Painting your roof white can (maybe) reflect enough heat to save a year’s worth of emissions. So painting the clouds white should be able to reflect enough heat to stop global warming, right? At least, that’s the theory recently put forth by an eminent U.K. engineer who wants to “whiten clouds” to prevent Arctic ice loss.
Engineer Stephen Salter wants to build massive “cloud-whitening” towers in the Faroe Islands or on islands in the Bering Strait in order to keep Arctic temperatures from climbing.
In summer, seawater would be pumped up to the top using some kind of renewable energy, and out through the nozzles that are now being developed at Edinburgh University, which achieve incredibly fine droplet size.
In an idea first proposed by U.S. physicist John Latham, the fine droplets of seawater provide nuclei around which water vapor can condense.
This makes the average droplet size in the clouds smaller, meaning they appear whiter and reflect more of the Sun’s incoming energy back into space, cooling the Earth.
Salter says that about 100 of these huge human-made towers might be able to stop Arctic ice from disappearing.
If temperatures continue to climb as they are, the Arctic could be totally ice-free every September within the next few years. Regional ice melt would not only cause sea levels to rise, it could trigger a release of the crap-ton of methane currently trapped beneath the Arctic sea bed. And since methane is a greenhouse gas even more potent and scary than carbon dioxide, failing to prevent said sea ice melt might exacerbate global warming.
Constructing what look and act like giant inhalers for the earth may seem extreme, but it may very well be one of the more practical solutions if climate change continues unabated. If we don’t act to prevent global warming now (i.e. by actually curbing carbon emissions before the really serious damage is done), we’ll be left with no alternative but to geoengineer our way out of an epically disastrous situation.