Saving the Earth Requires Billions of Tons of Sulfuric Acid

first_img So we’ve probably fucked the planet. Yeah, it can be stopped, but it probably won’t be. The Paris Climate Agreement shoots to limit the increase in global temps to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. The problem is, we’d have to get a lot more aggressive than we currently are to hit those targets, for one, and secondly, even that increase could still be catastrophic. But, at this point, we’re just trying to stop the bleeding.Some scientists have suggested that we could re-engineer the atmosphere to help mitigate increasing temperatures. A new paper in Science suggests that such a strategy could work, and it’s based on a natural phenomenon — volcanic eruptions.When a volcano goes off, it ejects a ridiculous amount of sulfur and other particulates into the atmosphere. That helps cool the planet by blocking some of the sunlight from ever reaching the surface. Scientists, dismayed by the meager progress from the public and from politicians, are looking to adapt that into a technology known as Stratosphere Aerosol Modification.First, let’s be clear: we really, really, really want to not do this, it’s the best of a bunch of bad ideas and may not even be possible on the scales we need anyway. It is a last resort, but one that is looking increasingly and unfortunately necessary.Anyway, that said, the researchers concluded that it might be possible to use sulfur dioxide to help unfuck the planet. But there’s a ton of caveats (because of course there are). One of the big ones? This cannot replace just reducing carbon emissions. It’s not enough on its own to totally offset the warming we currently expect, and the more we inject into the atmosphere, the less effective the injections are.Credit: N. CARY/SCIENCENext, it could have some pretty disastrous effects on all kinds of atmospheric systems. For one, sulfur dioxide may help block sunlight, but it also absorbs heat from the lower atmospheric layers. This could alter how the winds of the stratosphere move around, limiting the proper spread of the gas and possible applications for aiding the planet. That’s not to mention possible effects it may have on global rainfall and other weather patterns driven by stratospheric conditions.The last issue, and possibly the biggest — it’s going to cost more than we can fathom. The scientists used a very optimistic model suggesting that large-scale carbon capture and aggressive reduction in CO2 emissions would start by 2040 (that’s cute). And even with that, we’d need to inject sulfur every day for 160 years. That’s equivalent to one Mount Pinatubo explosion. Every. Year. And the kicker? That’s just to keep at 2 degrees. This is what we would have to do to hit the targets the Paris Climate Agreement laid out.So… what does this mean? Well, the program would start at $20 billion/year to design and operate enough planes to meet the 6700 flights that would need to be made each day. It gets more expensive with time, too. This is because we’ll have to offset other climate effects with the technology we haven’t even thought of yet.And that’s assuming we’ve figured out all the issues with SAM in the first place, or can make enough sulfur dioxide to pull this off. We’d need four billion metric tons a year. Also, for those of you who just now remembered your high school chemistry classes — why yes, we’re talking about injected SULFUR F*CKING DIOXIDE INTO OUR F*CKING ATMOSPHERE. WHEN IT COMBINES WITH WATER IT FORMS SULFURIC F*CKING ACID. WHAT THE F*CK. HOW ARE WE HERE. WHAT THE F*CK IS WRONG WITH US. I mean GAAAAAH!Oh… and uhh… sulfur smells awful. So there’s that.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Stay on target Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend last_img read more