The Download: solar geoengineering’s rocky road, and Apple’s driverless ambitions

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—David W. Keith, founding faculty director of the Climate Systems Engineering initiative at the University of Chicago, and Wake Smith, a lecturer at the Yale School of Environment and a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.  

For half a century, climate researchers have considered the possibility of injecting small particles into the stratosphere to counteract some aspects of climate change. The idea is that by reflecting a small fraction of sunlight back to space, these particles could partially offset the energy imbalance caused by accumulating carbon dioxide, reducing warming as well as extreme storms and many other climate risks.

Cooling the planet with this form of solar geoengineering, called stratospheric aerosol injection,  would require a purpose-built fleet of high-altitude aircraft, which could take decades to assemble. This long lead time encourages policymakers to ignore the hard decisions about regulating its deployment.

Such complacency is ill-advised. Our analysis suggests a country could conceivably start a subscale solar geoengineering deployment in as little as five years, one that would produce unmistakable changes in the composition of the stratosphere. 

If we are correct, then policymakers may need to confront solar geoengineering—its promise and disruptive potential, and its profound challenges to global governance—earlier than is now widely assumed. Read the full story.

If you’re interested in learning more about solar geoengineering, take a look at:

+ A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate. Make Sunsets attempted to earn revenue for geoengineering back in 2022. Read the full story.

+ The flawed logic of rushing out extreme climate interventions. Forging too fast into controversial terrain can spark backlashes that stall research and limit our options. Read the full story.

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