Termination Shock (Book Review)

Over vacation I read Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson. Unlike many other recent books tackling the climate crisis, it is entirely focused on the controversial issue of geoengineering through solar radiation modification (SMR). The basic idea of SMR is to let slightly less sunlight into the Earth’s lower atmosphere where it can heat things up. Even a tiny decrease in solar radiation will have a big impact on global warming.

To put upfront where I stand on this: I first wrote about the need to research geoengineering in 2009. Since then Susan and I have funded some research in this area, including a study at Columbia University to independently verify some chemistry proposed by the Keith group at Harvard. The results suggest that using calcite aerosols may not be so great for the stratosphere which includes the Ozone layer that protects us from too much UV radiation. That means spreading sulfites is likely better – this is what happens naturally during a big volcano eruption, such as the famous Mount Pinatubo eruption.

Artificially putting sulfur into the stratosphere turns out to be the key plot device in Termination Shock. Delays by governments in addressing the climate crisis have a rich individual start to launch shells containing sulfur into the stratosphere. In a classic life imitating art moment, Luke Iseman, the founder of Make Sunsets, is explicitly referring to reading Termination Shock as an inspiration for starting the company and releasing a first balloon carrying a (Read more...)