In this photo taken on May 11, 2022, Shivaram, a villager, is seen walking along cracks in the bottom of a dry pond on a hot summer day in Bandai village of Pali district. – Every day, dozens of villagers, mostly women and children, wait with blue plastic canisters and metal pots for a special train that delivers precious water to people suffering from the heat in India’s desert state of Rajasthan.

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Scientists in Africa, Asia and South America are getting a new infusion of $900,000 to study the effect of reflecting sunlight on cooling the Earth and mitigating the effects of global warming. The money comes from Open Philanthropy, a venture primarily funded by billionaire Dustin Moscowitz, who co-founded Facebook and Asanaand his wife, Carrie Tuna.

Reflecting sunlight involves releasing aerosols such as sulfur dioxide high into the atmosphere, which reflect the sun’s rays back into space, temporarily mitigating global warming. (This is sometimes called solar radiation modification or solar geoengineering.)

The idea has been around for decades, but is being taken more seriously as the effects of climate change become more apparent. While volcanic eruptions have proven that this method can work, there are also significant risks, including ozone depletion, acid rain and an increase in respiratory diseases.

The Degrees Initiative, a nonprofit research organization, and the United Nations World Academy of Sciences announced on Tuesday that they are awarding more than $900,000 to scientists in Africa, Asia and South America to study solar radiation modification through a program called the Degrees Modeling Fund. The degree initiative has been funded by various donors over the years, but the largest was Open Philanthropy, and all of the $900,000 in payments announced Tuesday came from that group, co-founder Andy Parker told CNBC.

The money will go to 81 scientists in Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand and Uganda working on 15 solar geoengineering modeling projects.

The lesser of two bad options, like chemotherapy

The reflection of sunlight is getting more attention as scientists have begun to believe that its negative effects may not be as dire as the damage from climate change in the future. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is coordinating a five-year solar geoengineering research plan, and in January quadrennial evaluation report of the UN-sponsored Montreal Protocol an entire section devoted for the first time to stratospheric aerosol injection is included.

“Like any other sane person, when I first heard about the idea of ​​shutting out the sun, I thought it was a terrible idea. Over time, the look did not change her. It’s a terrible idea,” Parker told CNBC. . “But it may be less dire than not using it and allowing temperatures to continue to rise if we don’t cut emissions sufficiently.”

I liken the solution to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for cancer is also a terrible idea. It is very dangerous. It’s unpleasant. It’s risky. And no one would ever think of doing that if they weren’t afraid of the alternative. could be worse. And this applies to solar geoengineering.

Andy Parker

CEO of The Degrees Initiative

Reflecting sunlight is not the solution to climate change or global warming. This is a relatively quick and inexpensive way to temporarily cool the Earth. We know it works: During the 15 months after Mount Pinatuba erupted in the Philippines in 1991, global average temperatures were about 1 degree Fahrenheit lower, according to NASA. The release of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere from modernized aircraft would essentially mimic the way a volcano releases large amounts of aerosols into the atmosphere.

“It’s a bad idea. It is not interesting to work on it. But it’s potentially important, it can be very, very useful, it can be catastrophic,” Parker told CNBC.

“I compare this decision to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for cancer is also a terrible idea. It is very dangerous. It’s unpleasant. It’s risky. And no one would ever think about it unless they were afraid that the alternative could be worse. solar geoengineering,” he said.

Before launching The Degrees Initiative, Parker led the preparation of a 98-page report on geoengineering for the Royal Society, the UK’s independent academic academy, and conducted research at Harvard and the Potsdam Institute for Advanced Studies in Sustainable Development.

A giant volcanic mushroom cloud exploded at an altitude of about 20 kilometers from Mount Pinatuba over the almost deserted US Clark Air Force Base on June 12, 1991, followed by another, more powerful explosion. The eruption of Mount Pinatuba on June 15, 1991 was the second largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century.

Arlan Naeg | Afp | Getty Images

Ensuring that countries at greatest risk have a say

One of Parker’s goals for the Advanced Degrees Initiative is to make sure that scientists from developing countries in the Global South are involved in the international conversation about reflecting sunlight, he told CNBC.

“If it can work well to reduce the effects of climate change, then they will benefit the most because they are on the front lines of global warming,” he said. “If, on the other hand, things go wrong and there are unpleasant side effects, or perhaps if it is dismissed prematurely when it could have helped, then developing countries will lose the most.”

But without philanthropic donations, solar geoengineering research and solutions would primarily be relegated to parts of the world that can afford it, such as North America, the European Union and Japan, Parker said.

The $900,000 announced Tuesday is the second funding round of its kind. In 2018, The Degrees Modeling Fund distributed $900,000 to 11 projects in Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin, Indonesia, Iran, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Kenya, the Philippines and South Africa.

The money comes in grants of up to $75,000, with $60,000 for salaries and $15,000 for tools the local research team will need, Parker told CNBC. Each research group should offer its proposal in the grant application, he said. But overall, each team’s job is to use computer models to predict the weather and impacts in their local region, both with and without reflected sunlight.

“By comparing the two, they can start to generate evidence of what effects solar radiation modification might have on things that matter locally,” Parker said.

Scholars whose work was funded by the Degree Modeling Foundation at a recent Research Planning Workshop for Old and New Teams in Istanbul.

Photo courtesy of Andy Stone, CEO of The Degrees Initiative.

A study of water cycles in the La Plata basin

Ines Camiglioni, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires, has received two Degrees Initiative scholarships and also receives funding from the Argentine government. With the funding, Camilloni is investigating how changing solar radiation will affect the hydroclimate of the La Plata Basin, the world’s fifth-largest water basin that spans parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, she told CNBC.

“Much of the basin’s economic activity depends on the availability of water, including agriculture, river navigation and hydroelectric production, and therefore any changes in the basin’s water cycle can have a significant impact on each country’s economy,” Camilloni said. CNBC.

Professor Ines Camiglioni speaks at the Paris Peace Forum 2022.

Photo courtesy of The Degrees Initiative

Camilloni says her research so far has shown that sunlight reflection can be beneficial for some parts of the La Plata Basin region, but particularly harmful for others. Larger rivers that feed hydroelectric dams can have higher flow and increased energy production, offsetting the risk of more flooding.

In Buenos Aires, there has been an increased awareness of sunlight reflection in the last couple of years, and it is causing strong emotions.

“The range of feelings that solar radiation modification evokes ranges from disbelief to fear. Everyone sees it as controversial,” Camilloni told CNBC.

Clear communication is critical because even supporters of the research don’t see it as a serious bullet for climate change.

“This is not anybody’s Plan A for how you deal with climate risk, and no matter what happens, we have to reduce emissions,” Patold told CNBC. “But people are finally starting to think seriously about the question: What are we going to do if we don’t do enough to reduce emissions, if we don’t do enough to avoid very dangerous climate change? What options do we have? And that leaves people, unfortunately, but necessarily thinking about things like changing solar radiation.”

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