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Tinker with the sunlight? Don’t be dim


DRAMA: a series, says my dictionary, of absorbing, exciting, tense or tragic events. Such as these:

‘I would like people to panic,’ said the EU’s Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, as he unveiled a new equation showing that the world is ‘deep in a climate emergency’.

‘The ocean is hotter than ever: what happens next? The global ocean hit a new record temperature of 21.1C in early April,’ said an article in the world-leading academic journal Nature, ‘0.1C higher than the last record in March 2016.’

Bit of a let-down there, only one tenth higher? But the drama continues.

It seems to be science itself that gets over-excited about our climate. This is what, ‘an online science, research and technology news aggregator’, wrote: ‘Oceans are growing hotter, triggering global weather disasters. Heat searing enough to knock out mobile phones. Wildfire smoke that turns the skies an apocalyptic orange. Flash floods submerging towns.’

That mention of mobile phones was intended to get us really worried. Then we have the claims that are based on no data whatsoever, but broadcast anyway. PBS (USA) said there were reports that daily temperatures hit a 100,000-year high. ‘Scientists concluded a few years ago that Earth had entered a new climate state not seen in more than 100,000 years.’

Do we really know that much detail about the Earth’s climate? An Indian website claimed that ‘July has been exceptionally hot, with scientists predicting it will be the hottest month ever recorded globally and likely the warmest in human civilisation’s history’. How long has civilisation been recording daily temperatures? Answer: 143 years.

There’s more from these nameless scientists. The FT, for instance: ‘Climate change is driving ever more extreme weather events, scientists say, [causing] fatal flooding in the US, India and Japan . . . the intensity and timing of monsoons are becoming more erratic due to climate change.’

There is worse to come, far worse. Worse science, I mean. We even have the UN secretary general warning us that that ‘the era of global warming has ended and the era of global boiling has arrived’.

The media couldn’t resist that tasty morsel and it went round the world within hours via the Guardian, Independent, Sky, Al Jazeera, CNBC, Le Monde, FT, VOA, YouTube, inews, Daily Mail, ABC Australia, India Today, ITVX, Metro, Arab News, Morning Star, The Hindu, etc.

There you have the drama. How will it end?

In the summer of 1849, 12 acres of timber in Fairfax County, Virginia, was cut and burned in the hope of producing an intense column of heated air to form clouds and eventually artificial rain. That seems to have been the first instance (which didn’t work) of geoengineering. Tinker with the atmosphere to change the weather.

Geoengineering nowadays is defined as ‘the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change’, and is currently centred on solar radiation management (SRM). This is a way of possibly helping with what is seen as an imminent global catastrophe by dimming the sun and thereby affecting global temperatures. Nobody is arguing that it would be a complete solution; it would simply buy us time.

One version of SRM is the injection into the high atmosphere of particles which will reflect some of the sunlight. Other ideas include positioning huge mirrors between the Earth and the Sun, making clouds brighter, and increasing the Earth’s albedo (a measure of how reflective a surface is). The ideas could work, or could quite possibly be anything from risky to dangerous to catastrophic.

The most mature of these is stratospheric aerosol injection. Scientists are ‘calling for accelerated research and small-scale field experiments’, but it is difficult to see how anything on a small scale could provide useful information. It might be a case of all or nothing.

This worry has caused a UN report to raise a number of concerns, particularly that ‘if SRM were to be unilaterally deployed by a rogue state or non-state actor, like a private company, it could introduce a series of new complex geo-political or security threats’. 

Despite that note of caution and many scientists warning there could be untold side effects, President Joe Biden has admitted that he is  ‘open to the idea, which has never been attempted before’ and the EU are also interested.

That UN report quoted above admitted that both the theory and models of aerosol injection proposals have been running for many years, but ‘there is very little evidence of research on the risks and impacts’. How much research can be done on the latest proposal: a sunlight blocking space shield tethered to an asteroid?

If the climatologists and the media keep on about rising temperatures, broken records, freak weather, existential threats and global boiling, what scientist or country could resist going ahead with trying to dim the sun? They might be acclaimed as saviours of the world. 

The media frenzy about global warming is built on thoughtless and irresponsible comments made by scientists (and others) who should know better. The result could be a rush into uncontrollable experiments on the very air we breathe and the sun that we depend on for our lives.

This drama can only end in tragedy: an event causing great suffering, destruction and distress.

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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