Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his research on ozone, calls international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "a pious wish." In a now-famous article in Climatic Change, he advocates for additional geoengineering research, especially into the possibility of using reflective aerosols to decrease the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth's surface. Crutzen's article provokes vigorous criticism -- especially from scientists who fear it will hand governments an excuse not to reduce carbon emissions -- but it thrusts geoengineering into the mainstream, inspiring reams of additional research.
At a NASA conference in Silicon Valley, Lowell Wood, a former top weapons designer at the Pentagon, lays out an "instant climatic gratification" scheme to reverse global warming. The plan involves using artillery to fire as much as 1 million tons of sulfate aerosols into the Arctic stratosphere in order to dull the sun's rays and build up sea ice that could then cool the planet. Science historian James R. Fleming, writing in Wilson Quarterly, likens Wood's plan to "declaring war on the stratosphere."
August 8, 2008
Four hours before the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, Chinese authorities launch more than 1,000 rockets containing silver iodide into the sky outside the city to keep rain clouds away from the "Bird's Nest" stadium. A storm that was forecast to hit on Aug. 8 holds off until the 10th, keeping the crowd of 91,000 dry for the evening's pageantry.
Scientific American publishes an editorial titled "The Hidden Dangers of Geoengineering" that calls out the risks of trying to tinker our way out of a climate catastrophe. What used to be "fringe science," the editors write, has "gained respectability," but it could damage the ozone layer, reduce precipitation, or make rainfall more acidic. "And those are just the foreseeable effects."
U.S. President Barack Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, says the United States doesn't have the "luxury" of taking geoengineering options "off the table" in discussions of how to combat climate change. "The administration's primary focus is still to seek comprehensive energy legislation that can get us closer to a clean energy economy," according to the advisor's spokesman, but deliberate efforts to counter global warming, Holdren says, have "got to be looked at."
"Playing with the Earth's climate is a dangerous game with unclear rules." --Robert Jackson, director of Duke University's Center on Global Change
A British academic consortium called Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering attempts to carry out the world's first large-scale geoengineering field test aimed at reversing global warming. But the experiment, a smaller version of the group's grand plan to pump reflective particles into the atmosphere through a 20-kilometer-long hose held aloft by a hot-air balloon, never gets off the ground for political reasons.
The National Natural Science Foundation of China, which distributes research funds on behalf of the Chinese government, lists geoengineering as a scientific research priority. Already, China is spending at least $100 million per year on weather modification schemes -- mostly to induce rain and prevent hailstorms.
The CIA partners with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to fund a 21-month, $630,000 "technical evaluation" of various geoengineering techniques, including proposed solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal schemes. It is the first NAS geoengineering study funded by the intelligence community.
The average daily atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide surpasses 400 parts per million -- higher than it has been in at least 3 million years. The grim milestone prompts the New Yorker's Nicholas Thompson to opine on the "dangerous, fraught, and potentially essential prospect of geoengineering." He writes, "[I]t's dreadful but it may be the only way to prevent mass calamity."
The IPCC's working group for policy responses to climate change will evaluate geoengineering options -- including the use of aerosols, iron fertilization, and lighter-colored crops -- in its fifth assessment report, marking the first time that the U.N. body will have actively considered invasive measures for halting climate change. The move, as the Guardian put it when the IPCC's research agenda became public in 2011, "suggests the UN and rich countries are despairing of reaching agreement" on how to combat global warming.