A Startup company claims it has begun releasing sulphur particles into the stratosphere from weather balloons in an attempt to combat climate change.
What could go wrong?
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The company Make Sunsets is banking on solar geoengineering to cool down the planet…and making itself loads of money.
They claim to have successfully launched weather balloons from Mexico, each filled with about 10 grams of sulfur particles and intended for the stratosphere, potentially crossing a controversial barrier in the field of solar geoengineering.
MIT Technology Review report: Some researchers who have long studied the technology are deeply troubled that the company, Make Sunsets, appears to have moved forward with launches from a site in Mexico without any public engagement or scientific scrutiny. It’s already attempting to sell “cooling credits” for future balloon flights that could carry larger payloads.
Several researchers MIT Technology Review spoke with condemned the effort to commercialize geoengineering at this early stage. Some potential investors and customers who have reviewed the company’s proposals say that it’s not a serious scientific effort or a credible business but more of an attention grab designed to stir up controversy in the field.
Luke Iseman, the cofounder and CEO of Make Sunsets, acknowledges that the effort is part entrepreneurial and part provocation, an act of geoengineering activism.
He hopes that by moving ahead in the controversial space, the startup will help drive the public debate and push forward a scientific field that has faced great difficulty carrying out small-scale field experiments amid criticism.
“We joke slash not joke that this is partly a company and partly a cult,” he says.
Iseman, previously a director of hardware at Y Combinator, says he expects to be pilloried by both geoengineering critics and researchers in the field for taking such a step, and he recognizes that “making me look like the Bond villain is going to be helpful to certain groups.” But he says climate change is such a grave threat, and the world has moved so slowly to address the underlying problem, that more radical interventions are now required.
“It’s morally wrong, in my opinion, for us not to be doing this,” he says. What’s important is “to do this as quickly and safely as we can.”
But dedicated experts in the field think such efforts are wildly premature and could have the opposite effect from what Iseman expects.
“The current state of science is not good enough … to either reject, or to accept, let alone implement” solar geoengineering, wrote Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, in an email. The initiative is calling for oversight of geoengineering and other climate-altering technologies, whether by governments, international accords or scientific bodies. “To go ahead with implementation at this stage is a very bad idea,” he added, comparing it to Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s decision to use CRISPR to edit the DNA of embryos while the scientific community was still debating the safety and ethics of such a step.
Shuchi Talati, a scholar in residence at American University who is forming a nonprofit focused on governance and justice in solar geoengineering, says Make Sunset’s actions could set back the scientific field, reducing funding, dampening government support for trusted research, and accelerating calls to restrict studies.
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