Climate change is a big, ugly, unwieldy problem, and it’s getting worse by the day. Emissions are rising. Ice is melting, and virtually no one is taking the carbon crisis as seriously as the issue demands. Countries need to radically overhaul their energy systems in just a few short decades, replacing coal, oil and gas with clean energy. Even if countries overcome the political obstacles necessary to meet that aim, they can expect heat waves, drought, and storms unseen in the history of human civilization, and enough flooding to submerge Miami Beach.
This grim fact has scientists looking for a quick fix to keep warming at bay. One plan calls for spraying large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere. The chemical would reflect the sun’s light, cooling the planet, which is more or less what happens when a volcano erupts, albeit on a much larger scale. Of course, this plan poses numerous diplomatic, scientific, technological, and humanitarian challenges, and it is entirely possible that the effect on global weather patterns would be worse than climate change, which is why climate scientist Raymond Pierrehumbert has called the idea “wildly, utterly, howlingly barking mad.”
That hasn’t stopped researchers from dreaming up a litany of variations on this entirely outlandish theme. Here are three particularly impractical ideas that show why cutting pollution is almost certainly easier and safer than rejiggering the Earth’s climate.