Can Reflecting The Sun’s Rays Slow Down Global Warming?

Scientists are researching a new way to mitigate the effects of climate change with the creation of an aerosol reflector. The reflector would avert the sun’s rays away from the Earth in hopes of slowing down global warming. This strategy of reflecting sunlight back into space is not a new one. A study published in 2020 by scientists at MIT had found that the sunlight reflection would ultimately cause other global changes and could potentially have negative effects on the climate. That begs the question: is this endeavour to slow down climate change worth the potential consequences?

This aerosol project, also called “solar radiation modification,” is led by the Climate Intervention Biology Working Group, who have been meeting remotely since September 2019. There are a few ways to reflect sunlight back into space, but this group is specifically looking at creating an artificial cloud of aerosols in the stratosphere. It is suggested that engineers could “replenish the cloud and change its location to hit a temperature target”, but this theory is still being worked out.

In the natural world, volcanic eruptions inject aerosols into the atmosphere that reflect solar heat back into space, cooling the planet. But must we artificially tamper natural processes in hopes that it will produce the same effect? The group upholds the idea of aerosol intervention as a practicable technique of cooling the Earth, more than other climate intervention approaches, such as absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The group did note, however, that there are possible limitations of injecting aerosols. Uneven distribution of aerosols could affect local ecosystems, changes to rainfall patterns, as well as a potentially increase occurrences of acid rain. A key concern would be how this method would affect the ecology of Earth as global warming already pushes animals and plants into new environments or to extinction.

It is crucial to predict what kind of effect aerosol intervention could have on the natural world and what would happen to the ecosystems if this method was adopted. If this particular climate intervention approach slows down global warming but has the same negative effect on ecosystems around the world as global warming, then there would appear to be no reason to pursue this method.

Climate models are suitable when predicting how the climate would be affected in geoengineering situations but not with how it may affect species and natural systems, which is why the group’s current focus is to figure out how to expand the Rutgers University-led Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP). The group is looking towards using it to model the effect that climatic aerosols would have on the Earth’s ecosystems.

It remains unclear whether aerosol intervention would reduce or increase the risk of extinction and to what extent this approach would affect the ecology of Earth. However, the group emphasizes that whether or not this particular method is adopted, some form of climate intervention is needed to slow down the effects of global warming.


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