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Editorial: White clouds to cool planet?

Could there be a silver lining behind those fluffy white clouds? A group of retired scientists is working on an idea that if you can whiten up the clouds you can help cool the planet.

Leave it to a group of super-smart former experts to put their collective heads together to try to leave a legacy for future generations, instead of spending most of their retirement years taking it easy on the golf course. None are paid to do this.

In February, the National Academy of Sciences said the concept, first proposed in 1990 by British physicist John Latham, deserved more study.

The retired physicists, engineers, chemists and computer experts from some of Silicon Valley’s top tech companies are working on a design for a tool to create aerosolized droplets of water resembling fog that would be tossed into the atmosphere to create a natural mirror that would increase clouds’ ability to reflect sunlight back into space. They hope to test their machine sometime next year.

The group, which includes two former Sandia National Laboratories’ scientists – Jack Foster, a physicist and laser pioneer, and instrument designer Lee Galbraith – has been meeting four days a week for seven years in the Sunnyvale, Calif., lab of the Marine Cloud Brightening Project. Foster describes the project as “an insurance policy for global warming” that would be deployed only if necessary.

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Although such geoengineering has its critics and its defenders, the growing belief in scientific circles is that a warming planet is inevitable even if use of fossil fuels is reduced.

Certainly concerns about what messing with Mother Nature might do to the weather on Planet Earth must be considered, but the search for a backup tool to shield future generations should be pursued.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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