It’s too late to stop catastrophic climate change, many people fear. Frequent extreme heat waves, droughts and floods: These are already happening, and most climate experts say they are likely to get worse.
What if science and technology could provide a solution?
A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe the “worst-case scenario” of a warming planet could be avoided through human ingenuity – namely, building frozen “space bubbles” that would block some of the rays from the sun to reach Earth.
“While tackling climate change necessarily requires reducing CO2 emissions on Earth, other approaches such as geoengineering could complement these efforts if current mitigation and adaptation measures prove insufficient. to reverse current climate change trends,” the team wrote in May. . “In particular, solar geoengineering – a set of technologies aimed at reflecting a fraction of sunlight arriving at Earth – has theoretically proven to be a valuable solution to complement current efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.”
The solar geoengineering idea this team is advancing involves a “raft” of thin, inflatable shields, collectively the size of Brazil, made of silicon-like materials. They would be built in outer space near the Lagrangian point – the point where the gravitational forces of the Sun and Earth cancel each other out.
The team, which hopes to do more and larger-scale research, says it has successfully tested inflating a bubble shield in space conditions. They claim on a website dedicated to their work that “if we deflect 1.8% of incident solar radiation before it hits our planet, we could completely reverse current global warming.”
Climate geoengineering is a controversial topic in the scientific community, as the various proposals could have disastrous unintended consequences. (Preventing some sunlight from reaching Earth, for example, could kill vast swathes of crops.) But support for pursuing regulated international geoengineering projects appears to be growing.
Pascal Lamy, president of the Paris Peace Forum and former director general of the World Trade Organization, recently said that a “global effort on geoengineering could work.”
One of the main advantages of the “space bubbles” approach, according to its proponents, is that it would be reversible. The bubbles could be deflated and moved out of the Lagrange point.
According to Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and project leader:
“We believe that taking solar shield feasibility studies to the next level could help us make more informed decisions in the years to come should geoengineering approaches become urgent.”