The decade's most triggering comedy
A startup run by an environmentalist likened to a Bond villain is intentionally polluting the skies with sulfur in a dubious bid to block sunlight and ease global warming, according to a top scientific journal.
Make Sunsets, which was founded by a California man named Luke Iseman, is launching weather balloons that release sulfur into the stratosphere in an effort to reflect more sunlight back into space, according to MIT Technology Review. But critics say the science behind Iseman’s scheme, which he calls geoengineering activism, is flawed and could backfire.
“We joke slash not joke that this is partly a company and partly a cult,” Iseman, who previously founded a now-defunct company called Boxouse that made homes out of shipping containers, told the journal.
Critics fear the endeavor could have unpredictable consequences, and could possibly cause major upheaval and even “geopolitical conflicts” in affected regions. The company is launching the balloons from Mexico, where the publication reported it can evade serious scientific oversight. Make Sunsets is trying to monetize the operation by selling “cooling credits,” according to the report.
Start-up @MakeSunsets releasing reflective sulphur particles into the atmosphere to cool the Earth.
Selling 'Cooling Credits' for $10 each, advertised as 'offsetting the warming from 1 ton of CO2 for a year year'. 1/https://t.co/FdG9EbFiBu
— Steve Milloy (@JunkScience) December 27, 2022
Iseman said he expects to be condemned and that “making me look like the Bond villain is going to be helpful to certain groups.” But he claimed such radical intervention is needed to confront the threat of global warming.
“It’s morally wrong, in my opinion, for us not to be doing this [and] to do this as quickly and safely as we can,” he said.
Scientists told the publication Iseman doesn’t know what he’s doing, with one likening his effort to a Chinese scientist’s decision to use CRISPR to edit embryonic DNA even as the ethics of such a step were being debated.
“The current state of science is not good enough … to either reject, or to accept, let alone implement” solar geoengineering, Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, told MIT Technology Review. “To go ahead with implementation at this stage is a very bad idea.”
Iseman’s radical scheme may have been foreshadowed by David Victor, an international relations expert at the University of California, San Diego, who warned in a 2018 Wired article that a rogue actor might try to geoengineer the climate.
“A lone Greenfinger, self-appointed protector of the planet and working with a small fraction of the [Bill] Gates bank account, could force a lot of geoengineering on his own,” Victor said, referring to the villain in the 1964 James Bond movie “Goldfinger.”
Iseman said his first two balloon launches occurred somewhere in the Mexican region of Baja California. He admitted he has no idea what happened to them or what effect they may have had because the balloons carried no monitoring equipment.
“This was firmly in science project territory,” he said, adding: “Basically, it was to confirm that I could do it.”
He said Make Sunsets intends to increase the sulfur payloads, add monitoring equipment, and publish data for future launches. The effort could be funded by the sale of $10 “cooling credits” for each gram of particles released into the stratosphere. He claims each gram can offset a ton of carbon.
Kelly Wanser, executive director of SilverLining, a nonprofit that supports research efforts on climate risks and potential interventions, said buying credits from Iseman would be a foolish investment.
“From a business perspective, reflective cooling effects and risks cannot currently be quantified in any meaningful way, making the offering a speculative form of ‘junk credit’ that is unlikely to have value to climate credit markets,” Wanser told MIT Technology Review.