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Painting The Sky White Could Help Ease Climate Change

Could blue skies be a thing of the past? One new geoengineering plan would keep the sun’s light from heating the planet, but it would mean a new view when we look up.

Painting The Sky White Could Help Ease Climate Change
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There are any number of crazy, last ditch efforts that scientists have proposed to counteract climate change, if simply reducing our carbon doesn’t pan out (outlook currently not so good). But spraying aerosols into the atmosphere, one of the more commonly suggested geoengineering schemes, may actually work.

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Researchers studying the phenomenon found that a 2% reduction in the amount of the sun’s light hitting Earth would offset a doubling of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide from historical levels. That reduction could be achieved by spewing tiny airborne particles that scatter light–aerosols–into the atmosphere, similar to what happens during a massive volcanic eruption. It would also wipe out blue skies as we know them, making the sky three to five times brighter, as well as whiter. Imagine the urban haze in many cities: that would be the sky everywhere.

“These results give people one more thing to consider before deciding whether we really want to go down this road,” says the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Ben Kravitz, a lead author of the study (published in Geophysical Research Letters ) in a statement. “Although our study did not address the potential psychological impact of these changes to the sky, they are important to consider as well.”

Whether this is a good idea is another matter. Scientists say preventing the problem is the first line of defense. But those hopes are dimming as GHG emissions soar past 400 parts per million, while a safe threshold may be as low as 350 PPM (PDF).

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“This is one study where I am not eager to have our predictions proven right by a global stratospheric aerosol layer in the real world,” says Kravitz.

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment. His favorite topics are wicked problems -- and discoveries such as how dung beetles rely on the light of the Milky Way to navigate (and all that says about the human condition on Earth)

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