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He Said Earth's Status Was Dire. He Offered a Last-Ditch Solution

In video at research symposium, Wallace Smith Broecker talked about controversial solar shield
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 4, 2019 7:41 AM CST
Updated Mar 9, 2019 7:00 AM CST
Wallace Broecker, left, is seen during an address in Rome on Nov. 21, 2008.   (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

(Newser) – Before he passed away last month, the "Grandfather of Climate Science" once more broached an idea to fend off global warming, albeit a radical one, in what the New York Times dubs a "final warning for Earth." Via what one fellow scientist calls a "very touching [and] very profound" video piped into a Feb. 11 meeting of researchers at Arizona State University, an ailing Wallace Smith Broecker—who actually brought the term "global warming" into the vernacular in the '70s—pitched further, deeper research into a long-controversial remedy: building a solar shield around the Earth by having jets release huge amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, a "geoengineering" remedy that would help cool the planet. Broecker said in his message that this last-resort measure may be necessary to fend off "many more surprises in the greenhouse."

Broecker had worked on other possible solutions to the climate issue, including one that would involve mechanical units drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, but he felt things had reached a "tipping point" that called for more extreme measures. Critics have been loath to promote "the sulfur solution," as they fear it could lead to altered weather patterns that upend agriculture, spur disastrous weather events, and even cause a false sense of security that could lead to the continued burning of fossil fuels. (The New York Daily News points out that climate re-engineering is the tragedy underlying the plot in the sci-fi film Snowpiercer.) Still, even among scientists at the Arizona symposium who were against geoengineering was a growing concession that it should at least be better researched. "[Broecker's] view is impossible to ignore," one researcher notes to the Times. (Read more climate change stories.)

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