Mexico bans solar geoengineering experiments after startup field tests

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Mexico says it will ban experiments with solar geoengineering, a strategy that claims to reverse global warming by reflecting sunlight, but is still fraught with concerns about other potential consequences that could come from changing temperatures the Earth’s atmosphere. The move follows controversial attempts by a geoengineering startup to place reflective particles in the stratosphere.

The company, called Make Sunsets, conducted the field tests without prior notice or permission from the Mexican government, per the ban announced late last week by the country’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources. The ban is intended to protect communities and the environment in the absence of international agreements regulating these kinds of experiments that could have impacts on a planetary scale, the announcement said.

Iseman says he launched two balloons in Baja California last year, each containing less than 10 grams of sulfur dioxide. That’s a small amount of the compound that’s typically released into the air in much larger amounts by fossil fuel power plants and volcanoes — so the release probably hasn’t had much of an impact. The test flights were so small that Make Sunsets says it just bought sulfur and weather balloons on Amazon. And the startup hasn’t tracked the balloons, so it doesn’t know if they even got high enough to carry the sulfur dioxide to its intended destination.

Future launches are “on hold indefinitely”

Following the announcement from Mexico, future launches are “on indefinite hold,” Luke Iseman, co-founder and CEO of Make Sunsets, tells SELF. The edge. Iseman says the only reason Make Sunsets released the balloons in Mexico is because he lived there at the time. Looking ahead, Iseman says the startup is “extremely excited to partner with island nations whose survival is threatened by climate change.” The company is interested in working with governments, he says, though no such agreements exist yet.

Founded in October 2022, Make Sunsets began with the grandiose vision of releasing enough sulfur dioxide annually to offset global warming for all of the world’s CO2 emissions. It already sells “refrigeration credits” for the service at $10 per gram of sulfur dioxide — though it has no measurable impact yet and can’t guarantee that releasing sulfur dioxide on a larger scale won’t cause unintended problems.

Scientists are trying to understand all the possible consequences that solar geoengineering could have – both beneficial and detrimental

“The current state of the science is not good enough … to reject or accept solar geoengineering, let alone implement it,” executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative Janos Pasztor told MIT technology Review.

There is a quasi de facto moratorium on large-scale geoengineering that emerged from a 2010 United Nations biodiversity conference, but it precludes small-scale scientific research and other provisions are still vague. Mexico pointed to that moratorium in its announcement, saying it plans to end large-scale geoengineering on its territory.

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