Latest news about a planned scientific experiment in geoengineering by Harvard researchers, is yet another shocking example of how far scientists will got to test their ‘ideas’ on how to control and manipulate nature, writes Bhagawati.
As reported in several news reports and in Nature recently, if all goes as planned, the Harvard team will be the first in the world to move solar geoengineering out of the lab and into the stratosphere, with a project called the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx).
“The first phase – a US$3-million test involving two flights of a steerable balloon 20 kilometres above the southwest United States – could launch as early as the first half of 2019. Once in place, the experiment would release small plumes of calcium carbonate, each of around 100 grams, roughly equivalent to the amount found in an average bottle of off-the-shelf antacid [which is usually not inhaled]. The balloon would then turn around to observe how the particles disperse.”
One must remember the 1991 eruption in the Philippines of Mt. Pinatubo. The above experiment is based on the findings of said eruption, when a mere 20 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide was hurled into the stratosphere. The haze that followed cooled down the planet by 0.5C for a duration of 18 months.
“The SCoPEx team’s initial stratospheric experiments will focus on calcium carbonate, which is expected to absorb less heat than sulphates and to have less impact on ozone. But textbook answers – and even Dai’s [a doctoral candidate at Harvard University] tabletop device – can’t capture the full picture.
“We actually don’t know what it would do, because it doesn’t exist in the stratosphere,” Frank Keutsch [atmospheric chemist at Harvard and SCoPEx’s principal investigator] says. “That sets up a red flag.”
I learned that taken internally, calcium carbonate is not very poisonous. Recovery is quite likely. But, long-term overuse is more serious than a single overdose, because it can cause kidney damage. If this powder ‘disperses’ at some point, it is likely to drift down to Earth and then ultimately enters the food chain. But it appears to be less hazardous than sulphur dioxide, which causes irritation to the nose, eyes, throat, and lungs and typical symptoms include sore throat, runny nose, burning eyes, and cough. Inhaling high levels can cause swollen lungs and difficulty breathing. Skin contact with sulphur dioxide vapor can cause irritation or burns.
“In many ways,” adds ‘Nature’, “the stratosphere is an ideal place to try to make the atmosphere more reflective. Small particles injected there can spread around the globe and stay aloft for two years or more. If placed strategically and regularly in both hemispheres, they could create a relatively uniform blanket [emphasis mine] that would shield the entire planet (see ‘Global intervention’ below). The process does not have to be wildly expensive; in a report last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that a fleet of high-flying aircraft could deposit enough sulphur [a sudden mention of sulphur after speaking of calcium carbonate?] to offset roughly 1.5 °C of warming for around $1 billion to $10 billion per year.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Related discourse excerpt by Osho
Science has been a dagger driven into the back of nature
Graphic © Nature
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