Sunday, July 21, 2024

This London non-profit is now one of the biggest backers of geoengineering research

Computer scienceThis London non-profit is now one of the biggest backers of geoengineering research


“A lot of people are recognizing the obvious,” says Douglas MacMartin, a senior research associate in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell, who focuses on geoengineering. “We’re not in a good position with regard to mitigation—and we haven’t spent enough money on research to be able to support good, wise decisions on solar geoengineering.”

Scientists are exploring a variety of potential methods of reflecting away more sunlight, including injecting certain particles into the stratosphere to mimic the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions, spraying salt toward marine clouds to make them brighter, or sprinkling fine dust-like material into the sky to break up heat-trapping cirrus clouds.

Critics contend that neither nonprofits nor scientists should support studying any of these methods, arguing that raising the possibility of such interventions eases pressure to cut emissions and creates a “slippery slope” toward deploying the technology. Even some who support more research fear that funding it through private sources, particularly from wealthy individuals who made their fortunes in tech and finance, may allow studies to move forward without appropriate oversight and taint public perceptions of the field.

The sense that we’re “putting the climate system in the care of people who have disrupted the media and information ecosystems, or disrupted finance, in the past” could undermine public trust in a scientific realm that many already find unsettling, says Holly Buck, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo and author of After Geoengineering.

‘Unlocking solutions’

One of Quadrature’s first solar geoengineering grants went to the University of Washington’s Marine Cloud Brightening Program. In early April, that research group made headlines for beginning, and then being forced to halt, small-scale outdoor experiments on a decommissioned aircraft carrier sitting off the coast of Alameda, California. The effort entailed spraying a mist of small sea salt particles into the air. 

Quadrature was also one of the donors to a $20.5 million fund for the Washington, DC, nonprofit SilverLining, which was announced in early May. The group pools and distributes grants to solar geoengineering researchers around the world and has pushed for greater government support and funding for the field. The new fund will support that policy advocacy work as well as efforts to “promote equitable participation by all countries,” Kelly Wanser, executive director of SilverLining, said in an email.

She added that it’s crucial to accelerate solar geoengineering research because of the rising dangers of climate change, including the risk of passing “catastrophic tipping points.”

“Current climate projections may even underestimate risks, particularly to vulnerable populations, highlighting the urgent need to improve risk prediction and expand response strategies,” she wrote.

Quadrature has also issued grants for related work to Colorado State University, the University of Exeter, and the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project, an effort to run the same set of modeling experiments across an array of climate models. 

The foundation intends to direct its solar geoengineering funding to advance efforts in two main areas: academic research that could improve understanding of various approaches, and work to develop global oversight structures “to enable decision-making on [solar radiation modification] that is transparent, equitable, and science based.”

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