Scientists propose bizarre climate change mitigation plan

(ORDO NEWS) — Worried that efforts to stem the tide of excess greenhouse gases entering our atmosphere won’t be enough to save us from a worsening crisis, MIT engineers have revisited a decade-old idea to help mitigate climate change.

To buy time to break our dependence on fossil fuels, we could simply raise an umbrella of high-tech bubbles over the planet to create some shade.

First proposed in the late 1980s, the idea of ​​using a huge space umbrella to block out a tiny fraction of the sun’s radiation is not as far-fetched as it sounds. And, frankly, it’s a much less risky plan than other massive geoengineering projects aimed at reflecting light from the Earth’s surface back into space.

However, even if the fundamental concept of cooling the Earth with some kind of orbital shield is feasible, the necessary materials will not be ready, they must have properties such as to be strong, light and optically usable.

Initial proposals were for a glass sandwich 2,000 km (1,200 miles) wide, blown from materials quarried from lunar rock. Placed in a precise balance between the gravity of the Sun and Earth and the impact of the sun’s rays and particles, it would reflect the amount of light that was calculated to mitigate the constant rise in temperature.

Since then, many alternatives have been considered, from hydrogen-filled aluminum balloons to an artificial ring of particles that would turn the Earth into a miniature Saturn.

All of them have their pros, but the overwhelming number of cons relegate most of them to the category of “good idea, it’s a pity that it’s scientific.”

However, desperate times call for desperate measures. Confident that the fundamental benefits of a solar shield still exist, MIT scientists are calling for a feasibility study to deploy a raft of foam bubbles the size of Brazil.

If you put aside the thought of launching giant jars of shaving cream into an interplanetary vacuum, it doesn’t sound so ridiculous.

Made from a homogeneous substance such as molten silicon, subtle changes in bubble film thickness can reflect different wavelengths of solar radiation, increasing its effectiveness. And unlike the complex origami required to fold and unfold large reflective fabrics for delivery, the bubble sheet can be blown on site, optimizing costs.

Most importantly, in the event of an emergency, it is much more effective to release a bunch of bubbles than kick up clouds of dust, collect crowds of tiny umbrellas, or break glass the size of a city.

Theoretically, the mass density of such a shield will be about 1.5 grams per square meter, which puts it on a par with speculative technologies based on swarms of orbiting space umbrellas.

Like many such proposals, the technology will need to be held in place by a tug-of-war between the Earth and the Sun to avoid the need for heavy control systems.

Ideally, engineers hope the entire system will be able to reduce the amount of sunlight that would otherwise incinerate our planet by 1.8 percent, a figure from previous studies.

Whether they can find a material that meets all the necessary requirements and develop a suitable way to launch it into place and then start blowing depends on getting funding for more research.

Of course, none of this has yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal – the researchers are simply setting out the idea in the hope that future work will be done to develop it. So for now, these are mostly intriguing speculations.

Preliminary experiments have shown the possibility of inflating thin-film bubbles at a pressure of about three thousandths of an atmosphere, maintained at a temperature of -50 degrees Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit). But there is still a lot of work to be done before we can even consider putting this plan into action.

“We believe taking solar shield feasibility studies to the next level could help us make better informed decisions in the coming years if geoengineering approaches become urgent,” says Carlo Ratti, professor of urban technology at the MIT Senseable City Lab.

Of course, all this does not mean a weakening of efforts to combat carbon emissions. The previous MIT study also suggests that we should be extremely careful when it comes to any kind of solar shading, as changing global weather patterns is an obvious possibility.

But in light of the evidence that catastrophic temperatures could be reached within just a decade or two, it is clear that all options must be left on the table for consideration.


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