The White House plans to study spraying aerosols such as sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to counter climate change — a strategy some scientists view as a risky intervention in the atmosphere but that others think may be a useful last resort to prevent global warming.
This practice, called geoengineering, aims to reflect the sun’s radiation from the stratosphere back into space to minimize rising temperatures. The White House five-year plan was authorized by Congress this year and is being executed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Energy.
Researchers are split on whether the risks of geoengineering outweigh the rewards, mostly due to a lack of information on the subject.
Daniel Cohan, associate professor for civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, said there are more natural, safe and impactful ways to counter climate change than geoengineering. But he added that additional studies on the topic can reveal the exact magnitude of its cooling benefits and climate risks.
"It seems likely that these techniques could be developed to offset much of the warming that is expected in the decades ahead," Cohan told Fox News Digital. "But how it would affect regional weather patterns is highly uncertain, and that’s likely where there would be huge winners and losers."
This form of geoengineering involves aircraft releasing aerosols in the atmosphere where they can partially reflect the sun’s radiation. The White House project will not include flying planes but instead study potential impacts. The hypothesis has its roots in documented instances of volcanic eruptions leading to notable decreases in temperatures in the surrounding area.
Harvard professor David Keith said there is a growing case for research efforts that explore the exact impact of geoengineering.
"Use of geoengineering will never be ‘necessary ’— it’s a hard choice one on which people will have divergent views," Keith told Fox News Digital. "My hope is that the U.S. government comes out with a transparent, high-quality research plan that can advance knowledge in the public interest."
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the director of the Center on Energy, Climate, and Environment at the Heritage Foundation, said she is in full support of the White House’s research because an effective geoengineering model would be far more affordable than current efforts to counter climate change such as environmental regulations and renewable energy.
"This has potentially very large benefits with a much smaller cost," Furchtgott-Roth told Fox News Digital.
The downside of geoengineering, several experts note, is that the released aerosols only impact a limited area and must be renewed at a rapid pace to continue a reflection of the sun. Potential risks included unintentionally cooling farms that need the sun to grow crops, as well as intensified storms. Benji Backer, the president of the American Conservation Coalition, said the Biden administration is better off focusing on more environmentally friendly policies.
"One of the worst ways to mess with a change in our weather is by trying to create more changes in the weather," Backer told Fox News Digital. "The climate change dilemma certainly requires solutions that improve our air quality and overall level of pollution, but what we don't need is over-corrective research that attempts to play the hand of God."