A startup says it has begun releasing sulfur particles into Earth’s atmosphere, in a controversial attempt to combat climate change by deflecting sunlight. Make Sunsets, a company that sells carbon offset “cooling credits” for $10 each, is banking on solar geoengineering to cool down the planet and fill its coffers. The startup claims it has already released two test balloons, each filled with about 10 grams of sulfur particles and intended for the stratosphere, according to the company’s website and first reported on by MIT Technology Review.
The concept of solar geoengineering is simple: Add reflective particles to the upper atmosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight that penetrates from space, thereby cooling Earth. It’s an idea inspired by the atmospheric side effects of major volcanic eruptions, which have led to drastic, temporary climate shifts multiple times throughout history, including the notorious “year without a summer” of 1816.
Yet effective and safe implementation of the idea is much less simple. Scientists and engineers have been studying solar geoengineering as a potential climate change remedy for more than 50 years. But almost nobody has actually enacted real-world experiments because of the associated risks, like rapid changes in our planet’s precipitation patterns, damage to the ozone layer, and significant geopolitical ramifications.
if and when we get enough sulfur into the atmosphere to meaningfully cool Earth, we’d have to keep adding new particles indefinitely to avoid entering an era of climate change about four to six times worse than what we’re currently experiencing, according to one 2018 study. Sulfur aerosols don’t stick around very long. Their lifespan in the stratosphere is somewhere between a few days and a couple years, depending on particle size and other factors.
Rogue agents independently deciding to impose geoengineering on the rest of us has been a concern for as long as the thought of intentionally manipulating the atmosphere has been around. The Pentagon even has dedicated research teams working on methods to detect and combat such clandestine attempts. But effectively defending against solar geoengineering is much more difficult than just doing it.
In Iseman’s rudimentary first trials, he says he released two weather balloons full of helium and sulfur aerosols somewhere in Baja California, Mexico. The founder told MIT Technology Review that the balloons rose toward the sky but, beyond that, he doesn’t know what happened to them, as the balloons lacked tracking equipment. Maybe they made it to the stratosphere and released their payload, maybe they didn’t.
Iseman and Make Sunsets claim that a single gram of sulfur aerosols counteracts the warming effects of one ton of CO2. But there is no clear scientific basis for such an assertion, geoengineering researcher Shuchi Talati told the outlet. And so the $10 “cooling credits” the company is hawking are likely bunk (along with most carbon credit/offset schemes.)
Even if the balloons made it to the stratosphere, the small amount of sulfur released wouldn’t be enough to trigger significant environmental effects, said David Keith to MIT Technology Review.
The solution to climate change is almost certainly not a single maverick “disrupting” the composition of Earth’s stratosphere. But that hasn’t stopped Make Sunsets from reportedly raising nearly $750,000 in funds from venture capital firms. And for just ~$29,250,000 more per year, the company claims it can completely offset current warming. It’s not a bet we recommend taking.
Source: Startup Claims It’s Sending Sulfur Into the Atmosphere to Fight Climate Change