Geoengineering: Climate startup Make Sunsets releases particles into atmosphere, horrifying scientists

  • 27/12/2022

A US startup has launched weather balloons containing sulphur dioxide particles into the stratosphere in a bid to "prevent catastrophic global warming" - but scientists aren't happy.

Make Sunsets, which is backed by two venture capital funds, is embarking on geoengineering - a highly fraught way of manipulating the climate by reflecting more sunlight back into space.

Luke Iseman, co-founder and chief executive of Make Sunsets, told MIT Tech Review the first two balloon launches took place in April in the Mexican state of Baja California.

He said the startup is partly about science and partly about provocation, and he's hoping to drive public debate about the technology and push for radical changes.

"It's morally wrong, in my opinion, for us not to be doing this."

While spraying sulphur into the stratosphere in theory will deflect sunlight and therefore cool the planet, it could also have horrific consequences by disrupting the ozone layer, potentially leading to acid rain and causing respiratory disease.

A study by a University of Cape Town team in Benin, West Africa, found geoengineering would likely lead to less rain in a region already suffering from large-scale desertification. Mohammed Rahman from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research said his research showed malaria would increase in some parts of Asia while decreasing in others.

"The result we had was on a coarse scale, like a continental scale. Here it gets better, here it gets worse," he told the New Yorker in November.

Several researchers from MIT Technology Review spoke with condemned Make Sunsets, saying its efforts are wildly premature.

"The current state of science is not good enough… to either reject or to accept, let alone implement," executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative Janos Pasztor said.

"To go ahead with implementation at this stage is a very bad idea," he added.

Scholar in residence at American University Shuchi Talati said the startup's actions could set back the scientific field, reduce funding and accelerate calls to restrict studies.

She said it's also hypocritical for Make Sunsets to say its actions are in the name of humanity without meaningfully engaging with the public and those who could be affected by their actions.

"They're violating the rights of communities to dictate their own future," she told MIT Technology Review.