RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump signed an executive order this week that aims to roll back former President Obama's climate policies. A lot of people are going to watch how this plays out, chief among them scientists who are working on climate engineering techniques. These are initiatives that have been underway for awhile. They attempt to artificially cool down the planet, potentially avoiding the worst consequences of global warming.
These experiments, though, are controversial. Here's NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Imagine spraying something up into the stratosphere to reflect incoming sunlight and cool the entire Earth. Sound a little wacky, maybe dangerous? Well, as our planet heats up, some say it's a bad idea whose time has come. Serious research groups want to conduct small low-risk studies on climate engineering. Ted Parson is an expert on environmental law at UCLA.
TED PARSON: The research that is being proposed is tiny and completely innocuous. One of the groups that's interested in doing this wants to spray sea salt up into the air to see what happens to the transmission of sunlight.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: This kind of approach is starting to seem downright respectable. Even the prestigious National Academy of Sciences recently called for more research. And Parson says a year ago, some folks were really hoping the U.S. government would start to fund it and take a leadership role, but oh how quickly things change. Now if the government offered money for a big research program...
PARSON: I would say no thank you.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Parson says the context in which this research is done really matters. Many environmentalists are suspicious of efforts to deliberately tinker with the climate. They think just talking about the possibility of cooling the planet will threaten the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So the last thing he would want is for this to be associated with the Trump administration.
PARSON: To the extent you're in a political setting where misinformation about climate change is being spread, efforts to cut emissions are being undermined or threatened, then that suggests the possibility that the risks of pursuing research of this kind might actually outweigh the benefits.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: So those who think it's important to start pursuing this work are turning to private groups and philanthropists. Over a hundred people gathered in Washington, D.C., a few days ago to talk about how climate engineering research could go forward.
TED HALSTEAD: It's with great reluctance that a lot of us are here.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Ted Halstead is with a think tank called the Climate Leadership Council.
HALSTEAD: Look. We live in a world where we're heading towards four degrees of warming.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He said climate engineering has got to be on the table. David Keith is a scientist at Harvard University who's planning to use a balloon to test putting particles in the stratosphere as early as next year.
DAVID KEITH: We are, you know, horrified by the idea that there might be some huge backlash. And so the questions of how to avoid that are top of our mind.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He used to want public funding, in part to inspire trust. But for now, he's happy to stick to private money. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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