The flawed logic of rushing out extreme climate solutions

The problem with applying that mindset outside of software and social media is that the stakes are far higher and the potential effects extend well outside the boundaries of any business: We don’t want to break, or even harm, global commons like our oceans and atmosphere. 

We simply don’t know whether some of these proposed interventions will actually work on large scales, or what negative effects they could have on complex and interconnected ecosystems, says David Ho, an oceanography professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa who studies ocean-based carbon removal. 

These are also real dangers that plowing ahead into areas where the public is deeply uncomfortable will stall, not speed up, research in these fields.

He notes that early efforts to commercialize what’s known as iron ocean fertilization, or placing iron in the water to stimulate the growth of carbon-sucking phytoplankton, prompted international bodies to propose restrictions on commercial efforts. He and others say it had a chilling effect on research as well.

Some fear Make Sunsets’ launches have already hardened negative impressions of solar geoengineering. Critics seized on the news as proof that researching the subject puts us on a slippery slope to carrying it out. 

The government of Mexico responded by announcing plans to prohibit solar geoengineering experiments within the country. In addition, the nation is now trying to get other countries “to ban the climate strategy,” according to reporting by Reuters.

“If I were an activist looking to raise fears and anxiety and doubts about [solar geoengineering] and I was creative enough, I would probably have done what Make Sunsets did,” says Andy Parker, chief executive of the Degrees Initiative, which provides funds to help scientists conduct solar geoengineering research in climate vulnerable nations. “Which is to launch a test that scientists tell me wasn’t really testing anything, without any reputable scientific backing or any sort of engagement, as a for-profit, funded by venture capital.” 

The dangers

Baked into some of the arguments that we must forge ahead now with more extreme solutions is the assumption that we’re on the brink of creating a barely habitable, hothouse planet. This idea, too, requires some scrutiny.

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