CALGARY — Blocking out some of the sun's rays is a faster and cheaper method of controlling the Earth's temperature than cutting greenhouse gas emissions, says a research paper authored by University of Calgary researcher David Keith.
And the unconventional work being done by the prominent Calgary physicist appears to have attracted the attention of the world's richest man.
On Wednesday — the same day Keith's research paper was released by the science journal Nature — a blog titled ScienceInsider reported that Keith and American climate change researchers are being bankrolled by billionaire and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
The blog said a U.S. researcher and Keith are in charge of deciding how millions of dollars are dispersed to geoengineering — or climate manipulating — research projects.
In an interview Wednesday, Keith declined to provide further details about the funding but confirmed the report was correct.
"Yes, it's true. Bill is funding our stuff," Keith said.
An inquiry to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Wednesday went unanswered.
Keith preferred to speak Wednesday about how solar radiation could be reflected back into space by releasing megatonnes of light-scattering aerosol particles, or how low-altitude clouds could be created with sea salts.
The Nature article, which calls for a co-operative international research effort worth $1 billion by 2020, suggests a number of sun-reflecting techniques be investigated.
"Many scientists have argued against research on solar-radiation management, saying that developing the capability to perform such tasks will reduce the political will to lower greenhouse-gas emissions," said the article, which was authored by Keith and two other researchers. "We believe that the risks of not doing research outweigh the risks of doing it."
Bouncing solar rays back into space carries numerous environmental and geopolitical dangers, and has — until very recently — been frowned upon by the scientific community.
However, the report said geoengineering could offset temperature increases much more cheaply than actually cutting the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
Keith cautions that geoengineering should only compliment greenhouse gas reductions — not replace cuts. The article also cautions that the world's countries must work collaboratively so that no "rogue state" takes unilateral action.
"There's the beginning of serious research projects, but really just starting up — literally — right now," Keith said in an interview.
It may sound like science fiction but last year the Royal Society — the national academy of science of the U.K. and the Commonwealth — also released a report calling for large-scale intervention in the Earth's climate system.
That report said giant space mirrors may be required backups to blunt the effects of climate change if emission reductions prove to be too little too late to stop the predicted impacts of human-caused climate change.
Wednesday's article in Nature noted that Keith has a commercial interest in carbon dioxide extraction technology.