President Joe Biden attends a meeting with the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST), Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in the State Dining Room of the White House. Photo credit: Official White House Photo/ Adam Schultz

There goes the sun

5 mins read

Fighting climate change for the U.S. means potential plans of blocking out the sun.

As the global warming charge persists, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a report in response to a Congressional mandate on solar radiation modification (SRM), also known as solar geoengineering. SRM is a type of geoengineering that aims to reduce the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.

“The principle is simple: attempt to cool Earth by reflecting more sunlight back into space,” Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at the Columbia Business School explains

Wagner, who is the co-founding executive director of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program at Harvard further informs, but with a grave warning. “The primary mechanism, shooting particles into the upper atmosphere, implies more pollution, not less. If that doesn’t sound scary, it should. There are lots of risks, unknowns, and unknowables.”

SRM has been the term used in the report, but the conspiracy theorists call them chemtrails, and science theorists propagate the term contrails. This process is when airplanes leave ice clouds from water vapors mixed with dirt, salt, sulfuric acid, fossil fuels and soot when flying. In the emissions, scientists show that planes pollute the air so much that they are responsible for half of the greenhouse gas released. 

To make a more perplexing environmental matter more complicated, a new study published in the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics suggests that the global warming effect of contrails will triple by 2050.  The contrail effect on climate change is expected to surpass the contribution from carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gasses in airplane exhaust, making it the largest aviation impact on the climate. 

To turn lemons into lemonade, hopefully, the modified climate controlling contrails, the sprays coming from the planes, will be a mixture of chemicals that include heavy metals that create a natural reflection away from earth. The guess is what will be more damaging, the greenhouse emissions or the formula-laden contrails that are designed to potentially reduce the sun’s heat. What is for sure, no one really knows?

While Wagner, who was at Harvard’s program for two years, gave the basic method of SRM, other proposed techniques mentioned in the OSTP report include the use of aerosols, reflective surfaces, or other means to create a temporary cooling effect. Echoing some of Wagner’s sentiments, the report also outlines the potential risks associated with SRM such as “climate variability and extremes,” that include regional climate disruptions, precipitation patterns, impacts on stratospheric ozone, and “loss of land ice and greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost.” 

While SRM may provide a way to counteract some of the warming effects caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations, Wagner raises concerns about potential side effects, plus ethical considerations and the need for international cooperation. “The deployment of SRM technologies without careful consideration of their potential consequences could lead to unintended harm, especially for vulnerable communities,” Wagner writes introspectively. He cites that initiatives are costly, and may have no impact at all, or at end, it may be irreparable.

Studies show contrails caused by planes cause 50 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses. Photo credit: Dylan Hunter

Budgeting the sun

As far as costs, Harvard University’s geoengineering program provides valuable insights into the funding landscape of solar geoengineering research. While both public and private sources have contributed substantial resources to support SRM studies, private funding mainly comes from philanthropic foundations and technology companies that recognize the potential of SRM as a climate intervention. But when you project multi-million dollar numbers to worldwide projects, budgets will shoot up quickly and astronomically, cautions Warner.

For this reason, while the White House asserts they have not been the ones who have been spraying the skies, they just know, and are using previous studies from research institutes who did—like Harvard. 

Moreover, ethical concerns arise from the potential for unintended consequences, unequal distribution of benefits and risks, and geopolitical tensions. As Wagner states in his book, “Geoengineering: The Gamble.” 

Nonetheless, the White House is moving forward. Harnessing numerous research indicating the ongoing detrimental outcomes of global warming and pollution, for them there must be some type of reward in the risks.  Adding to the growing concerns around the environment, the United Nations just released their AR6 Synthesis Report on Climate Change for 2023, stating that “rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere” have led to “widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people.”

Across the board, there are ongoing conversations about how to deal with greenhouse gasses, rising sea temperatures and melting ice caps, but how will those top offenders be held accountable? The answer might be puzzling as it is the regular person who has already been placed in the crosshairs of governmental ordinance. More specifically, it is the last industry you might think who are in the firing range of regulators: the farmers. 

SRM’s impact on food systems

The global discussion on SRM and large-scale interventions to combat climate change is gaining traction. The European Union (EU) is considering the viability of such interventions, including the possibility of deflecting the sun’s rays. However, the report emphasizes that blocking out the sun or re-engineering the atmosphere could have negative consequences, as sunlight is essential for plant growth and food production.

Policies prioritizing combating climate change over improving food production have resulted in burdensome regulations for farmers, affecting livelihoods and potentially exacerbating the food crisis.

Critics have pointed out the destructive nature of governmental departments who propagate corporate-style politics that target a bottom line while neglecting to protect its citizens. In particular, around the questions of how agriculture can survive in harsher regulations during climate change discourse. Doug Casey points out that there has been a troubling trajectory of food system regulations in the U.S.

“Interestingly, the #1 mission of the USDA, stated on its website, is to combat climate change. Not to improve food production,” said Casey.

In New York City, officials are proposing regulations targeting coal and wood-fired pizza ovens to reduce carbon emissions. These regulations could potentially affect historic pizza joints and other culinary eateries such as Chinese restaurants, which have been using these traditional ovens or open flames for generations. While the proposed rules aim to reduce emissions, concerns have been raised about the impact on the taste and texture of the pizza, and destroying an age-old Asian cooking tradition. But is a pepperoni pie the major culprit?

Moreover, other nations have problematic policies around food. While global leaders are willing to consider these risky measures to achieve their climate goals, concerns have been raised regarding the potential impact on food production and the ongoing global food crisis. The Dutch government, for instance, plans to buy and close down thousands of farms to reduce emissions, despite the existing food crisis.

In Canada, proposed emission reductions from fertilizer usage have elevated unease among growers, who fear regulations will result in significant reductions in grain output, and potentially cause major financial losses. Indeed, efforts around climate reduction are supposed to address nitrogen emissions from agriculture, which they say  contribute to environmental pollution. However, critics argue that reducing emissions without careful consideration of the potential impact on food production could exacerbate the global food crisis.

But, these strategies are more than just pizza and stir fry vegetables. The actions of global leaders, such as prioritizing combating climate change over improving food production, have also created burdensome regulations for farmers because regulations are at the expense of their livelihoods. Casey argues that most U.S. farms are small plots under the U.S.D.A. guidelines that make a little money, yet are heavily regulated and ignored.

While there are many debates about the earth cooling and warming, and whether it is natural or manmade, wrapping one’s understanding around the latest announcements of a real sun producing real food, or an artificial sun and the government sanctioning cloned meat and milk, is a benchmark that we have entered into an era that once ridiculed these actualities as conspiracy theory nonsense beforehand. Now who’s laughing?

Duane Reed researches currency and market investments; and dibble dabbles in culture, grooming, news and travel.

While the White House has been steadfast in not participating in any type of aeronautical aerosols or sky spraying, there are quite a few private institutions that have. There is no doubt that artificial clouds caused by airplanes have been changing the atmosphere. The debate is how they’re used to remedy the problem air travel has caused. If the option was to have a real sun and real food, over flying, I would scrape the plane and go back to horse and buggy. Take me to the shore and let’s sail the seven seas.

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