Mexico presses for solar geoengineering, forcing startup to pause operations

Small startup Make Sunsets, which is trying to emit sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight to cool the Earth, said on Wednesday it will cease operations for now and review its approach after the Mexican government takes a drastic step into solar geoengineering. .

The idea of ​​releasing aerosols into the atmosphere to cool the Earth has been around since the 1960s, but until recently it was largely relegated to science fiction, as the urgency of climate change became more apparent. The White House is currently coordinating a five-year research plan to study the idea colloquially known as “solar geoengineering,” and the four-year UN-sponsored Montreal Protocol evaluation report includes a full chapter for the first time.

Luke Iseman, a serial inventor and former hardware director at Y Combinator, believed that all this research wasn’t fast enough. So he began tinkering with releasing sulfur dioxide particles into the atmosphere with balloons, raising venture capital to fund the venture, and bringing in co-founder Andrew Song to manage sales.

Make Sunsets planned to launch three latex weather balloons in January that would release 10 to 500 grams of sulfur dioxide. But many industry watchers criticized its plans for being hasty and lacking in complexity.

On Friday, the Mexican government released a statement announcing that it plans to “ban and, where appropriate, stop the practice of experimenting with solar geoengineering in the country.”

“Opposition to these climate manipulations is based on the fact that there is currently no international agreement that addresses or oversees solar geoengineering activities that are an economically advantageous way out for a minority and risky for the so-called amelioration of climate change. ”

The lack of an international governance structure surrounding global geoengineering has been a major concern for industry watchers regarding what Make Sunsets does.

In a mea culpa blog post published Wednesday, the initiative acknowledged that it has moved forward.

“We appreciate the Mexican government’s concern for protecting communities and the natural environment, and support calls for scientific expertise and oversight of climate response activities. “We also appreciate their concern for national and local engagement and regret that we didn’t take this into account earlier.”

Brayton Williams, co-founder of San Mateo-based venture capital firm BoostVC, who previously told CNBC that the firm has invested $500,000 in Make Sunsets, told CNBC that the venture is “definitely not closing”.

“When you work with super early stage startups, you get very used to roadblocks and opposition. We’re not sure we’ve seen success that didn’t have to overcome major hurdles early in the process,” Williams told CNBC.

Kelly Wanser, executive director of SilverLining, an organization that promotes research and governance of climate interventions, supports the Mexican government’s move.

“The Mexican government is right to stop irresponsible activities and emphasize the importance of scientific review and science-based governance for solar climate response,” Wanser said in a statement shared by a press officer. “Irresponsible activities and false claims are an example of why society needs publicly funded research, scientific assessments and expanded governance mechanisms like the Montreal Protocol to help ensure a safe climate.”

Both Wanser and Make Sunsets have stated that they support a comprehensive and detailed study of sunlight reflective technologies.

That’s because sunlight reflective technology is one of the fastest and least expensive options for lowering the earth’s temperature, and there’s already evidence that it works: The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines released thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. It temporarily lowers average global temperatures by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, according to the US Geological Survey.

But it is unknown whether the damage caused by sunlight reflective technology – possibly including damage to the ozone layer, increased respiratory disease and acid rain – will be worse than the future effects of global warming.

“We agree that there are no alternative technologies to replace the need to reduce emissions to fix climate change. “We’re also seeing the negative and unequal effects of climate change increasing, and we hope to encourage the world to consider whether technological interventions have the potential to help.”

Wanser echoed this sentiment. “Increasing the reflectance of sunlight from the atmosphere is the only way scientists have identified to significantly reduce global warming in the next few decades. Understanding the risks and benefits through research is critical for the world’s most climate-vulnerable people,” he said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.

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