Freewheeling startup sends sulfur into the atmosphere for the climate

The company Make Sunsets began sending weather balloons into the stratosphere to emit sulfur particles. It is possible to buy sending these particles. The approach is sharply criticized, because solar geoengineering remains a very vague process.

Solar geoengineering seems like a futuristic concept. The idea: act directly on the Earth’s atmosphere to modify its conditions. Very controversial in the scientific community, this approach claims to offer direct solutions against the climate change — at the risk, however, that the result will be worse, hence the controversy.

For the startup Make Sunsets, geoengineering is a very current reality. In any case, this is what suggests a publication of the MIT Technology Review end of 2022. The company claims to have already launched weather balloons releasing reflective sulfur particles into the stratosphere.

How does the startup Make Sunsets work?

That’s not all. Make Sunsets markets these emissions: the start-up offers, on its site, the purchase of “cooling credits” for the sum of $10 each. “ We will release at least 1 gram of our ‘clouds’ into the stratosphere for you, offsetting the warming effect of 1 tonne of carbon dioxide for 1 year says Make Sunsets.

Solar geoengineering involves throwing particles into the middle or lower atmosphere to reflect the Sun’s rays. // Source: Pexels

This strategy is in fact based on the idea that by emitting particles capable of reflecting the Sun’s rays, the heat also “bounces”, thus partly preventing global warming. This is how the albedo effect works at the poles: the ice reflects the light from the Sun and limit the heat. Similarly, there are known episodes of volcanic eruption having released enough sulfur dioxide to temporarily cool the climate.

The risks of solar geoengineering are unknown

On paper, we can say that the idea is good. But, in fact, it is… just an idea. There is no proof that it works on such a scale and, above all, that it cannot have more harmful effects than the solution, by “gaming” with the climate in an unreasonable way. The promise of Make Sunsets is therefore not based on much. ” The current state of the science is not good enough…either to reject, or accept, let alone implement “, solar geoengineering, warns Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, in an email addressed to the MIT Technology Review. ” Going forward with implementation at this stage is a very bad idea. »

“What they claim to accomplish with these credits is very exactly what is uncertain”

Worse, some commentators interviewed by the magazine denounce the equivalent of a great scam: ” What they claim to accomplish with these credits is exactly what is currently uncertain about geoengineering. “Shuchi Talati, creator of a non-profit organization aimed at better governance for geoengineering, warns. He denounces the sale of credits which simply do not correspond to anything quantifiable – and that the speech is falsely humanitarian.

Critics are not new. At the beginning of 2022, a collective made up of several dozen scientists had sent a open letter to the United Nations to call for stricter supervision of geoengineering experiments.

They denounced three dangers:

  • That the risks are insufficiently known;
  • That this is detrimental to actions aimed at limiting climate change;
  • That poses a diplomatic problem, raising the question of “who” would have the right to control the geoengineering of an entire planet.

Make Sunsets co-founder Luke Iseman told the MIT Technology Review that, for him, it’s time to move on and move beyond controversy. ” It’s morally wrong, in my opinion, that we don’t do this “, he says. Actions to thwart climate change are not fast enough, Iseman says, so it’s time to use solar geoengineering and ” to do so as quickly and safely as possible “.

Wet finger geoengineering

But the reality of his way of proceeding does not yet inspire confidence. The first weather balloon launches were very rudimentary. He was not able to give specific details to the MIT Technology Review: we just know that these tests took place ” in April somewhere in the state of Baja California and this was long before Make Sunsets was incorporated. Iseman explains to the magazine that he inserted a few grams of sulfur dioxide into the balloons and ” added what he felt was the right amount of helium to carry them into the stratosphere “.

He then “expected” the balloons to burst under the pressure at that altitude, releasing the reflective sulfur particles. But as noted by the MIT Technology Review, we do not know more. Did the bursting of the balloons occur? If so, where did the balloons ultimately land? What was the impact of the particles? Even Iseman doesn’t know: There was no surveillance equipment on board the balloons “, discovers the magazine. Not to mention that the experiment took place without the slightest authorization from the competent authorities.

It was really part of a science project. Basically, it was about confirming that I could do it », justifies Iseman. But we cannot say that his explanations are reassuring. Conversely, the startup Make Sunsets confirms all the more the risk that the process, in the absence of a stricter legal framework, essentially consists of playing the sorcerer’s apprentice.

All about the star of the solar system, the Sun

Freewheeling startup sends sulfur into the atmosphere for the climate