Chemtrails have been present in American skies for at least 15 years but anyone who complained about them was immediately branded a conspiracy theorist, then shamed, cancelled and censored.
The White House is coordinating a five-year research plan to study ways of modifying the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth to temper the effects of global warming, a process sometimes called solar geoengineering or sunlight reflection.
The research plan will assess climate interventions, including spraying aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space, and should include goals for research, what’s necessary to analyze the atmosphere, and what impact these kinds of climate interventions may have on Earth, according to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. Congress directed the research plan be produced in its spending plan for 2022, which President Joe Biden signed in March.
Some of the techniques, such as spraying sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, are known to have harmful effects on the environment and human health. But scientists and climate leaders who are concerned that humanity will overshoot its emissions targets say research is important to figure out how best to balance these risks against a possibly catastrophic rise in the Earth’s temperature.
Getting ready to research a topic is a very preliminary step, but it’s notable the White House is formally engaging with what has largely been seen as the stuff of dystopian fantasy. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction novel, “The Ministry for the Future,” a heat wave in India kills 20 million people and out of desperation, India decides to implement its own strategy of limiting the sunlight that gets to Earth.
Chris Sacca, the founder of climate tech investment fund Lowercarbon Capital, said it’s prudent for the White House to be spearheading the research effort.
“Sunlight reflection has the potential to safeguard the livelihoods of billions of people, and it’s a sign of the White House’s leadership that they’re advancing the research so that any future decisions can be rooted in science not geopolitical brinkmanship,” Sacca told CNBC. (Sacca has donated money to support research in the area, but said he has “zero financial interests beyond philanthropy” in the idea and does not think there should be private business models in the space, he told CNBC.)
Harvard professor David Keith, who first worked on the topic in 1989, said it’s being taken much more seriously now. He points to formal statements of support for researching sunlight reflection from the Environmental Defense Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the creation of a new group he advises called the Climate Overshoot Commission, an international group of scientists and lawmakers that’s evaluating climate interventions in preparation for a world that warms beyond what the Paris Climate Accord recommended.
To be clear, nobody is saying sunlight-reflection modification is the solution to climate change. Reducing emissions remains the priority.
“You cannot judge what the country does on solar-radiation modification without looking at what it is doing in emission reductions, because the priority is emission reductions,” said Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative. “Solar-radiation modification will never be a solution to the climate crisis.”
Three ways to reduce sunlight
The idea of sunlight reflection first appeared prominently in a 1965 report to President Lyndon B. Johnson, entitled “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment,” Keith told CNBC. The report floated the idea of spreading particles over the ocean at a cost of $100 per square mile. A one percent change in the reflectivity of the Earth would cost $500 million per year, which does “not seem excessive,” the report said, “considering the extraordinary economic and human importance of climate.”
The estimated price tag has gone up since then. The current estimate is that it would cost $10 billion per year to run a program that cools the Earth by 1 degree Celsius, said Edward A. Parson, a professor of environmental law at UCLA’s law school. But that figure is seen to be remarkably cheap compared to other climate change mitigation initiatives.
A landmark report released in March 2021 from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine addressed three kinds of solar geoengineering: stratospheric aerosol injection, marine cloud brightening, and cirrus cloud thinning.
Stratospheric aerosol injection would involve flying aircraft into the stratosphere, or between 10 miles and 30 miles skyward, and spraying a fine mist that would hang in the air, reflecting some of the sun’s radiation back into space.
“The stratosphere is calm, and things stay up there for a long time,” Parson told CNBC. “The atmospheric life of stuff that’s injected in the stratosphere is between six months and two years.”
Stratospheric aerosol injection “would immediately take the high end off hot extremes,” Parson said. And also it would “pretty much immediately” slow extreme precipitation events, he said.
“The top-line slogan about stratospheric aerosol injection, which I wrote in a paper more than 10 years ago — but it’s still apt — is fast, cheap and imperfect. Fast is crucial. Nothing else that we do for climate change is fast. Cheap, it’s so cheap,” Parson told CNBC.
“And it’s not imperfect because we haven’t got it right yet. It’s imperfect because the imperfection is embedded in the way it works. The same reason it’s fast is the reason that it’s imperfect, and there’s no way to get around that.”
One option for an aerosol is sulfur dioxide, the cooling effects of which are well known from volcanic eruptions. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, for instance, spewed thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, causing global temperatures to drop temporarily by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.