Headlines were made last month when plans to manipulate the weather/climate in an ambitious experiment went public; however, it appears the Bill Gates – backed plot to do so has been scrubbed for now. After getting push-back from people around the world and in Sweden, where the initial experiment was to unfold, a decision was made not to pursue the test at this time.
An advisory committee tied to the project made a recommendation and statement on Wednesday. Known as SCoPEx , short for Stratospheric COntrolled Perturbation Experiment, the project was to spray chalk high in the atmosphere in an attempt to block sunlight and heat from the Sun from reaching the Earth’s surface. If an initial test was successful, they could roll the project out to a march larger area, spraying thousands of pounds of chalk into the high atmosphere with the hope of manipulating local and regional weather and climate.
The SCoPEx Advisory Committee wrote, “It is clear from the feedback that there is a broadly shared commitment to research that can help prevent climate change from worsening. It is also clear that there is a lack of consensus about research related to geoengineering. Because of this, the SCoPEx Advisory Committee is recommending that societal engagement should occur in Sweden before any SCoPEx research is conducted in the country. The Committee has begun the process of working with leading science engagement specialists in Sweden and looking for a Swedish host for the societal engagement. The Committee has recommended to Harvard and the research team that any equipment test flights in Sweden need to be suspended until the Committee can make a final recommendation about those flights based on a robust and inclusive public engagement in Sweden.”
The SCoPEx Research Team released their own statement, saying they “fully support the Advisory Committee’s recommendation that any equipment test flights in Sweden need to be suspended until the committee can make a final recommendation about those flights based on robust public engagement in Sweden that is broadly inclusive of indigenous populations.” The Research Team added that they intend to “listen closely to this public engagement process to inform the experiment moving forward. ”
Bill Gates, along with other private donors, were planning to spend millions of dollars to spray the stratosphere with chalk to combat what they perceive to be climate change. The chalk would be calcium carbonate, the same material that is the primary component of egg shells, snail shells, seashells, and pearls. Gates and other project backers hope this plan will deflect some of the sun’s radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface, resulting in less-warm conditions here.
To test out the concept, a large test balloon was going to launch in June over the Swedish town of Kiruna. That balloon would bring 2 kg of chalk and 600 kg of scientific equipment 12 miles up above the Earth’s surface. Once it reached its target altitude in the stratosphere, it would release the chalk in a plume that would end up being a mile or two long. During this test, scientists at Harvard University planned to measure what impact, if any, the plume has on solar radiation attempting to reach the surface; they’ll also study how the chalk dust particles react with the air at such a high altitude. This data would be used for computer-modeled simulations of much grander planned dispersions.
While members of the public were vocal about this experiment, some scientists were very concerned by what could happen, suggesting a test could seriously backfire. The stratosphere is also the home of the ozone layer which protects Earth from harmful radiation from the earth. It is possible the chalk could interfere with the ozone, allowing harmful radiation which could cause cancer and other health concerns to reach the surface. The University of Cambridge’s Sir David King, who has served as a chief scientific advisor to the UK Government in the past, told a reporter at The Times that such an endeavor should not be pursued, saying this could be disastrous for weather systems in ways nobody can predict.
Frank Keutsch, Principal Investigator of ScoPEx (Stratospheric COntrolled Perturbation Experiment) and Stonington Professor of Engineering and Atmospheric Science, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences said, ” We understand that there are complex societal and governance issues surrounding solar geoengineering and SCoPEx. It’s why we have taken extraordinary steps to try to perform the experiment in a manner that exemplifies good governance, implementing an unprecedented level of transparency and recruiting a highly qualified, independent, external committee to provide advice that we have and will continue to take very seriously. We all realize this is a great learning process, so we and the Committee are doing everything possible to make sure there are opportunities for people to provide comments and constructive criticism. Such input will help the Committee be in the best position possible to weigh whether or not we should proceed with the experiment.”
Beyond funding this program, Gates is exploring other measures to take change global climate and weather. In recent weeks, he has discussed ideas to get people and nations to invest only in synthetic meat and new ways of creating materials used for buildings. He also wants the world to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.