A group has been formed to study and promote a space-based solar canopy to help stave off global climate change.
This idea has been debated for years, but the Planetary Sunshade Foundation is releasing papers that support the idea and highlight the practical application of this approach.
The Foundation advises that a planetary solar canopy could be the best solution for managing solar radiation and should be viewed as a key part of global efforts to address ongoing climate change on Earth.
Related: Experts are sure that 2023 will be the ‘warmest year in recorded history’
A matter of degrees
Undoing the worst effects of climate change may depend on three pillars: reducing emissions, removing carbon dioxide, and managing solar radiation.
There is an international agreement to strive to keep the world’s average temperature from rising above 1.5°C (2.7°F) above current averages. But the cold truth is that the lower the average temperature rise, the less climate impacts.
However, climate change researchers report that our planet may exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade. Meanwhile, extreme weather events, sea level rise trends, large-scale fires, and melting ice caps are now on the rise.
These warning signs are coupled with political pressures aimed at confronting the catastrophe of climate change.
A habitable planet
Morgan Goodwin is Executive Director of the Planetary Sunshade Foundation.
As for why the group is pursuing this initiative, Goodwin is clear that current decarbonization strategies are necessary, but not sufficient, for a livable planet.
Decarbonization is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by using low-carbon energy sources to achieve less production of greenhouse gases that permeate the Earth’s atmosphere.
“To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the world must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels, remove gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, and limit incoming solar radiation,” Goodwin told Space.com. He said that of all the methods that have been proposed to reduce solar radiation, the umbrella has many advantages that are worth investing in this concept.
A sunshade will be installed at the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1, which is described as a “megastructure” in space. Once applied, it could reduce radiative forcing — the trapping of heat in the atmosphere due to greenhouse gas emissions — by reflecting sunlight back into space.
The foundation says building a planetary solar umbrella is possible, building on preliminary solar sail technology that has already been launched. “The rapid technological advances of space launch systems have led to a rapid decline in the cost of sending materials and people into space, changing the scope of what is possible.”
According to the foundation, there are two possible canopy construction strategies.
“We are pursuing both options, and believe that if a planetary canopy is built, the initial stages of construction will be an Earth-launched structure while later stages will use space resources and construction in space,” the group’s website explains.
Not interfering with mother nature?
But there are those who strongly cling to the belief: “You don’t have to fool Mother Nature!”
Goodwin responds by pointing out that humans are tampering with Mother Nature on a massive scale through state-sanctioned and often state-supported industrial practices.
“Our survival as a civilization depends on our ability to wisely and intentionally change how we interact with our planet,” Goodwin said.
In fact, last year, the White House published a congressionally commissioned report on geoengineering governance pathways, Goodwin said, a document that takes “a small but powerful step forward,” in creating a framework for more investment in geoengineering research.
Report junk food
In June of this year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released the report Congressionally commissioned report on modulation of solar radiation.
As for the report’s conclusions, it warns that any potential comprehensive research program must include the societal and scientific dimensions of solar radiation modification.
The document highlights several key priority areas for further solar radiation modulation research, including identifying the climate and environmental impacts of diffusing solar radiation modulation; Assess potential societal outcomes and environmental consequences; The need to study how to conduct research in cooperation between international partners.
This report also acknowledges that research on the effects of solar radiation modulation to date has been ad hoc and fragmented, rather than the product of a comprehensive strategy. As a result, significant knowledge gaps and uncertainties exist in many critical areas.
Uncertainty, risks and challenges
Earlier this year, the Global Commission on Managing Risks from Climate Overshoot (“Climate Overshoot Commission”) released its report.
This independent group of world leaders recommended a strategy to reduce risks in the event that global warming targets are exceeded, i.e. a “climate overshoot” that exceeds the 1.5°C threshold.
In the committee’s report, they touched on space reflectors; Stratospheric aerosol injection, cirrus cloud thinning, marine cloud brightening – all solar radiation modulation (SRM) techniques.
“Sustainable energy risk management would incompletely address climate change and pose serious uncertainties, risks and challenges at the management level,” the committee study stated.
“Governance gaps in disaster risk management are most severe,” the report states. “How can it be researched and evaluated without distracting from fundamental reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? Who decides whether and under what conditions solar radiation management will be implemented? How can disagreements between countries on this issue be resolved?”
Goodwin of the Planetary Sunshade Foundation concludes that this year will close as the hottest year on record, replacing 2022 which in turn took that title from 2021. “As the rate of warming and its impacts increase, more and more tactics and perspectives will be brought to the table. “
Whether or not a sun-deflecting or “shadow-made” sail remains a bright possibility at that discussion table is yet to be determined.
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