Close

Your request has been taken into account.

An email has just been sent to you with a link to download the resource :)

Home
Greenlyhttps://images.prismic.io/greenly/43d30a11-8d8a-4079-b197-b988548fad45_Logo+Greenly+x3.pngGreenly, la plateforme tout-en-un dédiée à toutes les entreprises désireuses de mesurer, piloter et réduire leurs émissions de CO2.
GreenlyGreenly, la plateforme tout-en-un dédiée à toutes les entreprises désireuses de mesurer, piloter et réduire leurs émissions de CO2.
Descending4
Home
1
Blog
2
Category
3
Could We Really Reflect Sunlight Back Into Space?
4
Blog...Could We Really Reflect Sunlight Back Into Space?

Could We Really Reflect Sunlight Back Into Space?

Green News
Technology
sunlight in wheat field
In this article, we’ll explain what reflecting sunlight back into space means, how it could be done, the pros and cons, and if reflecting sunlight back into space is worth the effort.
Green News
2024-05-02T00:00:00.000Z
en-gb
sunlight in wheat field

As excess consumerism, travel, and the use of fossil fuels continues – the human species continues to do irreparable damage to the planet, which has encouraged scientists to find new ways to combat the negative effects of climate change – such as by reflecting sunlight back into space.

Reflecting sunlight back into space, otherwise known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM) or Solar Geoengineering, could possibly allow humans to mitigate the worst of the effects of climate change – but is it actually possible?

In this article, we’ll explain what reflecting sunlight back into space means, how it could be done, the pros and cons, and if reflecting sunlight back into space is worth the effort.

What does it mean to reflect sunlight back into space?

Reflecting sunlight back into space refers to the process of redirecting solar radiation by using an object or surface to bounce the light back towards outer space. Essentially, think of the reverse example for this – which is when people use mirrors to direct sunlight back towards the Earth to start a fire in the wilderness.

In the opposite sense of directing light towards the Earth with a mirror to start a fire, redirecting sunlight back towards space won’t be absorbed or transformed into heat – providing others with the notion that reflecting sunlight back into space can help to decrease global surface temperatures.
Close
how to cool the planet

The process of redirecting sunlight back into space is more commonly known as Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) or Solar Geoengineering. Both of these processes involve using various objects or surfaces to deflect sunlight to increase the planet's albedo effect.

Reflecting sunlight back towards space is a new concept as the planet continues to warm, especially as the planet continues to achieve record-breaking temperatures. However, the Earth it is important to note that the Earth is able to naturally reflect some sunlight back towards space – such as through clouds or reflective surfaces like ice, water, and snow. 

👉 As climate change persists, many people are starting to view reflecting sunlight as a mechanism to mitigate the effects of global warming – as it could possibly reduce the amount of solar energy the Earth absorbs.

sunlight in sunflower field

How can we reflect sunlight back into space?

There are several ways in which we can reflect sunlight back into space, such as with man-made cooling glass, stratospheric aerosol injection, or various reflector devices strategically situated in either the desert or outer space itself. 

💡 However, it is important to note that there are natural ways for the Earth to reflect sunlight back into space on its own – such as with various airborne particles, thick clouds, and reflective surfaces such as ice and snow.

Think of when you have a headache or a small cut. Naturally, your body will eventually find a way to heal itself – but taking medication could enhance or speed up the healing process. The same concept goes for humans finding artificial ways to reflect sunlight back into space.

Here are some of the ways we could optimise the Earth’s efforts to reflect sunlight back into space:

  • Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Known as one of the most popular methods for reflecting sunlight back into the Earth, this method to reflect sunlight back into space primarily works by mimicking the patterns of volcanoes and the cooling process which occurs after an eruption. Humans can replicate this process artificially by injecting sulfur dioxide (SO2) into our stratosphere to inject these same particles usually produced by volcanic eruptions to deflect sunlight. 
  • Marine Cloud Brightening – This method of deflecting sunlight away from the Earth involves placing small particulate matter on marine clouds, or clouds situated over the ocean, in order to enhance their ability to reflect sunlight back towards space. This method of reflecting sunlight back towards space is more natural than stratospheric aerosol injection, as it merely magnifies the natural ability clouds have to reflect sunlight back towards space.
  • Surface Albedo Modification This method of reflecting sunlight back towards outer space involves modifying land areas to incorporate the use of materials conducive to cultivating a higher albedo affect – such as by renovating buildings or adjusting infrastructure to adhere to more favorable circumstances for reflecting sunlight back towards outer space. An example of this could include painting roofs white, much like the houses in Greece are painted white to help reflect sunlight away from the homes and keep them cool during the summer. 
  • Various Reflectors – Giant reflectors could also help to reflect sunlight back towards outer space. This could include placing reflective surfaces in Space to help redirect sunlight from the planet, or even placing reflective materials in extremely sunny places such as desert areas to prevent the Earth from absorbing this sunlight. In fact, these reflective surfaces could include solar panels – which would mean not only deflecting sunlight away from the Earth, but also increasing the production of renewable energy.

👉 These various processes to reflect sunlight back into space have grown to be highly controversial, but proceeding with some of these tactics to reflect sunlight away from the Earth could prove beneficial in the interim in the midst of climate change.

puffy clouds in sky

How much sunlight is reflected back into space without human interference?

