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Geoengineering: The balloon dream in Sweden initially burst

Harvard researchers will initially suspend experiments with a geoengineering balloon, which were actually planned over Sweden in the summer. An independent committee advising the scientists had recommended this so that public opinion on the project can be obtained.

The team planned to launch the balloon to test the equipment for the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx), which is planned in the stratosphere. The purpose of this first flight was merely to check the systems of the powered geoengineering balloon. In the subsequent launches, the researchers hope to release small amounts of special particles in order to better understand the risks and potential of what is known as solar geoengineering. It is by no means an uncontroversial concept to spray sulphates, calcium carbonate or other compounds over the earth in order to scatter sunlight and mitigate global warming. These would be the first geoengineering experiments carried out in the stratosphere.

However, the independent advisory body has now decided that researchers should wait, even with the first device tests, until discussions have been held with members of the public in Sweden. David Keith, a Harvard climate researcher and member of the research team, said the recommendations would be followed. The decision will likely postpone the start to 2022, further delaying a project that was originally supposed to start in 2018. The researchers opted for the Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, as the launch site, also because the Swedish Space Corporation wanted to make a launch possible this year. There you see things differently, however: In a separate statement it says that, following recent discussions with geoengineering experts, the advisory board and other stakeholders, the decision was made not to operate the flights.

Harvard University set up its Advisory Board in 2019 to review the proposed experiments and ensure researchers are taking reasonable steps to limit risks. They also wanted to seek external input and work as transparently as possible. In a statement, the advisory body said it had started working with civic engagement specialists in Sweden and looking for organizations to hold public talks. “Such a commitment would [uns] help to understand the Swedish as well as the indigenous perspective and to make an informed recommendation about the device test flights “, so the facility perform public control of geoscientific work “.


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Frank Keutsch, lead researcher on the project, said in a statement that the team “fully” supports the decision to suspend device test flights in Sweden until the committee can make a final recommendation on those flights, “based on robust public participation based in Sweden, which largely includes the indigenous population “. His research team intends to follow this process of public participation closely “in order to lead the experiment into the future”. In the past few weeks, several environmental groups and geoengineering critics had urged the Swedish government and the management of the Swedish Space Corporation to stop the project.

Solar geoengineering is “a technology with the potential of extreme consequences and can be described as dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable,” said a letter from Greenpeace Sweden, Biofuelwatch and other organizations. “There is no justification for testing and experimenting with a technique that appears to be too dangerous to ever be used.”

In February, the Harvard researchers commented on what they wanted to learn from their experiments. At the time, Keutsch said that he hoped that the technology would actually never have to be used. It is a very scary concept where something can go wrong. “But at the same time, I think a better understanding of the risks is very important,” he added. Only through direct research can one find out whether there is any type of material that can significantly reduce the risks of climate change. “We should know that.”


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