A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe that we can mitigate the worst of climate change with… space bubbles. They’ve outlined a strategy in which a huge raft of bubbles, carefully positioned between Earth and the Sun, would deflect sunlight (and thus heat) to stop further global warming.
“Geoengineering might be our final and only option. Yet, most geoengineering proposals are earth-bound, which poses tremendous risks to our living ecosystem,” a web page dedicated to the solution reads. “If we deflect 1.8% of incident solar radiation before it hits our planet, we could fully reverse today’s global warming.”
The bubble array would be made of inflatable shields of thin silicon or another suitable material, according to the team. The bubble cluster would be placed in outer space at a Lagrange Point, where the Sun’s and Earth’s gravitational pulls create a stable orbit. The researchers also said that if the plan becomes a reality in the future, the completed array would be roughly the size of Brazil.
They admitted that one of the main concerns with their proposal would be the logistics of fabricating a large film, transporting it into space, and then unfolding it to form the bubble raft. They suggested fabricating the spheres in outer space to minimise shipping costs.
“[The] bubbles can be intentionally destroyed by breaking their surface equilibrium, this would make the solar geoengineering solution fully reversible and significantly reduce space debris,” the MIT researchers wrote in a statement.
They also pointed to the difficulties of maintaining the integrity of the bubble shield. “Effective replenishment rate will be studied to ensure the shield maintains its size, together with strategies to guarantee a smooth end-of-life transition.”
This isn’t the first space-based solution proposed to block the Sun in some way. In 2017, a study suggested an Earth-sized shield to stop solar flares from messing with our communication systems and to also help detect extraterrestrial civilizations.
But why go to such extremes (which surely have unforeseen risks and consequences)? The MIT researchers described the proposed space bubbles as something to supplement other climate change mitigation efforts, but it is still a speculative plan, and other solutions currently exist. If the political will, funding, and technology is available for these high-tech solutions, the same should be possible for much more reasonable solutions, like putting a stop new oil and gas drilling projects.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have a a jarring three-year deadline to curb our emissions and stop climate disaster. Our current fossil fuel infrastructure is enough to push us over that edge, and we can prevent that by keeping the oil in the ground and working to decarbonize our systems.
People in the U.S. are already suffering the consequences of years of emissions. Some of the largest water reservoirs on the West Coast and in the Southwest are drying up. Several states are experiencing a dangerous heatwave right now, and cities all over the country are implementing water restrictions due to widespread drought. We don’t exactly have the time to tinker around in space, hope that it works, and then continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.