Should “Solar Climate Engineering” Be Used As A Possible Backstop Technology To Fight Climate Change?
This work focuses on Solar Climate Engineering, known as geoengineering or Solar Radiation Management (SRM), which is generally a large—scale, thoughtful intervention in earth systems to counteract climate change. This is a proposed method for cooling the planet by reflecting a small fraction of incoming sunlight into space before warming the earth. This involves stratospheric aerosol injection. Scholars have widely debated this solar engineering and termed it controversial because of governance challenges, ethical issues, and scientific and technological uncertainty.
The Position presented in this paper argues “No,” Solar climate Engineering should not be considered a possible backstop technology because of the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change (IPCC) conclusion that Solar Engineering Poses Physical Risk and the research by other scientists that such method is controversial, and has governance challenges and ethical issues as well. Therefore, researching solar climate engineering is unnecessary because of the wholly potential experimental risks to mother earth.
It is unnecessary to consider solar climate engineering as a possible backstop technology because research suggests that such a method poses a physical risk to the climate and environment. Scholars revealed that the technology, which should be helping with mitigation when researched, would, in fact, be imperfectly compensating for Climate change. It would cause residual regional temperature with respect to precipitation anomalies while experiencing slower recovery of stratospheric ozone and injecting sulfur, contributing to acid rain. (Eastham et al., 2018).
Therefore, I am of the opinion that it is somehow a scientific risk to consider solar engineering as a backstop. This is because the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change (IPCC), the primary global authority of assessing technological advancement and scientific information related to climate change, has given its conclusion and uncertainty about Solar engineering. It is interesting to note that the IPCC concluded that solar radiation modification (SRM) is “Uncertain” and has a challenging capacity to govern, legitimize, and scale measures. In her reports published on April 19, 2019, the IPCC argued that SRM would receive resistance from the Public, ethical concerns, and potential impacts on sustainable development, possibly rendering SRM socially, economically, and internationally undesirable. (Reynolds, 2019)
Governance Challenges, Controversy, And Ethical issues
Scholars, including Climate and Environmental justice advocates globally, have argued and suggested scientific governance challenges, wide-ranging controversy, and ethical questions surrounding solar engineering technology and have questioned its ability to block incoming solar radiation.
For example, on the issue of governance, Gupta Aarti of Yale University and her scholarly colleagues characterized the governance of Solar engineering as “anticipatory” because, in their belief, the contours of the ‘object of governance’ remain uncertain and hugely unknowable.’ I agree with Gupta that a technology the world would be relying on for helping with the ensuing climate change crisis should not be anticipatory. Its experimental attributes should be empirical and explicitly resounding. Instead, the governance of this technology has been at the center of many policy discourses. An inspiring report from the Royal Society concluded that ‘the most significant challenges to the successful deployment of geoengineering may be social, ethical, legal and political in terms of regulation. The issues with such technology may be scientific and technical but it has taken a political path as well. It is about bigger countries and polluters; this is their strategy to leave the real fight against climate change. Climate change is aggressively impacting mother earth in the most negative way, but policy makers have initiated this debate to detour our attention and focus.
I concur with these scholars that solar engineering technology needs international buy-in. However, it is difficult to buy-in when the technology is cladding scientific opponents whose suggestions and arguments are candidly pointing to the same issues. I believe new climate engineering technology should come with reliance and sustained evidence of fewer effects on the climate. However, it should come with public trust and confidence as well as reliability. Evidence, in this case, suggests the lack of scientific confidence from critical scholars within the scientific community. Research also suggests carbon dioxide concentration would not be reduced by such technology. The Public would find it challenging to place their trust in such technology that many scientists and researchers have hugely and widely opposed. For example, the carbon brief in 2018 reported that some campaigners and scientists have resisted SRM because they believe the technology risks are difficult to understand. The scientist argued that it would come with a different set of environmental and climate challenges compared to or even worse than climate change. A takeaway here is “Compared to or even worse than Climate change.” To me, this assertion of Carbon Brief demands the attention of the proponents of Solar Climate engineering because it would not be a saluting idea to embrace a technology that would bring challenges that are most likely to be compared to climate change, especially when climate change is regarded as the most pressing issue of today’s world. Personally, hearing that there is a potential threat compared to climate change is a matter of concern for me considering my firsthand understanding of the impacts of climate regarding sea-level rise, agriculture, and vulnerable communities like my home country. This is the basis on which I argue “No,” solar climate engineering is not a possible backstop technology.
Eastham, S. D., Weisenstein, D. K., Keith, D. W., & Barrett, S. R. H. (2018). Quantifying the impact of sulfate geoengineering on mortality from air quality and UV-B exposure. Atmospheric Environment, 187, 424–434. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2018.05.047
Explainer: Six ideas to limit global warming with solar geoengineering. (2018, May 9). Carbon Brief. https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-six-ideas-to-limit-global-warming-with-solar-geoengineering
Reynolds, J. L. (2019). Solar geoengineering to reduce climate change: A review of governance proposals. Proceedings. Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences, 475(2229). https://doi.org/10.1098/rspa.2019.0255