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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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
33 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Higher education expands its climate push

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New or expanded climate initiatives are popping up at several universities, a sign of the topic's rising prominence and recognition of the threats and opportunities it creates.

Why it matters: Climate and clean energy initiatives at colleges and universities are nothing new, but it shows expanded an campus focus as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, and the world is nowhere near the steep emissions cuts that scientists say are needed to hold future warming in check.

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

The pandemic isn't slowing tech

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Thursday's deluge of Big Tech earnings reports showed one thing pretty clearly: COVID-19 may be bad in all sorts of ways, but it's not slowing down the largest tech companies. If anything, it's helping some companies, like Amazon and Apple.

Yes, but: With the pandemic once again worsening in the U.S. and Europe, it's not clear how long the tech industry's winning streak can last.

Texas early voting surpasses 2016's total turnout

Early voting in Austin earlier this month. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Texas' early and mail-in voting totals for the 2020 election have surpassed the state's total voter turnout in 2016, with 9,009,850 ballots already cast compared to 8,969,226 in the last presidential cycle.

Why it matters: The state's 38 Electoral College votes are in play — and could deliver a knockout blow for Joe Biden over President Trump — despite the fact that it hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1976.