Ten Gulfstream jets, outfitted with special engines that allow them to fly safely around the stratosphere at an altitude of 70,000 feet, take off from a runway near the Equator. Their cargo includes thousands of pounds of a chemical compound — liquid sulfur, let’s suppose — that can be sprayed as a gas from the aircraft. It is not a one-time event; the flights take place throughout the year, dispersing a load that amounts to 25,000 tons. If things go right, the gas converts to an aerosol of particles that remain aloft and scatter sunlight for two years. The payoff? A slowing of the earth’s warming — for as long as the Gulfstream flights continue.Dumping iron into the Pacific Ocean is another scheme some have suggested, and there are many other plans. One or another of these schemes really ought to work. And honestly I just don't take seriously people who say it is somehow immoral to try to engineer the planet, considering all the ways we have already engineered it. If we are warming the planet, we really ought to cool it back.
Every serious person involved in this and other geoengineering efforts agrees that for now what we need is a lot more research. and even then we may never know if it will really work until we try it on a large scale:
David Battisti, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, told me, “It’s not obvious to me that we can reduce the uncertainty to anywhere near a tolerable level — that is, to the level that there won’t be unintended consequences that are really serious.”But what if we do the research and find that this stuff works?
What then? The world would need to agree where to set the global thermostat. If there is no consensus, could developed nations impose a geoengineering regimen on poorer nations? On the second point, if this technology works, it would arguably be unethical not to use it, because the world’s poorest populations, facing drought and rising seas, may suffer the worst effects of a changing climate.Honestly if the planet gets much warmer somebody is going to do this; there are too many nations, and corporations and even individuals who could afford to fund it. If the US and the UN have not approved, what are we going to do? Shoot down the planes?
If I were a science fiction writer I think I might get to work right now on a story about a war between some tropical dictator who wants to dramatically cool the planet and northern countries who want to keep it warm.