A new study has determined that spraying the skies with chemicals to combat global warming will likely come with the unintended side-effect of reducing crop yields.
Researchers with the University of California, Berkeley, have published a new study which calls into question the scientific efforts to block sunlight via climate engineering, also known as geoengineering. Geoengineering is the deliberate and large-scale manipulation of the weather and climate using a variety of technologies. One popular form of geoengineering being explored by scientists is known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM), a process which involves spraying aerosols from planes equipped with particulates designed to reflect sunlight in an effort to combat “anthropogenic global warming.”
However, the UC Berkeley team has found new evidence that sun-blocking material will likely also reduce the yields of certain crops. The researchers came to this conclusion by studying previous volcanic eruptions in Mexico and the Philippines. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and El Chichon in Mexico in 1982 caused a decrease in wheat, soy, and rice production due to the volcanic ash blocking sun light.
“Here we use the volcanic eruptions that inspired modern solar radiation management proposals as natural experiments to provide the first estimates, to our knowledge, of how the stratospheric sulfate aerosols created by the eruptions of El Chichón and Mount Pinatubo altered the quantity and quality of global sunlight, and how these changes in sunlight affected global crop yields,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers concluded that “projected mid-twenty-first century damages due to scattering sunlight caused by solar radiation management are roughly equal in magnitude to benefits from cooling”. The team calls for more studies on the effects of solar radiation management on other global systems, including human health. The research team published their study, Estimating global agricultural effects of geoengineering using volcanic eruptions, in the journal Nature.
“If we think of geoengineering as an experimental surgery, our findings suggest that the side effects of the treatment are just as bad as the original disease,” author Jonathan Proctor of the University of California, Berkeley, told Reuters UK during a telephone news conference.
Unfortunately, the UC Berkeley study is only the latest in a long line of research pointing to the dangerous outcomes involved with the implementation of geoengineering technology.
On April 6, Janos Pasztor, former United Nations assistant secretary-general on climate change, spoke at Arizona State University regarding the dangers of solar geoengineering and the need for international rules to regulate the controversial technology. During his speech Pasztor discussed the potential dangers of geoengineering, including the upcoming experiment being conducted by Harvard University in Arizona.
“Some time within the next year, we may see the world’s first outdoor experiment on stratospheric aerosol injection take place here in the skies above Arizona, yet for the most part governments are not aware of, nor addressing, the profound governance issues this poses,” Mr Pasztor said. “We urgently need an open, inclusive discussion on how the world will research and govern solar geoengineering. Otherwise we could be in danger of events overtaking society’s capacity to respond prudently and effectively.”
Pasztor is referencing Harvard engineer (and consistent proponent of climate engineering) David Keith and his plan for a new project, SCoPEx (Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment), which will assess the risks and benefits of deploying geoengineering on a large public scale. Keith and fellow engineer, Frank Keutsch, will research the benefits and risks by spraying particles such as sulfur dioxide, alumina, or calcium carbonate from a high-altitude balloon over Arizona during 2018.
Pasztor currently serves as the head of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2), an initiative launched by the Carnegie Council in order to “bring the profoundly complex issues of geoengineering governance and ethics to a much wider audience.” The Carnegie Council has previously called for global governance structures to regulate the use of geoengineering.
In late January, researchers with Yale University, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland offered a warning against the sudden starting or stopping of controversial geoengineering programs. The researchers warn that efforts to inject aerosols into the atmosphere to combat climate change may end up causing more harm to wildlife, the environment, and humanity. The study, “Potentially dangerous consequences for biodiversity of solar geoengineering implementation and termination,” was published in the journal Nature.
This study is not the first one to draw attention to the dangers of beginning geoengineering programs. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, if geoengineering programs were started and then suddenly halted, the planet could see an immediate rise in temperatures, particularly over land. Another study published in February 2015 by an international committee of scientists stated that geoengineering techniques are not a viable alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat the effects of climate change. The committee report called for further research and understanding of various geoengineering techniques, including carbon dioxide removal schemes and solar-radiation management before implementation. The scientists found that SRM techniques are likely to present “serious known and possible unknown environmental, social, and political risks, including the possibility of being deployed unilaterally.”
In addition, in late October 2016, the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity released a report examining the problems of geoengineering and whether or not humanity will be forced to employ the practice in an attempt to halt climate change. The report, Update On Climate Geoengineering In relation to the Convention on Biological Diversity: Potential Impacts and Regulatory Framework, found that geoengineering “would reduce the impacts of climate change on biodiversity at the global level,” but also cause unpredictable rain and temperature distribution on the local level.
In addition, back in January a leaked draft report from the U.N. panel of climate experts called geoengineering “economically, socially and institutionally infeasible.” The U.N. once again recognized that geoengineering could disrupt weather patterns.
With all of this evidence indicating disruption of global weather patterns, loss of blue skies, and reduction in crop yields, one has to ask, why is the scientific establishment still pushing such a dangerous idea?