Change is always most effective and least damaging as a gradual process. Take the environment for example. Rapid, unexpected changes in the climate can cause the endangerment and extinction of unprepared, vulnerable species of organisms. Life on Earth has been honed for billions of years via the process of evolution and has adapted to very specific conditions. Change those conditions suddenly and all hell breaks loose. The effects of the current global climate change are certainly harmful and must be addressed, but some of the remedies may only add to the problem. One of these so called solutions is the concept of artificially infusing the stratosphere with sulfate particles. 

sulfate.jpgThe theory behind this idea is clever and promising – unfortunately the reality doesn’t quite add up. The stratosphere has a natural amount of sulfate particles that deflect the sun’s energy back and away from the earth, countering the effects of carbon dioxide excess which is known for trapping heat within the earth’s atmosphere. Infusing additional sulfate particles into the stratosphere would theoretically result in more deflection of the sun’s energy away from the Earth. However, the concept has been tested through various scientific models and has proven more harmful than beneficial. University of Washington doctoral student, Kelly McCusker, has shown that the injection of sulfate particles will never be able to counter all of the effects of carbon dioxide emissions. A surplus of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a wide variety of negative effects on the environment. Trapping the sun’s energy inside the atmosphere is only one of them. Carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere also leads to ocean acidification which in turn causes coral death along with many more biological issues, none of which will be solved simply by the addition of sulfate particles to the atmospheric composition.

Another problem also arises with the sulfate injection plan. The sudden addition of these particles into the atmosphere could result in rapid climate changes that many vulnerable, slowly-adapting organisms would not be able to survive. This could facilitate endangerment of species and extinction rather than prevent it. On the subject, McCusker said during her research, “There is no way to keep the climate the way it is now. Later this century, you would not be able to recreate present-day Earth just by adding sulfate aerosols to the atmosphere,”

Solving any scientific problem usually begins with a theoretical solution. However, this is just not the most efficient one. While searching for other ways to counteract the increase in carbon dioxide, the surest way to slow climate change is to limit our own carbon dioxide output for a more sustainable future.