October 2, 2023

To Fight Climate Change, We Could Block the Sun. A Lightweight Solar Sail Could Make it Feasible

Can we build an enormous umbrella to dim the Sun? Such an accomplishment would be a megaproject on a scale like no other. It would take at least 400 dedicated rocket releases a year, for 10 years (There have actually been 172 rocket launches by all countries up until now in 2022). The job would weigh in at 550,000 heaps: at its lightest. And it would be an eco-friendly experiment that puts all of us– the whole world– in the petri dish, with high danger and high benefit. But could such a project actually reverse climate modification and bring us back from the edge of international catastrophe?
The response seems to be yes, it might work. There are repercussions, and with the world at stake, it seems smart to analyze them prior to dedicating to such a thing.

Initially, lets discuss the engineering that would make it possible. A paper by Olivia Borgue and Andreas Hein, accepted by the journal Acta Astronautica recently, describes some of the product science required to make it a truth. The most realistic variation is not one sunshade, however hundreds of small ones in a swarm.

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Could such a project in fact reverse climate change and bring us back from the brink of international catastrophe?
That implies fewer floods (good news for low-lying nations threatened by climate change), however likewise more dry spell in dry regions. Climate change is a policy problem as much as a technological one, and in much of the world, policy is the lagging variable. Technology wont need to conserve us if policy changes can.
Airplanes Could Spray Particles into the Atmosphere to Battle Climate Change.

Mass is the restricting aspect for such a job, with launch costs setting the financial restrictions. Borgue and Hein propose an ultra-light material, made of thin movie and silicon dioxide nanotubes. The tones would have a “transparent refractive surface area” to reroute the sunshine.
For this to work, you dont really desire to produce a solar sail that is pushed out of the way by the Suns radiation pressure– you desire the shade to be able to keep its position. This design seeks to decrease the radiation pressure on the shade, redirecting rather than stopping sunlight.
The swarm would be placed at the L1 Lagrange point in between the Earth and the Sun. It would only need to obstruct between 2 and 4 percent of the Suns light to bring Earths temperatures back to pre-industrial levels.
The authors deem that the required innovation is attainable within 15 years if we wanted.
Do we want to?
If it fixes climate modification, then perhaps, however there are good arguments against mega geoengineering projects like this. 2 are especially engaging.
Simulations do their best to predict results (and scientists have actually brought out climate simulations on this extremely idea), but they arent perfect. While temperature levels would be brought back to sustainable levels, it would also trigger an international reduction in rainfall of 5%. That indicates fewer floods (good news for low-lying countries threatened by environment modification), however likewise more drought in arid areas.
The solar sail model, to its credit, is capable of being taken apart if things fail. There are more irreversible versions of this concept. A Harvard study called SCoPEx is checking the concept of releasing particulates of sulfuric acid into the upper atmosphere, decreasing worldwide temperature levels comparable to the method large volcanic eruptions does. These particulates can be hazardous to the ozone layer, so the team is looking for less damaging alternatives, like calcium carbonate. Its clever, but messing with the atmosphere is something you do not wish to get incorrect.
In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted, and its plume of ash caused a year without summertime as worldwide temperature levels dropped. Some proposals for reversing worldwide warming simulate the climatic results of volcanic eruptions.
The answer to this particular criticism– that solar geoengineering is too risky– is countered by the argument that climate change is even worse. And if we advance the course we are currently taking, that might at some point hold true.
However the 2nd, and perhaps more crucial criticism of such a mega task, is that it misses the point. Humankind requires to discover methods to slow the intake of resources and lower emissions, not find methods to allow our dependency. If sunshades work, they end up being an easy excuse to pump more fossil fuels, while lowering the seriousness to construct durable sustainable technologies. Its a crutch, not a treatment.
The discovery of unique light-weight products, more precise modeling of environment systems, and much deeper understandings of climatic chemistry: all of these are undeniably a net good. Environment change is a policy issue as much as a technological one, and in much of the world, policy is the delayed variable. Technology will not need to save us if policy changes can.
The Sun didnt get us into this mess, we did. Lets get ourselves out of it.
Find out More:
Olivia Borgue and Andreas Hein, “Transparent occulters: An almost zero-radiation pressure sunshade to support climate change mitigation.” Acta Astronautica.
SCoPEx, Harvard University.
Evan Gough, “We Have the Technology. Airplanes Could Spray Particles into the Atmosphere to Battle Climate Change. However Should We?”
Paul M. Sutter, “MIT Researchers Propose Space Bubbles to Stop Climate Change.”
Featured Image: An artists idea of a solar sail. Credit: NASA.
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