Reflecting sunlight may be the answer to combating climate change

Ali Hussain

In an open letter written on Feb. 27, over 100 scientists studying climate change urged for coordinated research efforts in   solar radiation modification in order to combat climate change. SRM is the process of reflecting sunlight away from the earth.

In the open letter, the scientists highlighted the devastation caused by climate change, with it “posing grave threats to public health, economic security, and global stability.”

The signatories of the open letter hail  from  Harvard University to NASA. It is important to note that no single organization is behind this and that the open letter was independently crafted by the scientists.

SRM functions in two main ways. It increases the number of light-scattering aerosols in the stratosphere and adds sea salt minerals to clouds to enhance their reflectivity. Both functions serve to reduce the impact greenhouse gasses have on climate change.

Current SRM efforts are being met with tremendous pushback. There are concerns about the safety and viability of this climate control method, particularly because the areas hit hardest by climate change, low and middle-income countries, are also areas where the impact of this technology is understudied.

Despite admitting the negative impacts of the current SRM methods, the scientists behind the open letter stated that it may become a necessity soon, “should climate action remain insufficient.” They urged for research be done sooner rather than later.

The scientists believe that the research into SRM’s efficacy could be conducted over the next one or two decades. They say it should be started as soon as possible in order for  SRM to  be fully utilized if and when its use becomes a necessity.

Globally, climate action is currently behind on the promise of the 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris Climate Agreement.

“Climate change continues to worsen with some of its impacts already irreversible,” The United Nations Environment Programme reported.

Heeding the open letter’s words, the UNEP released a report on SRM and stated it “is the only option that could cool the planet within years,” but it would need to be maintained for several decades to centuries at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a year per 1 degree Celsius of cooling.

“The private sector and regulators need to address the basic uncertainties surrounding these technologies, answer some fundamental questions about safety and employ the precautionary principle before SRM can even be contemplated,” Andrea Hinwood, Chief Scientist at the UNEP, stated.

Ultimately, both the UNEP and the scientists behind the open letter concluded that more research must be conducted to study how SRM can be made a safe and viable response to the climate crisis. Reflecting sunlight to combat climate change is currently too dangerous and could  have unknown consequences, but the technology may one day save the planet.