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White House researches 'outlandish' plan for blocking out the sun: 'Substantial … uncertainties exist'

It has been labeled as a "terrible" idea for a variety of reasons.

Solar geoengineering, hypothetical method of cooling down our overheated planet

Photo Credit: iStock

No, your uncle isn't making this one up — the White House has just released a report on researching the impacts of blocking out the sun.

On June 30, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy published the report, fulfilling its "congressionally-mandated" duty to do so. 

Why even consider dimming the sun?

The report focused on "solar radiation modification, also known as solar geoengineering." 

Solar geoengineering is a hypothetical method of cooling down our overheated planet by continuously spewing reflective aerosol particles into the atmosphere. 

These particles could reflect incoming sunlight, which in turn could cool down the Earth and likely decrease some of the harmful effects of such warming, like extreme weather.

Is solar geoengineering dangerous?

Despite the serious need to stop the planet from getting dangerously hot, many environmental leaders and scientists who study geoengineering oppose it, calling it "outlandish" and "a desperate idea." 

It has been labeled as a "terrible" idea for various reasons, including potential damage to the slowly healing ozone layer, extreme changes to weather, a decrease in plants' ability to photosynthesize, and a dangerous dependence on the practice. 

Once you start geoengineering, you cannot stop without causing "termination shock." 

Physicist Ray Pierrehumbert and atmospheric scientist Michael Mann described such a withdrawal for the Guardian in plain terms: "Well yes, we can stop. Just like if you're being kept alive by a ventilator with no hope of a cure, you can turn it off — and suffer the consequences."

What did the report say?

The report did not indicate any policy change on behalf of the United States or provide any plan for future research. 

More accurately, the report suggested that further studying the feasibility and impacts of solar geoengineering could be helpful in informing future decisions. 

Another key takeaway was that "substantial knowledge gaps and uncertainties exist in many critical areas." 

The White House's press release seemed to ultimately shy away from any intent to associate itself with the practice of solar geoengineering, writing: 

"[We remain] focused on reducing emissions, increasing resilience. … Release of this report fulfills a Congressional mandate, and there are no plans underway to establish a comprehensive research program focused on solar radiation modification."

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