Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
Scientists plan to spray the sky with light-reflecting particles to dim the sun
A trio of scientists from Harvard hopes to do this in 2019.
- Scientists hope to launch the world's first solar geoengineering project next year.
- The project involves spraying calcium carbonate into the stratosphere.
- The team hopes to get people thinking more seriously about bioengineering.
If all the pieces can be put together by then, a trio of researchers from Harvard hope to begin the testing phase of their plan to reduce the amount of sunshine the Earth receives as a means of cooling down the planet as it heats up from climate change. If they manage to spray some calcium carbonate particles into the stratosphere — essentially airborne TUMS®, minus the berry flavor — theirs would be the first solar geoengineering project off the drawing board and into the skies.
To say the plan, detailed in Nature, is controversial is putting it mildly — even the team itself, David Keith, Zhen Dai, and Frank Keutsch — has doubts about the whole idea. Environmentalists are concerned that geoengineering climate fixes are a distraction from better, if difficult, solutions involving more intelligent, sustainable consumption of carbon-producing substances. They're also concerned that manipulating Earth's complicated natural balance is rife with unforeseeable consequences, just another example of placing too much faith in engineering, which, after all, got us into this mess in the first place.
The SCoPEx experiments
The name of the Harvard team's project is SCoPEx , for "Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment." Their plan is to launch two steerable balloons over the U.S. Southwest, each of which would spray about 100 grams of calcium carbonate, about the same amount packed into a single antacid tablet, into the stratosphere. The balloon would then reverse course to observe what happens to the dispersed 0.5 micrometer particles — the researchers think that's about the right size for both dispersal and reflecting sunlight.
As simple as this sounds, it's not. First off, the balloons will have to be able to turn around in order to observe what they've left behind. Second, they need some form of detection that can, first, locate the calcium carbonate plume and second, measure the size and number of particles. A team from NOOA's Boulder, CO, office led by David Fahey, is providing the equipment for performing these measurements, though Fahey warns, "It's going to be a hard experiment, and it may not work." Third, hopefully, the balloons will be able to recapture some particles for a return to the ground. The balloons may also have onboard a laser device for tracking the plume at a distance and other sensitive gear for collecting data on moisture and ozone levels.
The idea of spraying particles into the upper atmosphere is not new, though this would be the first actual attempt to do it. Scientists know the idea can work, since it occurs naturally in the wake of volcanic eruptions, such as the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines in 1991. That event sent aloft an estimated 20 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide that cooled the planet by 0.5° for about 18 months, bringing it back to pre-steam-engine temperature levels.
The switch to calcium carbonate for SCoPEx has to do with sulfur's damaging effect on the ozone layer. The SCoPEx experiment is, of course, limited in scope, and Dai says, "I'm studying a chemical substance. It's not like it's a nuclear bomb." Still, there's concern about monkeying with the atmosphere and sunlight. Principle investigator Keutsch notes, "There are all of these downstream effects that we don't fully understand." Solar engineering has the potential to disrupt natural precipitation patterns, leading to both deluges and droughts, and its effect on agriculture isn't clear: While plants suffer less heat stress in a slightly darker, cooler environment, they also wouldn't get as much sun. Keith is cautiously optimistic, though, saying, "Despite all of the concerns, we can't find any areas that would be definitely worse off. If solar geoengineering is as good as what is shown in these models, it would be crazy not to take it seriously."
As far as the choice of calcium carbonate goes, it's not a chemical that exists at all naturally in the stratosphere, where SCoPex plans on spraying it. "We actually don't know what it would do, because it doesn't exist in the stratosphere," says Keutsch, "That sets up a red flag." When he first learned about the already in-progress SCoPex research, he says, he thought it was "totally insane."
One unmistakable benefit of the SCoPex plan
Given SCoPex's status as the first solar geoengineering project, it's under intense scrutiny, and that's just fine with the researchers. It's as much about starting a conversation as anything else. As Jim Thomas of ETC Group, an environmental advocacy organization opposing geoengineering, puts it, "This is as much an experiment in changing social norms and crossing a line as it is a science experiment."
Many believe that as climate change becomes more dire, there's a greater chance that geoengineering will become seen as more attractive, at least as a supplement to conservation efforts, even to those who currently oppose it. There's currently no robust evaluation structure in place to assess the worthiness of geoengineering proposals, and some are concerned about this. Janos Pasztor, of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, has been trying to engage leaders in the conversation. "Governments need to engage in this discussion and to understand these issues," he says. "They need to understand the risks — not just the risks of doing it, but also the risks of not understanding and not knowing."
The Harvard researchers themselves are deliberately moving ahead slowly, working to put in place sensible oversight of SCoPex, setting up an external advisory committee to assess their plan and report to the vice-provost for research at Harvard. It may well be that establishing such a model framework will be more important in the long run than the results of the SCoPex experiment itself.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.