Even without human interference, nearly 30% of sunlight is reflected back into space – which means that around 70% of incoming solar radiation is absorbed by our atmosphere and continues to contribute to rising surface temperatures around the globe.

The issue with vast amounts of sunlight isn’t necessarily that the Earth can’t reflect sunlight on its own, but more so with the increased amount of heat the Earth is being forced to absorb.

In other words, if human activities weren’t contributing to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are now – the Earth wouldn’t be as overwhelmed to absorb 70% of the sunlight reflected towards the planet. It isn’t that the Earth wants to or should avoid the sun entirely, but more so that the planet is exacerbated by the increase in carbon intensive activities. 

💡 Remember, even though the sun can prove harmful to the planet, or ecosystems, our skin health, and more – we still rely on the sun for several things. This is why it would be unwise to genetically engineer ways to redirect the vast majority of sunlight back towards space. 

Here just a few of the reasons why we still need sunlight, even in the midst of global warming and rising surface temperatures: 

  • Sunlight drives climate and weather patterns, such as helping to promote evaporation and allowing the formation of clouds and precipitation;
  • Sunlight aids in photosynthesis, which is the process of plants using sunlight to convert into energy – and seeing as plants are the basis for many forms of life on Earth, this makes sunlight essential for all creatures’ survival;
  • Studies have shown that being exposed to increased amounts of sunlight in the winter can help to combat mental health issues such as depression.

👉 A major reason why reflecting sunlight away from the Earth is controversial is because genetically modifying these natural cycles of sunlight could create long-lasting negative effects on our ecosystems and future generations.

sunlight on walkway

What are the pros and cons of reflecting sunlight back into space?

There is an ongoing debate on whether or not we should reflect sunlight back into space, seeing as many scientists and researchers argue that reflecting sunlight away from the Earth could prove more detrimental in the long-term – even if the short term benefits are plausible. 

The reason why some argue for reflecting sunlight and others against is a direct representation of the divide between those looking for short-term solutions against climate change and those who are concerned how our actions today could impact us and climate change in the future.

The potential benefits of Solar Radiation Modification could include:

  • Temporarily reducing global surface temperatures and lessen the likelihood of intense heat waves;
  • Prevent the severity of natural disasters caused by the Earth absorbing large amounts of sunlight, such as hurricanes and tornadoes
  • Deterring extreme weather patterns such as storms and flooding
  • Refraining the globe from exceeding the 1.5 ºC limit as depicted in the Paris Agreement

However, there are also several cons to reflecting sunlight back into space, such as 

  • Stratospheric aerosol injection could impact surrounding ecosystems;
  • Potential sporadic and irreversible effects on the weather, natural disasters, and overall climate 
  • Loss of biodiversity, which is pivotal to helping fight against climate change;
  • Compromising food security, as reflecting sunlight would increase the salt content found on land, and not help to hydrate the soil or subsequent crops;
  • Leaving future generations with irrevocable long-term effects and decisions to be made that could prove difficult and even increase political tensions.

👉 Ultimately, the pros of reflecting sunlight back to space would be short-term, but the cons of reflecting light back into space would be long-term – making the whole concept risky for the future in all aspects.

sun setting over a mountain

Should we reflect sunlight back into space?

One of the main issues with the debate on whether to reflect sunlight back into space or not is that it continues to allow humans to believe we can compensate for our excessive activities, when in reality – we need to get to the root of the issue and make our daily lives more sustainable to emit less greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions.

💡 The truth is, as a human species – we are not yet able to outsmart mother nature and predict the ways in which reflecting sunlight back to outer space will affect us in the long-term. 

Even as the Biden administration continues to invest in mechanisms such as cloud brightening, we simply haven’t achieved the mental capacity to prepare for the worst case scenario in the event Solar Radiation Modification is to go awry. 

“You could well be changing climatic patterns, not just over the sea, but over land as well… this is a scary vision of the future that we should try and avoid at all costs.” – Senior scientist, David Santillo, from Greenpeace International.

Therefore, it is pivotal that as a society and planet – we find ways to reduce our environmental impact directly as opposed to trying to reverse the damage we’ve already done.

There are several other ways to prevent the Earth from absorbing too much sunlight besides resorting to the use of genetically modified mechanisms to deflect sunlight, such as:

All in all, we can absolutely reflect sunlight back into space – and if more research and money is invested into Solar Radiation Modification, reflecting sunlight back into space will only become more of a reality. 

However, it is also important for us to remember that reflecting sunlight back into space shouldn’t be our primary way of fighting against climate change.

What About Greenly?

If reading this article about how we could reflect sunlight back into space has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. We offer a free demo for you to better understand our platform and all that it has to offer – including assistance with boosting supplier engagement, personalised assistance, and new ways to involve your employees.

Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint.

More articles

View all
phone with back removed revealing lithium-ion battery
By
Kara Anderson

The Harmful Effects of our Lithium Batteries

In this article we’ll explore why lithium batteries come with their own heavy environmental cost, and why they’re not necessarily the environmentally friendly alternative we’ve been led to believe.

Green News
Technology
image of the world as seen from outer space
By
Kara Anderson

2024 Elections: Shaping the Global Future

In this article we’ll explore the most crucial elections of 2024, examining what their outcomes could mean for the environment.

Green News
Policy