A wild cosmic plot straight out of science fiction could slow climate change

Climate change it’s a real problem. Human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are the main driver of an unprecedented increase in global average temperatures at a rate never seen before in Earth’s geological record. The problem is so serious that any attempt to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions may be too little 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. The thinking is based on two areas of concern. One is that, no matter how much we try to reduce or even eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the future, the damage we’ve already done from more than a century of advanced industrialization has already set the course of the trajectory Earth’s climate in a bad direction.

It could be so bad that even if we were to completely stop all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we would still have to live with the severe impacts of climate change for decades and even centuries to come, including continued increases in of the sea, more extreme weather events. , and disruptions in food producing regions.

Another way to approach 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 introducing artificial factors into the atmosphere cannot be reversed.

That’s why they think about space. The idea is to develop a raft of thin bubble-like membranes. These membranes will reflect or absorb a fraction of the sunlight that reaches the Earth, literally blocking it. The team argues that if the amount of sunlight reaching Earth is reduced by just 1.5 percent, we could completely eliminate the effects of all greenhouse gas production.

Personally, I am quite skeptical about this idea. For one thing, the team has yet to articulate exactly 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 have to maintain the stability of the raft by balancing the gravitational forces of the Earth, the Sun and probably also the other planets. They will also have to contend with radiation pressure from the Sun itself, not to mention the constant shower of solar wind and micrometeoroids.

To block even a percentage of the sunrise would require a pond thousands of kilometers wide, making it the largest structure we’ve ever put into space. So there’s just a little engineering challenge to make this thing work.

And while the MIT researchers claim that this space-based approach is fully reversible, that’s only in a sense. Yes, if we decide the raft is a bad idea or isn’t doing what we hoped it would, we could either float it or take it apart. But Earth’s climate is a complex system with many embedded feedback loops that we don’t fully understand.

What would be the total effects of blocking the Sun’s light by one and a half percent over the years, decades, and centuries? What effect would it have on the biosphere or cloud level or ocean evaporation, or a thousand other considerations? Do we really believe we have the technical and intellectual capacity to do it right?

Finally, developing a solution that reduces the amount of sunlight that hits Earth does nothing to address the underlying problem, which is that we are causing serious damage to Earth’s climate and biosphere. If we’ve covered, pun intended, do what we want, why stop polluting or emitting greenhouse gases if we can just add more bubbles to the pond? We need to address these fundamental issues, not just paper over them.

The team admits there is much more work to be done, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, after years of work, the reality of the complexity of this proposed solution bursts its bubble.

This article was originally published on universe today for Paul M. Sutter. Read the original article here.

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