Since the 1990s, the spraying of chemicals into the Earth’s atmosphere has been shrouded in suspicion. Various conspiracy theories have arisen around these strange trails of mist from suspicious-looking aircraft high above. What are these things?
Some of these streaks in the sky are solar radiation management (SRM) chemicals released by government warplanes. According to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) these chemicals are necessary to mitigate global warming because they reflect solar radiation back into space.
The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report “warns” governments not to stop spraying these chemicals. “If SRM were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly to values consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing.”
Meanwhile countries in Southeast Asia routinely use cloud-seeding chemicals to fight drought or to increase rainfall to help farmers. SRM chemicals, however, have a negative side effect: They slow down the atmosphere’s hydrological cycle, meaning they cause less rain to fall.
According to the IPCC, the Earth’s climate is dominated by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is termed the anthropogenic global-warming theory. In brief, the theory claims that increased atmospheric CO2, a greenhouse gas, causes more water to evaporate, which creates a more powerful greenhouse gas. These gases then increase the greenhouse effect, trapping more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, a process known as amplification. But this increased water vapour is less likely to turn into low-altitude clouds cooling the planet, a process known as dampening.
For decades mainstream global-warming researchers have been locked in a debate with sceptical scientists over the degree of amplification versus dampening. So one would assume that SRMs can reflect radiation back into space, causing cooling, but they can also decrease dampening.
Meanwhile the sun is involved in this complex climate mix as well. Solar activity has been decreasing. Our sun does not maintain a constant intensity. Instead, it cycles in spans of approximately 11 years that range between almost no sunspots to a high number of sunspots.
When there are more sunspots, the sun is brighter. When there are fewer, the sun radiates less heat towards the Earth. But that’s not the only cooling effect of a solar minimum.
A dim sun does not deflect cosmic rays from hitting the Earth as efficiently as a bright sun. When these rays enter our atmosphere, they seed clouds, which in turn cools the Earth even more and increases precipitation in the form of rain, snow and hail.
The sun’s current cycle has been the weakest since the early 1800s. There are fewer sunspots and the sunspots are less intense, resulting in overall low solar activity. Solar physicists have now concluded that, by 2030, the sun will begin a Grand Solar Minimum lasting for at least three decades before it finally recovers to healthy solar maximums.
What “side” a particular nation takes in this chemical battle on the climate seems determined by what crops drive its agricultural sector, with larger nations taking both sides (as with Nato’s “war on terror” in Syria).
The United States and Europe comprise the driving force behind the IPCC, and the panel mostly relies on data from US agencies. In these countries the dominant crops are the all-important wheat and corn. Wheat is particularly vulnerable to the long, wet, cold winters that have historically accompanied solar minimums, but it can also be devastated by hot droughts.
These solar minimums dominated the so-called mini-ice age of the Middle Ages, along with increased volcanic activity. Crop production was not good. Although a warm El Nino has rescued the current winter, the winter of 2014-15 was particularly brutal, with snow records broken all over the world. Snowfall was sometimes 20 times above the norm, forcing some farmers last spring to plant in the snow.
Next year will see the advent of the colder La Nina, and Britain’s Met Office has warned of bitter cold winters while also predicting that global warming will resume from its current hiatus. Scientists have found that low solar activity is associated with the blocking of winter jet streams and was responsible for the jet stream polar-vortex dips that created the harsh winter of 2014-15. This would seem to indicate that SRMs might backfire.
Like all other aspects of climate science, debate over the use of chemicals to control the climate is growing. Critics of SRMs suggest that the nano-particulates strontium, barium and aluminium could have adverse health effects, such as an increase in neurological disorders. They also point out that these metals can harm wildlife.
David DuByne is an exporter of agricultural commodities from Myanmar and became interested in climate science when he noticed new coffee plantings in the Shan Mountains were suffering a 12-per-cent loss due to cold.
“I grew up being told CO2 equalled global warming, so I simply started to research why it’s been getting colder across the mountains of Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – places you think of as tropical. With what I learned about the cycles of solar hibernation and Grand Solar Minimums and the resulting mini-ice ages, I started the YouTube channel Adapt 2030.”
DuByne questions the use of SRMs and is sceptical about the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) claims of continuing warming. Like other climate sceptics, he points out that the official charts released by the NOAA and Nasa’s Goddard Institute have changed over time and are constructed using adjusted and even modelled data.
On his YouTube channel he points out that satellites show no warming or even slight cooling, and neither do rural temperature stations. In short, he believes that global cooling is the problem, not global warming; and that it will greatly reduce food production over the next few decades. But, not unlike peace activists protesting the bombing of Iraq and Syria, people like DuByne are powerless to stop the bombers that buzz overhead.
In the short term it appears the war birds will continue flying and even intensify their campaign to degrade and destroy global warming. But, if longer, harsher winters continue in the near future as expected, public pressure could increase on governments to cool it on the SRM cooling operations.