MIT scientists propose space bubbles to reverse the worst of climate change

The proposed space bubbles could deflect some of the sun's rays.

The proposed space bubbles could deflect some of the sun’s rays.
Image: MIT Smart City

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology thinks we can mitigate the worst of climate change with… space bubbles. They sketched out a strategy in which a huge raft of bubblescarefully positioned between the Earth and the Sun, would deflect sunlight (and therefore heat) to further stop global warming.

“Geoengineering could be our last and only option. Yet most geoengineering proposals are earth-bound, which poses huge risks to our living ecosystem,” said one. Web page dedicated to bed solution. “If we deflect 1.8% of incident solar radiation before it reaches our planet, we could completely reverse current global warming.”

The bubble array would consist of inflatable shields of thin silicon or other suitable material, according to the team. The cluster of bubbles would be placed in space at a Point of Lagrange, where the gravitational forces of the Sun and Earth create a stable orbit. The researchers also said that if the plan becomes a reality in the future, the completed network would be roughly the size of Brazil.

They admitted that one of the main concerns of their proposal would be the logistics of making a big movie, transporting it into space, and then deploying it to form the bubble raft. They suggested making the spheres in outer space to minimize shipping costs.

A rendering of the bubble raft.

“[The] bubbles can be intentionally destroyed by breaking their surface balance, this would make the solar geoengineering solution fully reversible and significantly reduce space debris,” the MIT researchers wrote in a statement.

They also pointed out the difficulties of maintaining the integrity of the bubble shield. “The effective replenishment rate will be studied to ensure the shield maintains its size, along with strategies to ensure a smooth end-of-life transition.”

This is not the first space solution proposed to block the Sun in one way or another. In 2017, a study suggested a Earth-sized shield to prevent solar flares from disrupting our communication systems.

Image for article titled MIT scientists propose space bubbles to reverse the worst of climate change

Image: MIT Smart City

But why go to such extremes (which surely have unforeseen risks and consequences)? The MIT researchers have described the proposed space bubbles as something to complement other climate change mitigation efforts, but this is still a speculative plan and other solutions currently exist. If the political will, funding, and technology are available for these high-tech solutions, the same should be possible for much more reasonable solutions, such as stopping new oil and gas drilling projects.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have one discordant three-year time frame to reduce our emissions and stop the climate catastrophe. Our current fossil fuel infrastructure is enough to push us beyond that advantage, and we can prevent that by keeping oil in the ground and working to decarbonize our systems.

People in the United States are already suffering the consequences of years of emissions. Some of the largest water reservoirs in the Western coast and in the Southwest are drying up. Several states are experiencing a dangerous heatwave right now, and cities across the country are putting water restrictions in place due to widespread drought. We don’t exactly have time to tinker around in space, hope it works, and then keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

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