Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. Stratospheric aerosols won’t actually reduce CO2 in the atmosphere or stop ocean acidification will it?

    Agreed. The ideal solution is that humans stop emitting so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, by reducing consumption and finding alternatives. This would not only tackle global warming but also other effects of climate change e.g. ocean acidification. That would make this form of geoengineering unnecessary. However it is not guaranteed that we can wean ourselves off carbon quickly enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change. This is one of the reasons for investigating the feasibility of a Plan B (or Z!); so that should we reach a point when quick action is needed, we have not left it too late to discover what will or will not work.

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  • Q. Are you playing God?

    If geoengineering were to be done for real, at a global scale then humans would be deliberately trying to engineer their planetary climate. There are arguments both for and against this. However our feasibility research will not involve doing any actual geoengineering and will not have long-lasting global impact on climate. The science in SPICE is being undertaken under the auspices of the Research Councils UK (RCUK) and with complete transparency. The project is following newly designed responsible innovation protocols which should more actively engage both the public and other stakeholders.

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  • Q. Isn’t this the beginning of a slippery slope? (the danger of technological lock-in)

    We acknowledge the danger of technological lock-in and understand that the project must be careful to be objective. It is not the intention of those working on the project to begin a process whereby other viable technologies are discounted. We are simply working hard to understand this particular technology (stratospheric aerosols) in order to inform decision-makers and stakeholders. Research is currently being undertaken around the world into many different types of geoengineering, just as is research into reducing emissions and alternative technologies. Lessons have been learnt from the past about keeping an open mind and not overcommitting to one emerging technology before adequate feasibility and ethical groundwork is in place. SPICE is attempting to inform this process.

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  • Q. Doesn’t this decrease the pressure on big consumers to reduce carbon/energy consumption and look for greener alternatives?

    There is a danger that unless the intentions of this research are communicated well enough that certain parties will use it as an excuse to not reduce emissions. We on the SPICE project however are fully committed to reducing emissions and finding alternative technologies. Geoengineering should be considered as a Plan Z (a last choice) should everything else fail and not a security blanket. There is no excuse for not reducing emissions. After all it is possible that this project will discover that this technique is not feasible (as may happen with other geoengineering research projects too), in which case we must have either reduced our emissions sufficiently or found a better alternative in time. It is in the interests of big industry and large economies to be ready when this time comes.

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  • Q. What about the ne-ne? i.e. what (if anything) have we learnt about the unintended impacts of human intervention in the past or cavalier attitudes to engineering our environment?

    Due to past misfortunes we are now highly aware of the dangers of human intervention in the environment (intentional or unintentional). That is why if we were to do geoengineering on a global scale; if there was no other choice apart from suffering from the catastrophic impacts from runaway global warming (which burden would probably mostly fall on those least responsible for it i.e. developing nations), we intend to be as fully informed as possible in advance of the likely effects.

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  • Q. What about the moral hazard?

    The moral hazard refers to projects like Stratospheric aerosols giving people a disincentive or “get-out-of-jail-free card” as regards reducing their GHG emissions and looking for alternative low-carbon technologies.Stratospheric aerosols will (if successful) only reduce global temperature rises and not tackle other unwanted effects of global climate change such as ocean acidification. It is not comprehensive solution to all the symptoms of human-induced climate change. If we want to prevent all the disastrous consequences of polluting our planet we must reduce emissions, not just temperatures. Stratospheric aerosols will (if successful) just buy time for policy-makers and decision-makers to get on with completing the difficult task of unilaterally reducing emissions, not eliminate the need for it.

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  • Q. What other types of geoengineering are there?

    There have been many ideas over the years including (to name but a few); ocean fertilisation, biochar and space mirrors, but generally speaking you can separate geoengineering techniques into two types:

    • SRM (Solar Radiation Management)
    • CDR (Carbon Dioxide Removal)

    Each types has its own potential drawbacks and apparent advantages. There is research continuing worldwide into many of these ideas and much discussion over how and whether each would work.

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  • Q. Is SPICE actually doing geoengineering?

    SPICE is NOT doing geoengineering. It is a feasibility study. We are doing research to find out if this one particular type of geoengineering would be technologically possible and what would happen if it actually took place. No particles are being released into the atmosphere as part of this project.

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  • Q. If there are many ways to get the particles into the Stratosphere, then why use tethered balloons?

    The engineers within SPICE have calculated the costs (to a first order) of the balloon system, which are contained within the following paper. Note that others have also tried this and, whilst there is substantial agreement on most technologies, one of the ones where estimates differ is tethered balloons. This makes research into this technique all the more necessary. The main advantage of tethered balloons is that only environmental costs of aircraft, for example, are considerable.

    • Davidson, P.; Burgoyne, C.; Hunt, H.; Causier, M. (2012). "Lifting options for stratospheric aerosol geoengineering: Advantages of tethered balloon systems". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 370 (1974): 4263. doi:10.1098/rsta.2011.0639
    • Justin McClellan, David W Keith, Jay Apt. (2012). Cost analysis of stratospheric albedo modification delivery systems. Environmental Research Letters, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/3/034019.

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  • Q. What would it actually look like if anyone built it for real?

    Below is an artist’s impression of what a stratospheric aerosol mechanism might look like at a small scale. If done for real the balloon would be bigger than any other balloon ever built and the pipe would reach over 20 km into the stratosphere. The particles themselves are so small that once dispersed they cannot be seen by the human eye and would circulate the globe hopefully helping to control excessive man-made global warming buying time for us to reduce our carbon useage and switch to greener technologies.


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