A Plan B for Global Warming: Solar Radiation Management

Sure. We don’t really want to have to resort to a Plan B, or a Plan C, or anything past the initial Plan when it comes to global warming. However, considering the rate at which the earth is being affected by humanity’s rather selfish and pollutant claims, and how none of us intend on tossing fossil fuel-powered transportation anytime soon, a Plan B has become critical. Thankfully, behind the thick curtains of scientific dialogue and reporting, solutions are indeed arising. While none of these solutions are as utopian or proactive as calling for a cease and desist on humanity’s production of greenhouse gases, David Keith’s Solar Radiation Management scheme is a potential step in the right direction.


Okay… Tell Me More

Solar Radiation Management, or SRM, is a “geo-engineering” scheme that utilizes sulfuric acid to counteract the effects of increased greenhouse gases. Sulfuric acid is one of the gases which can occur after the eruption of a volcano when sulfur dioxide reaches a cold lower atmosphere. These sulfuric aerosols in the atmosphere reflect sunlight hitting the earth- a key component of why they’re a candidate for halting global warming.


Yes, But… How

David Keith, a professor at both Paulson School of Engineering and Harvard University, has concocted a plan (albeit reluctantly). While the idea of using sulfuric aerosols in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight and reduce the temperature of the globe has been around since the 1970s, Keith has wrapped the theory into a tidy package and is now working hard to encourage dialogue about it. He proposes to customize several jets with equipment to produce and loose droplets of sulfuric acid. With these jets he would release that sulfuric acid into the lower stratosphere, which would then disperse over the globe and reflect a certain amount of sunlight back into space. This procedure would need to be replicated more than once and with increasing amounts as greenhouse gases continue to rise, with the goal being to bat away 1% of the sun’s light reaching the earth.


Eh… Sounds Sketchy

If it sounds overly simple to you, you would be right. While this plan, in theory, would accurately offset the effects of global warming on the earth, there are plenty of question marks surrounding what else it might affect both short-term and long-term. It is possible that using sulfuric acid in the stratosphere to cool the earth would disrupt precipitation patterns across the globe, and it may even take a few bites out of our already-endangered ozone layer. Plenty of critics are also squawking about the philosophical quandaries of this sort of “geo-engineering” and whether it is a route that humanity should even allow itself to take.


Does Anyone Even Want This to Happen?

Well, given that David Keith himself doesn’t want to have to resort to this plan, it’s pretty safe to say that no one actually wants to have to “geo-engineer” the globe to offset the damage we’ve already caused to it. As we trek forwards industrially and technologically, we leave colossally disastrous footprints in our wake, and there doesn’t seem to be any slowing of our pace in the near future. If ever there was a time for us to actually take a stand for the well-being of the very ground we’re standing on, it’s now. But, as our cars call us with their siren song and planes carry us from home to home, Plan B is likely to one day come to fruition. Thank goodness for science.