Last week, we covered the efforts of a small environmental company called Make Sunsets that was experimenting with releasing small amounts of sunlight-reflecting sulfur dioxide particles into the stratosphere via balloons.
The goal of the startup was simple: reflect the Sun’s warm rays, thereby cooling the surface below, a process known as solar geoengineering.
Now, Make Sunsets’ efforts have come to an abrupt halt, with Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Semarnat for short, firmly stating last week that it prohibits the project from conducting any further experiments.
In fact, the agency is halting all geoengineering projects in the country, a sign that the idea of injecting aerosols into the stratosphere is more controversial than ever.
Over the last year, the concept of solar geoengineering has gained a lot of traction among scientists as a way to combat climate change, while many critics have argued that it is a reckless and potentially dangerous way to curb global warming.
Semarnat’s reasoning for the ban, the Wall Street Journal reports, is the lack of international agreements regulating geoengineering, the effects of which have the potential to exceed the reach of national borders.
Mexico was signatory to a United Nations moratorium on geoengineering in 2010 that still technically allowed small geoengineering projects, but it was not binding and the neighboring United States had not agreed.
Make Sunsets CEO and founder Luke Iseman was clearly disappointed by the sudden crackdown.
“I was waiting and waiting for a dialogue,” he told the wsj.
According to his interview with the edge, Make Sunsets only managed to launch two balloons last year, each of which contained just ten grams of sulfur dioxide. After all, a rather insignificant amount.
Iseman’s plan to finance his company was to sell “refrigeration credits” to US companies, valued at $10 per gram of sulfur dioxide released. Buying companies could use these credits to claim that they have offset a certain amount of their annual CO2 footprint.
The startup’s methodology leaves a lot to be desired. On the one hand, Iseman admitted the edge that they didn’t even track the balloons, which begs the question: How are they measuring the impact of their sulfur dioxide emissions? And why charge other companies money at such an early stage when the impact is still largely unknown?
Whatever happens with Make Sunsets, the fact remains that there is no scientific consensus on the long-term impacts of solar geoengineering, despite increased interest.
Last fall, the White House announced it would coordinate a five-year research plan to assess the feasibility of solar geoengineering, and echoing that cautious pace, scientists agree more research is needed before proceeding.
The random release of balloons filled with sulfur dioxide arguably goes against those sentiments, so in some ways it’s not surprising to see Mexico clamp down on Make Sunsets’ efforts.
More on solar geoengineering: Scientists are increasingly calling for dimming the sun