The US government is developing a solar geoengineering research plan

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The measure, which has not been previously reported, is the first such coordinated effort at the federal level in the United States. It could set the stage for more funding and research on the viability, benefits, and risks of these interventions. The effort may also contribute to the perception that geoengineering is an appropriate and important area of ​​research as global temperatures rise.

Solar geoengineering encompasses a variety of different approaches. What has caught most attention is using planes or balloons to disperse tiny particles into the stratosphere. Then, in theory, they would reflect enough sunlight to facilitate warming, mimicking the effect of the massive volcanic eruptions of the past. Some research groups have also explored whether the release of certain particles could break up cirrus clouds, which trap heat against Earth, or make low-lying sea clouds more reflective.

The Federal Consignment Act of 2022, signed by President Biden in March, directs its Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop an interagency group to coordinate research on these climate interventions, in collaboration with NASA. the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Energy.

The measure calls for the group to create a research framework to “provide guidance on transparency, commitment and risk management for publicly funded work in solar geoengineering research.” Specifically, it orders NOAA to support the Office of Science and Technology Policy in developing a five-year plan that, among other things, will define the research objectives for the field, assess the potential dangers of these climate interventions. and will assess the federal level. investments needed to carry out this work.

Geoengineering has long been a taboo subject among scientists, and some argue that it should continue to do so. There are questions about possible environmental side effects and the concern that the impacts will be felt unevenly in different parts of the world. It is unclear how the world will deal with complicated issues of global governance, including who should make decisions about whether such powerful tools should be deployed and what global average temperatures we should aim for. Some believe geoengineering is too dangerous to try or even to investigate, arguing that just talking about the possibility could make the need to address the underlying causes of climate change feel less urgent.

But as the threat of climate change grows and major nations fail to make rapid progress on emissions, more researchers, universities, and nations are seriously exploring the potential effects of these approaches. A handful of prominent scientific groups, in turn, have called for stricter standards to guide this work, more money to do so, or both. This includes the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, which last year recommended the creation of a U.S. solar geoengineering research program with an initial investment of $ 100 million to $ 200 million over five years.

Proponents of geoengineering research, while stressing that reducing emissions should remain the top priority, say we should explore these possibilities because they can significantly reduce the dangers of climate change. They note that as heat waves, droughts, famines, forest fires, and other extreme events become more common or serious, such climate interventions may be among the few means available to rapidly alleviate widespread human suffering. or ecological calamities.

Establishment of rules

In a statement, the Office of Science and Technology Policy confirmed that it has set up an inter-agency working group, as called for in the federal funding bill. It includes representatives from 10 research and mission agencies, including NOAA, NASA, and the Department of Energy.

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