Friday, December 30, 2022

Geoengineering launch closer to eco-terrorism than responsible activism

MIT Technology Review reports that an American geoengineering startup called Make Sunsets has launched weather balloons and released sulphur particles into the atmosphere in an an unprecedented act of solar geoengineering activism.

Thing is, the idea of spraying particles into the upper atmosphere, in order to reflect more sunlight into space and thereby ease global warming, is nothing new. But it has never been done before on a substantial scale, largely because there are still an awful lot of unknowns, and most people have held off until more experimental data on the potential real-world effects of such an intervention has been collected. For example, there could be dangerous side-effects, some regions could be impacted more than others leading to geopolitical conflicts, etc.

But, for Make Sunsets co-founder and CEO Luke Iseman, that is the whole point. He says that the problem of climate change is so all-encompassing, so critical, and so immediate, that someone needs to push the envelope, and soon. And who better than an outfit like Make Sunsets, which Iseman describes, only half jokingly, as being "partly a company and partly a cult".

But their launch from a site in Mexico - actually a pretty small-scale affair - earlier this year, took place with little nor no public engagement or scientific scrutiny, so it's hard to know how this is going to push the science forward. It is more of an attention grab to stoke up controversy and interest in the field. For Iseman, it is clearly also part of a commercial venture, and the company is already selling "cooling credits" (of dubious real environmental value) on the strength of this latest launch.

Iseman is supremely confident that he is doing the right thing. "It is morally wrong, in my opinion, for us NOT to be doing this", he says, adding that it is extremely important "to do this as quickly and safely as we can". Janos Pasztor of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, on the other hand, calls it wildly premature and highly irresponsible, and barely stops short of labelling it eco-terrorism. Others point out that this kind of unscientific science could even set the field back, reducing funding, and dampening government support for trusted research.

So, eco-terrorism or responsible and urgently-needed activism? You choose.

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