“In my opinion it is morally wrong not to do this – and to do this as quickly and safely as possible,” he says.
But dedicated experts in the field believe such efforts are entirely premature and could have the opposite effect of what Iseman expects.
“The current state of the science is not good enough … to either reject or accept solar geoengineering, let alone implement it,” wrote Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, which calls for oversight of geoengineering and other climate action. Technologies change, be it by governments, international agreements or scientific bodies, in an email. “Proceeding with implementation at this stage is a very bad idea,” he added, comparing it to Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s decision to use CRISPR to edit embryo DNA while the scientific community is still deciding on the safety and Ethics of such a procedure debated step.
Shuchi Talati, a scholar-in-residence at American University who is founding a nonprofit focused on solar geoengineering governance and justice, says Make Sunset’s actions are setting back the scientific community, reducing funding, could dampen government support for trustworthy research and speed up calls to restrict studies.
The company’s behavior adds to long-held fears that a “rogue” actor with no particular knowledge of atmospheric science or technology could unilaterally decide to geoengineer the climate without any consensus on whether it’s okay to do so — or what’s appropriate global average temperature should be. That’s because it’s relatively cheap and technically easy to do, at least in a rough way.
David Victor, a political scientist at the University of California San Diego, warned of such a scenario more than a decade ago, noting that a “green-fingered, self-proclaimed protector of the planet … could self-impose a lot of geoengineering.” He invokes the classic Goldfinger character from a 1964 James Bond film, best remembered for murdering a woman by painting her gold.
Some observers were quick to draw parallels between Make Sunsets and a decades-old incident in which an American entrepreneur reportedly dumped hundreds of tons of ferrous sulfate into the ocean to create a plankton bloom that could help salmon populations and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Critics say it violated international restrictions on so-called iron fertilization, inspired in part by a growing number of commercial proposals to sell carbon credits for such work, and argue it subsequently stalled research efforts on the ground.
Pasztor and others emphasized that Make Sunset’s efforts underscore the urgent need to establish broad oversight and clear rules to guide responsible geoengineering research and determine whether, and under what conditions, there should be a social license to progress with experiments or beyond. As MIT Technology Review first reported, the Biden administration is developing a federal research plan to guide scientists’ approach to geoengineering studies.