weather changes is a real problem. Human-caused production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are the main drivers of the unprecedented rise in global average temperatures at a pace never seen before in Earth’s geological record. The problem is so bad that any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be too little and too late. And so, a team based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has proposed a radical new solution: bubbles in space.
That’s right, bubbles in space. Thinking is based on two areas. One is that while we may try to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the future, the damage we’ve already done from a century of advanced industrialization has already set Earth’s climate trajectory in the wrong direction.
It could be so bad that if we were to completely stop all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we would still have to live with the severe effects of climate change for decades and centuries to come, including ever-rising sea levels, more extreme weather events. and disruptions in food production sectors.
Another way to solve the problem is to sequester or remove carbon or limit the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface in some way, for example, by releasing aerosols into the atmosphere. The MIT team argues that this is generally a bad idea because our climate system is so complex and dynamic that the introduction of artificial factors into the atmosphere cannot itself be reversed.
So they are thinking of space. The idea is to develop a raft of thin bubble-like membranes. Those membranes will reflect or absorb, literally blocking part of the sunlight reaching the Earth. The team argues that if the amount of sunlight reaching Earth was reduced by just 1.5 percent, we could completely eliminate the impact of all our greenhouse gas production.
Personally, I am very skeptical about this idea. For one, the team has yet to clarify what these bubbles will be made of and how they will be sent to the target location, which is near the first LaGrange point in the Earth-Sun system. They will need to maintain the raft’s stability by balancing the gravitational forces of Earth, the Sun and possibly other planets. They also have to contend with radiation pressure from the Sun itself, not to mention the constant shower of solar wind and micrometeoroids.
Blocking even one percent of the sun’s output would require a raft thousands of miles wide, making it the largest structure we’ve ever put into space. So there’s a little bit of an engineering challenge to make this thing work.
And while the MIT researchers claim that this space-based approach is completely reversible, that’s only in a certain sense. Yes, if we decide the raft is a bad idea or doesn’t do what we expect, we can let it free float or take it apart. But Earth’s climate is a complex system involving many complex feedback loops that we do not fully understand.
What would be the total effects of blocking sunlight by one and a half percent over years, decades, and centuries? What effect does this have on the biosphere or cloud cover or ocean evaporation levels, or a thousand other considerations? Do we really believe that we have the technical and intellectual capacity to achieve this right?
Finally, developing solutions to reduce the amount of sunlight on Earth does nothing to address the underlying issue, which is that we are causing serious damage to Earth’s climate and biosphere. If we’ve covered – pun intended – what we want to do, why should we stop polluting or emitting greenhouse gases if we can just add more bubbles to the raft? We need to address these fundamental issues not just on paper.
The team admits there’s a lot of work to be done, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, after years of work, the reality of the complexity of this proposed solution pops their bubble.
This article was originally published on The universe today by Paul M. Shutter. Read the original article here.