An American startup firm has admitted to releasing reactive particles into the atmosphere in an attempt to alter the climate. The move has attracted widespread criticism, and marks a potentially dangerous new stage in the intensifying response to Earth’s “climate crisis”.
Just before Christmas 2022, the firm ‘Make Sunsets’ acknowledged it had launched weather balloons containing sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. The launches took place in April 2022, in Baja California, Mexico, months before the company was even incorporated.
When quizzed about it, the company’s CEO, Luke Iseman, was unrepentant. “It’s morally wrong, in my opinion, for us not to be doing this”, he said, adding that it’s important “to do this as quickly and safely as we can,” because of the threat of man-made climate change.
Critics, including geoengineers, say Make Sunset’s efforts are dangerous, not only because the field is very much in its infancy, but also because they could have wildly different effects from those intended.
“The current state of science is not good enough… to either reject, or to accept, let alone implement” solar geoengineering, said Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, which seeks to impose restrictions on geoengineering projects. “To go ahead with implementation at this stage is a very bad idea.” .
Other scientists believe this unannounced and unmonitored release of chemicals into the atmosphere could set the science back, disrupting its funding and leading to public calls to restrict research. The move has been compared to other reckless innovations, including the use of CRISPR gene-editing technology by a Chinese scientist on human embryos, without proper evaluation of the safety and ethics of doing so.
Geoengineering has been receiving growing attention as a potential “solution” to the “Climate Crisis” in recent years. Last year the corporate global governance outfit the ‘World Economic Forum’ posted a video suggesting climate change could be reversed through the use of “space bubbles” – orbital rafts that would reduce solar radiation reaching Earth – or through spraying aerosols into the upper atmosphere.
The technology has been in consideration for over a decade, with a variety of governmental bodies and organizations, including the US Congress, UK Parliament and the Royal Society expressing interest in research and small-scale trials.
A two-part study released in 2015 by the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine noted that reductions in emissions should take precedence over the use of such technology, whose potential for “large-scale deployment” is still unknown. The report also noted that potential risks and side-effects needed to be investigated. The technology should not be used at “climate-altering scales” until these risks have been properly evaluated, it said.
CEO Luke Iseman said that the first launches were simply tests to confirm it would work; although he also stated no monitoring equipment was included to track whether the sulfur dioxide was released as intended.
The idea of using weather balloons in this manner was mooted in a 2018 white paper, which noted such an approach could be used in a distributed manner by non-governmental actors.
The company already has plans for further launches, with increased payloads of sulfur dioxide, added telemetry, and measuring equipment. Eventually, the aim is to have re-usable balloons and to publish data following each launch.
Iseman also envisages a system of “cooling credits”, whereby a purchase of $10 would buy one gram of sulfur-dioxide particles, an amount he claims could offset the effects of one ton of carbon emissions for a year.
“What I want to do is create as much cooling as quickly as I responsibly can, over the rest of my life, frankly,” Iseman said. Make Sunsets will deploy as much sulfur in 2023 as “we can get customers to pay us” to release, he added.
The company claims to have received around $750,000 in seed capital, with investors purchasing “cooling credits”.
While some have been quick to dismiss the launches as a publicity stunt – especially since they weren’t even properly monitored – others worry about the privatization of such potentially dangerous technology. Fears about allowing corporates to possess the means to alter the climate are well founded, they claim.
In 2012, Russ George, an eccentric entrepreneur, attempted to create a massive artificial algal bloom in the Pacific off British Columbia, by dumping 100 tons of iron sulfate into the water. He wanted to improve salmon numbers and also sequester carbon in the ocean. According to George, the endeavor was a success – the following year saw a record salmon harvest – but instead of praise he faced the ire not just of the government but also of scientists and environmentalists, who leveled similar accusations against him as are now being leveled at Make Sunsets.
Two years before George’s experiment, as talk of the potential for geoengineering first began to grow, political scientist David Victor warned of “[a] lone Greenfinger, self-appointed protector of the planet and working with a small fraction of the Gates bank account, [who] could force a lot of geoengineering on his own.”
Now, it would appear, we have multiple Greenfingers, with the number likely to increase.
By Whose Consent?
The issue of informed consent is a live issue, given the events of the past three years. Once again, decisions of major import are being made on the public’s behalf without knowledge or approval. Although the immediate implications may seem less serious than our liberties being denied during the pandemic, the potential threat to our lives and livelihoods is arguably far worse if geoengineering is allowed to continue unabated. The retort that “nobody consented to your [i.e. our, Western] carbon emissions in the first place” is fatuous. We all obviously consent to that when we consume.
Whether Make Sunsets will face any negative effects for what they’ve done, beyond perhaps a few spooked investors, remains to be seen, but it’s unlikely. Although it was initially claimed that Russ George had broken international law, no action was ever taken against him. International law appears to be poorly equipped to deal with the behavior of “rogue actors” like George and now Make Sunsets. Hopefully, that might change.
The question, though, is if legal barriers would be enough to prevent eco-zealots from imitating Make Sunsets in the case that such simple technology – some weather balloons, a bit of sulfur dioxide – really could be used for distributed weather modification in the manner suggested. The hysterical conviction of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil protestors should not be doubted. Radical environmentalists will surely be paying close attention.
As the climate-change agenda deepens, and alarm grows – or is made to grow – the place of consent in any response diminishes. This is no accident. By framing the issue as one of inevitability, individual decision, and the established decision-making forms of our broader communities up to the level of the nation, suddenly no longer matter. As I noted recently, climate change is now being used as a justification for massively increased migration to the West, migration that would transform it beyond recognition.
In her new book, Nomad Century, WEF-approved author Gaia Vince claims that more or less the entire population of the Third World should be deliberately relocated to the West in advance of climate change making large swathes of the planet uninhabitable. This “planned and deliberate migration of a kind humanity has never before undertaken” would require the creation of new megacities across the Global North, the adoption of a global plant-based “sustainable” diet, and the dissolution of all existing forms of identity and political affiliation.
Even if Gaia Vince’s plan does not come to fruition, it’s clear that climate change will be a tool for intensifying social and political change across the West. Precedents for so-called “climate migration” have already been set in international law, and the West’s moral responsibility for causing climate change, and to atone for it, has already been accepted on the political stage, as witnessed by the response to proposals for “climate reparations” at the latest COP 27 conference.
Given the pace of change, and the determination of our leaders – and now captains of industry – to reshape the world with or without our consent, we need to find ways to make our voices heard, fast. We must realize that it makes no difference to withdraw consent retroactively, especially when what’s done cannot be undone.