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Surprising Science

As The Planet Heats Up, Hacking It Is Sounding Better and Better

Several geoengineering schemes for solving global warming, ranging in cost and technical achievability, are evaluated in a new study.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

The concept of geoengineering — defined as “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming” or, less formally, “hacking the planet” — is becoming more popular given current fears about climate change and its effects. A new study published in Environmental Research Letters examines, from a cost-benefit perspective, several different approaches to cool the planet, each of which come under the category of solar radiation management (SRM). 

What’s the Big Idea?

Each approach is designed to mimic the effects of volcanic eruptions, which emit huge amounts of particulate matter into the atmosphere. One of the cheaper and simpler suggestions involves using airplanes to drop particles into the stratosphere. More expensive and fanciful schemes involve using guns, rockets, and even airships. The oddest idea — a 20-km pipe used to inject particles from the ground — is also the one that came closest to taking place, until conflicts of interests surfaced that caused a demonstration experiment to be cancelled. The study’s authors are careful to say that SRM should not automatically be considered a preferred solution…but they also point out that “estimated costs of unabated climate change range between $200 billion and $2 trillion per year by 2030.”

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