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Wigley said a temporary shield would give political leaders more time to reduce human dependence on fossil fuels — the main source of greenhouse gases. He said experts must more closely study the feasibility of the idea and its possible effects on stratospheric chemistry.
While carbon dioxide keeps heat from escaping Earth, substances such as sulfur dioxide, a common air pollutant, reflect solar radiation, helping cool the planet.
Wigley ran scenarios of stratospheric sulfate injection — on the scale of Pinatubo's estimated 10 million tons of sulfur — through supercomputer models of the climate, and reported that Crutzen's idea would, indeed, seem to work. Even half that amount per year would help, he wrote.
A massive dissemination of pollutants would be needed every year or two, as the sulfates precipitate from the atmosphere in acid rain.
In past years scientists have scoffed at the idea of air pollution as a solution for global warming, saying that the kind of sulfate haze that would be needed is deadly to people. Last month, the World Heath Organization said air pollution kills about 2 million people worldwide each year and that reducing large soot-like particles from sulfates in cities could save 300,000 lives annually.