Climate scientists, environmental activists and philanthropists met privately last month to prepare for an expected surge of Silicon Valley funding related to last-ditch measures for slowing global warming.

The two-day gathering on solar geoengineering — or efforts to increase the reflectivity of the planet through spraying particles into the stratosphere or altering cloud cover — shows how the notion of limiting sunlight absorbed by the earth has moved from taboo to plausible in part by gaining the acceptance of tech industry billionaires.

The meeting at the San Francisco offices of the Environmental Defense Fund, which has publicly supported research into geoengineering since 2011, was held to help set best practices for a coming wave of philanthropic-funded studies into the concept, also known as solar radiation management. The meeting has not previously been reported…

…The EDF-hosted meeting followed the world’s hottest year on record, and as extreme wildfires, droughts and storms make the effects of climate change increasingly visible. It also came after the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021, both of which are making unprecedented public investments in projects intended to reduce the nation’s reliance on planet-warming fossil fuels.

The growing urgency of the climate problem, coupled with those legislative wins, are why there could be a new opening for environmental groups to engage more seriously on geoengineering, according to a former EDF official.

“We’re doing a lot on clean energy, renewables, efficiency, low-carbon steel and so on,” said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School who worked at the environmental group until 2016, when he left to help found Harvard University’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program. “Despite all of that … the need to consider solar engineering isn’t going away.”

Since Harvard began researching solar geoengineering, several other universities around the globe have launched similar programs. They include the University of Chicago, the University of WashingtonCornell University, Switzerland’s ETH Zürich and the Beijing Normal University in China.

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Areas of Focus: Climate Change
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Climate change is an urgent global challenge. EPIC research is helping to assess its impacts, quantify its costs, and identify an efficient set of policies to reduce emissions and adapt...
Climate Science
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EPIC’s interdisciplinary team of researchers is contributing to a cross-cutting body of knowledge on the scientific causes of climate change and its social consequences.