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Simon A. Eugster / Wikipedia

Scientists are actively exploring – on a theoretical basis – what it might take to cool the Earth if governments, businesses and individual actions collectively fail to do so in the next 15+ years. But, in nearly every case, the potential downside of such scientific actions aren't yet known, and there is no regulatory mechanism yet in place to govern or monitor the efforts, several leading scientists argue in Science this week.

Two approaches:

1. The leading geoengineering theory, according to scientists, is essentially a large science experiment on a global scale that mirrors what clouds do naturally. It would diminish the sun's warming effects by continuously injecting sulfur particles into the stratosphere, thus filtering out some of the radiation entering our atmosphere.

  • Pros: Most scientists agree it would change the temperature on Earth.
  • Cons: It could have a dramatic (and unintended) effect on the Earth's major water cycles, like the monsoon, that provide fresh water necessary for billions of people to live.
  • Other unknowns: how effective it might be, or how much it might cost. (Initial estimate are on the order of $20 billion a year for a century or more, they wrote.)

2. A second approach is to artificially create thin cirrus clouds at low-altitude that trap less heat and would cool the Earth.

  • Risks: These artificial clouds would attract moisture, and could upset the Earth's water cycles as well. And if this grand science experiment was done poorly, it could actually heat the planet instead of cool it.

What's needed: Janos Pasztor, the former climate policy lead at the United Nations (who now leads a geoengineering institute affiliated with Carnegie) argues that all of this means government leaders need to move quickly to understand the profound implications of both the research and its potential impacts. There is also an immediate risk that just one country, a small group of countries or even a very wealthy individual could unilaterally deploy a planet-wide solar radiation management scheme before anyone truly understands the potential risks.

Go deeper: Read our Expert Voices conversation on the topic.

Go deeper

Senate Democrats reach deal on extending unemployment insurance

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Democrats struck a deal Friday evening to extend unemployment insurance in President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package after deliberating and halting other action for roughly nine hours, per a Senate aide.

Why it matters: The Senate can now resume voting on other amendments to the broader rescue bill.

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.