It could be any country, but let’s say it’s Vietnam.
The year is 2069. World governments failed to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — the deadline set in a 2018 United Nations report — setting off a chain of rapid warming. Megastorms and wildfires regularly kill hundreds and displace tens of thousands, and coastal cities are abandoning low-lying neighborhoods to the rising sea. Freshwater and food are in short supply as drought dries wellsprings and parches the Mekong Delta’s rice basket.
In an effort to provide some relief and rein in the chaos, global superpowers decide to block out the sun.
The world’s most powerful militaries take the lead, deploying aircraft to soar 32 miles upward into the stratosphere and spray particles that reflect sunlight. The technique mimics one of the planet’s most awesome natural functions: the cooling effect that comes from volcanoes erupting and filling the atmosphere with reflective gas that bounces energy from the sun back into space.
This kind of solar geoengineering, already planned by some scientists back in the year 2019, comes with a tremendous risk called “termination shock.” This dystopian-sounding term denotes the chaotically fast warming that could occur if such engineering were to suddenly stop. In other words, once we turn to such solutions to reduce the harm of climate change, we must continue them indefinitely. By some estimates, stopping could cause decades’ worth of warming in just five years. A November 2017 study found that the rate of temperature change after halting solar geoengineering could be as much as four times larger than that caused by climate change itself.
But geoengineering will require maintenance and resources; it may be deployed cheaply, but coordinating and administering the program and accounting for early mistakes could be expensive. What happens when one of the countries sponsoring it — perhaps the United States, China, or Russia — wants to pull out? Or when one of the countries affected by its side effects decides to rebel?
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