Unproven Technology to Block Sun’s Rays Raises Practical, Ethical Concerns, Experts Say
by Brian Roewe, National Catholic Reporter
As it stands, research into solar geoengineering continues.
Harvard hopes to restart its SCoPEx project by 2022, though its researchers have said they want to dialogue with the Saami Council about their concerns. Around the same time that SCoPEx paused, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a report that recommended the U.S. government invest up to $200 million over five years in solar geoengineering research. It added that such a program should be only a minor part of the nation’s overall research on responding to climate change.
Although the 300-plus page report recommended further research, that shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of the technology, said Ed Maurer, chair of Santa Clara’s department of civil, environmental and sustainability engineering and part of the Jesuit school’s Environmental Justice and the Common Good Initiative. Scientists behind the report made that clear during a webinar on its release, he said, and they emphasized that climate policies must continue to center on reducing and eliminating carbon emissions.
“We’re 150 years into a solar geoengineering experiment and we see what it does. We know how to undo it is to stop doing exactly what we’ve done to cause it,” Maurer said.
He too sees a role for research — and an abundance of caution.
“There are a lot of reasons to be very cautious, and to be resistant at this stage to deploying anything,” Maurer said.
Beyond the science, critics of solar geoengineering see sociopolitical issues at play as well. How, where and when countries might deploy the technology could lead to conflicts and put Indigenous and other historically marginalized communities at risk. Could a country use the technology as a weapon? Disputes could break out about what type of climate is optimal, or fights over food and other resources if crop yields drop.
And even if governments came to agreement on its use, it may require them to honor those commitments over long periods of time, or risk a quick release of pent-up warming.
“When we focus too much on technological change and not enough on social change, we really fail to prioritize social justice, economic justice, racial justice and all of these problematic power dynamics that [are behind] so many of our policies and priorities,” Jennie Stephens, director of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University in Boston, said during the webinar.