Some academics worry research into solar geoengineering will normalise a risky and little understood technology. But advocates say any tool that can mitigate climate change deserves more investigation
The year is 2025. A heatwave like no other has swept over northern India, pushing temperatures into the 40s and raising humidity to such stifling levels that humans cannot sweat enough to cool down.
Too poor for air conditioning, people desperately jump into lakes to escape the heat, but for most, it is no use. Around 20 million people die. In a matter of weeks, climate change has killed more than the First World War.
This is the notoriously harrowing opening to The Ministry for the Future, a 2020 novel by the American sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson which imagines the fraught choices mankind faces as it struggles with a warming planet.
But the book is not merely a chronicle of disaster, but of controversial solutions too.
India, willing to try anything to avoid another deadly heatwave, sends a fleet of planes to spray the atmosphere with sulphur dioxide to block some of the sun’s rays, replicating the cooling effect of an erupting volcano.
Delhi takes such unilateral action despite a United Nations ban on solar geoengineering. It risks international condemnation as the sulphur particles waft into the skies of other countries.