Head In The Clouds? What Geoengineering Could Mean For The Planet
There are times when everyone wishes they could change the weather.
Thunderstorms on the day of an outdoor wedding; a May snowfall that buries your entire garden.
For most people these thoughts are only wishful thinking, but Bill Gates, technology wiz and philanthropist extraordinaire, has decided to use his significant wealth to see if it could really happen.
Gates surprised many when he announced that “climate change was the single greatest threat to humanity” at the TED conference earlier this year. Gates also promised that he would “join the effort to find rapidly deployable energy technologies” but no one expected that effort to include a cloud-making factory.
MNN’s Karl Burkhart recently reported that “San Francisco-based research institute Silver Lining just received $300,000 of seed funding from Bill Gates to test a ‘cloud whitening’ technology that could prove a cost-effective method for slowing the effects of global warming.”
(No, this isn’t a parody of that George Clooney movie about goats).
Cloud whitening is based on a fairly simple theory: thicker, whiter, denser clouds are more reflective, thus preventing more of the suns rays from reaching the Earth’s surface. The only problem is that correctly-composed clouds rarely appear when and where you want them to.
Silver Lining hopes to modify the composition of thin low-lying stratocumulus clouds by injecting them with seawater in order to make them whiter. Injection of salt water theoretically increases the clouds’ “condensation nuclei,” making them smaller and more reflective.
Cloud whitening is a solar radiation management technique and, like simulating volcanic eruptions; the technique may reduce the temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans, but would not reduce levels of greenhouse gases. It is imagined that fleets of unmanned vessels would spray mist created from drawn seawater into the clouds above (handsoffmotherearth.org).
While it’s encouraging to finally see some serious money being invested into alternative technologies, environmentalists have expressed serious doubt about whether geoengineering is really what’s best for the planet in the long run.
After all, even a successful cloud whitening company will only be slowing, not eliminating, the effects of climate change.
A major report on the subject by The Royal Society last year also warned of the unknown side-effects of cloud-whitening, including, changes to regional weather patterns and ocean currents.
“We knew Microsoft was developing cloud applications for computers but we didn’t expect this. Bill Gates and his cloud-wrenching cronies have no right to unilaterally change our seas and skies in this way, Jim Thomas from Canadian environmental campaigners, ETC Group told the Ecologist.
What do you think?
Are geoengineering techniques designed to slow global warming worth the risk?
Do we have the right to pursue long-shot science experiments when the whole planet is the laboratory?
Would Gates’ influence and money be put to better use eliminating our dependence on the #1 cause of climate change — coal and oil?
Share your thoughts in a comment!
Image Credit: www.mygreentreasure.com