerned Scientists have also expressed support for the study.
To be clear, no one is advocating that modifying sunlight-reflection is the solution to local weather change. The priority continues to be cutting emissions.