The unintended impact of shipping industry new regulation to decrease greenhouse gas emission and climate change.
In 2020, there are new rules to put a stopper to climate change which require the global shipping industry to reduce its sulfur emissions by changing to cleaner fuels or cleaning ships’ dirty exhausts which aims to improve air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Humans are currently cooling the planet by dispersing particles into the atmosphere at massive scale.”
However, the new regulations might have an unintended consequence on climate change:
Sulfur particles from shipping emissions temporarily brighten marine clouds. Brighter clouds deflect sunlight back into space – cooling temperatures on Earth. Most emissions generated by fossil fuels contain sulfur particles, and scientists reckon that their cooling effect could be equal to all the warming the planet has experienced to date. The new shipping regulations will remove some of that thin veil of protection, which will accidentally increase global warming.
Increasing “atmospheric reflectivity” offers a potential quick fix to global warming.
Analogically, the Earth is suffering from a low-grade fever and as that fever escalates, life on the planet will become unsustainable. In 2015, scientists studying ways to reduce climate change fever inferred that reflecting 1%–2% more sunlight from the atmosphere back into space could counteract some 2°C [3.6°F] of global warming.
The researchers toyed with the idea of launching mirrors into Earth’s orbit or placing plastic sheeting at the poles to reflect light but found those approaches to be unviable.
Rather, the most feasible method would be to increase atmospheric reflectivity. Numerous teams around the world are experimenting with projects in this area, but all lack sufficient funding. Maybe they should reach out to Bill Gates.
Marine cloud brightening could provide temporary “emergency medicine for our climate fever.”
“In the next few decades, Earth’s fever is on a path to devastation: extreme heat and fires, major loss of ocean life, collapse of Arctic ice, displacement and suffering for hundreds of millions of people.”
“The Earth is a vast complex system, and we need major investments in climate models, observations and basic science to be able to predict climate much better than we can today and manage both our accidental and any intentional interventions.”
Marine cloud brightening could act as a temporary Band-Aid to Earth’s rising temperatures, buying scientists time to address climate change’s underlying factors. Various marine cloud brightening studies are experimenting with spraying salt-water mist or sulfate compounds into the atmosphere to brighten clouds and reflect the sun’s rays back into space.
Theoretically, marine cloud brightening replicates a natural phenomenon: volcanic eruptions. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, the reflective sulfate particles that the volcano emitted cooled the Earth by 0.5°C for the consequent two years.
However, the mere act of exploring such solutions could dampen the will to reduce emissions, and pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere could give rise to unintended consequences, such as damaging the ozone layer. But with judicious use, marine cloud brightening could provisionally lower Earth’s surface temperatures by as much as 2°C. Without any such intervention, the globe could experience temperature increases of more than 3°C.
Two small-scale experiments, one at Harvard and another at the University of Washington, are exploring the viability of marine cloud brightening. But even if those experiments are effective, it may take a decade of research before their solutions can be deployed.
Humanity can overcome climate change, even if it must reflect light for a few decades to get permanent solutions in place.
To stave off unprecedented devastation, the planet desperately needs a cure for its rising temperatures. According to the UN International Panel on Climate Change, the world must reverse emissions by 2050, which requires immediately disrupting entire industries and drawing down masses of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Practical solutions aren’t yet underway and require many years of research and testing – time the Earth can’t afford to lose.
Happily, the world has a precedent of urgently solving such existential threats. In the 1980s, all the world’s governments signed the Montreal Protocol, a binding agreement that banned the use of chemicals that were eroding the ozone layer. Humanity can achieve a similar feat in the face of climate change, even if the planet must reflect light for a few decades until a permanent fix is in place.
Hopefully, humanity can find a solution to the global climate issue soon. If not, we might end up putting up mirrors in the sky to reflect light back into space. If that doesn’t work, maybe we end up being the fat guys on a space ship while little robot Wall-E the Earth.