Most scientists have concluded that to stabilize global temperatures, humanity must replace the energy foundation of industrial modernity to stabilize global temperatures.
This requires the construction of extensive wind and solar farms, the implementation of high-voltage transmission lines, and the substitution of internal combustion engines with batteries. It also requires the decarbonization of heavy industry, the expansion of mass transit, and the promotion of housing density.
Alternatively, we could simply apply 139 billion gallons of highly reflective white paint to approximately 2 percent of the Earth’s surface.
Xiulin Ruan’s Breakthrough Research
Recently, Xiulin Ruan’s remarkable achievements in pigmentation engineering were highlighted in a New York Times article.
Ruan, a researcher at Purdue University, has dedicated years to developing an exceptionally reflective white paint that can redirect up to 95 percent of the sun’s rays back into space. Ruan’s team has now created a shade of paint that reflects an astounding 98 percent of sunlight.
If a building were coated in this 98% reflective white paint, its surface temperature would be reduced by 8 degrees during the day and 19 degrees at night. Consequently, the building would need up to 40 percent less air conditioning to maintain the desired internal temperature.
Beyond the local impacts, the potential global implications of this paint are even more remarkable. It reflects so much light and heat that, according to calculations, it could offset the effects of ongoing carbon emissions if applied to 1 to 2 percent of the Earth’s entire surface area.
Ruan’s invention is likely to reignite old debates about geoengineering within the climate movement.
Geoengineering – Dangerous or Desirable?
Within the climate movement, there are two notable objections to significant funding for geoengineering research and development.
First, some argue that it creates a moral hazard. People might wrongly assume that we can continue burning fossil fuels indefinitely. This would diminish the political drive to decarbonize and increase dependency on band-aid solutions that become riskier the more we depend on them.
The second argument is that geoengineering is too risky. According to renowned author Naomi Klein, attempting to fix atmospheric issues by introducing different substances in the stratosphere may cause unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences.
However, many climate activists feel that the risk of not doing anything is even greater. Columnist Eric Levitz at New York magazine recently argued that as risky as manipulating Earth’s atmospheric reflectivity is, it’s less risky than tolerating more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
Levitz feels that without some form of geoengineering, it’s impossible to improve climatic conditions beyond just limiting their deterioration. Moreover, Ruan’s invention is proof that humans actually do have the ability to lower global temperatures through engineering feats.
As fascinating as Ruan’s research is, we must recognize the impracticality of Ruan’s approach.
With 71 percent of the Earth covered by water, it would require an expanse of land equivalent to the size of the United States to deploy such ultrawhite paint and balance heat absorption and emission to stabilize global temperatures.
Moreover, concentrating the paint in a single contiguous area would lead to significant disruptions in regional climates. Instead, a widespread distribution of large white paint areas at strategic locations around the globe would be necessary.
Lastly, even if people were capable of implementing such an ambitious plan, paint fades over time. As the paint fades, its cooling effect fades too.
All the same, Ruan’s research is highly significant for highlighting how decarbonizing energy is not the only way for scientists to fight climate change.
Image Source: DCL Corporation, https://shorturl.at/bEV19