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Newsletter: Is Engineering Solar Radiation a Crazy Idea?

Is Engineering Solar Radiation a Crazy Idea?


Clive Hamilton

Professor; Author of “Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering”



Anjali Viswamohanan

Director of Policy at the Asia Investor Group on Climate Change



David Keith

Geophysical Sciences Professor at the University of Chicago; Founder of Carbon Engineering



Ted Parson

Environmental Law Professor and Faculty Co-Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change at UCLA



Here is what we have in store this week:

  • We examine solar geoengineering and its potential for fighting climate change
  • A closer look at current and future rates of carbon emissions
  • Your Sunday reading list



Solar geoengineering includes such methods as reflecting the sun’s rays back into space, increasing solar radiation, and spraying seawater into the atmosphere. But is this technology — with its potential to address climate change — worth the risks?

Finding viable solutions to address climate change were key topics at the COP28 climate summit and the World Economic Forum. Policymakers and world leaders are looking at solar geoengineering as one way to reach those goals. As we acknowledge the International Day of Clean Energy, could solar geoengineering be a good idea?


Proponents of solar geoengineering say:

  • It is inexpensive.
  • It imitates a natural process — think volcanic eruptions releasing particles into the atmosphere, which temporarily cools the Earth.
  • It could reduce the extreme effects of rising temperatures, such as high temperatures, tropical storm intensity, and drought.
  • It can reduce sea surface temperatures, lessening the amount of sea-ice loss.


Opponents of solar geoengineering say:

  • Some scientists and environmental groups challenge its effectiveness.
  • It doesn’t address the root causes of climate change.
  • We don’t know if it is reversible and what its impacts will be.
  • There are profound questions about governance and inequitable implementation.

Each of our debaters this week are experts in environmental law and policy who work within the intersection of environmental science, ethics, and policy, and provide valuable insight on a potential solution.

After listening to this debate as a podcast and on YouTube, let us know what you think. 



At what rates could solar geoengineering help cut down CO2 emissions?





Is Engineering Solar Radiation a Crazy Idea?


YES: Clive Hamilton

“Solar geoengineering may well be able to suppress the rate of warming of the planet, but it sidesteps the political, social, and ethical problems. It’s the mother of all technofixes. The same political institutions that have mismanaged greenhouse gas emissions around the world, will be responsible for deploying the solar shield between the Earth and the sun. Who would you trust to have their hand on the global thermostat, to turn the earth’s temperature and change the weather in ways that may benefit Chinese people at the expense of Indian people, Americans at the expense of Africans? Who should make the decision?”


YES: Anjali Viswamohanan

“One of the most immediate impacts that will be felt will be the change in the precipitation cycles. It will affect tropical forests, the ozone layer, and the oceans…This will affect crop use and also [diminish] the potential of solar energy, which is one of the biggest alternators to foster fuel energy generation… Throwing solar geoengineering into the mix will result in the lack of a coherent strategy on damaging climate change.”


NO: David Keith

“Solar geoengineering really can reduce risks, or at least there is strong evidence for it… [It] might be less dangerous than emission cuts alone… [It] might be part of the way that humans manage environmental risks of climate change this century, that a combination of emissions cuts, adaptation, carbon removal, and solar geoengineering might enable a safer climate. But only by discussing it openly and researching it, can people make that judgment with information.”


NO: Ted Parson

“It is essential to take geoengineering seriously, to research how it might work and to confer on how to safely control it… you have to consider the climate change risks…A Swiss proposal in the U.N. Environmental Programme to start research and consultation on geoengineering was blocked by the US, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia. This enforced silence is making risks worse: risks of climate change and also risks of reckless, badly governed geoengineering.”




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