Flubbed Climate Test Won’t Deter Rich Donors from Altering the Sky

Flubbed Climate Test Won’t Deter Rich Donors from Altering the Sky

Despite setbacks, wealthy philanthropists continue to support solar geoengineering research

A failed experiment to block sunlight from reaching the Earth has not discouraged wealthy donors from pursuing solar geoengineering as a method to combat climate change. Financiers with ties to Wall Street and Silicon Valley remain committed to funding future experiments, convinced of the necessity to explore these last-resort measures as global temperatures rise.

POLITICO reached out to several individuals and organizations that funded the University of Washington’s controversial program aimed at reflecting sunlight by modifying clouds. Those who responded expressed a firm belief in the importance of continuing research to assess the viability of such climate interventions.

“The Pritzker Innovation Fund believes in the importance of research that helps improve climate models and enables policymakers and the public to better understand whether climate interventions like marine cloud brightening are feasible and advisable,” said Rachel Pritzker, the fund’s founder and president. “We will only get answers to these questions through open research that can inform science-based, democratic decision-making.”????

Persistent Efforts Amid Public Skepticism
The resolve of these funders comes after two high-profile experiments were halted due to public opposition, highlighting the challenges of conducting contentious research that could disrupt weather patterns or have other unforeseen consequences. Earlier this month, local officials in Alameda, California, denied a request by Washington researchers to resume a cloud-brightening test from the deck of a decommissioned aircraft carrier in San Francisco Bay. This followed the cancellation of another solar geoengineering project in Sweden in March.

Despite the setbacks, a strong base of philanthropic support remains for solar geoengineering research, which also includes strategies like spraying reflective particles into the atmosphere. David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation, emphasized the importance of foundational science to evaluate such interventions. “Our goal is to support the basic science needed to assess the role of aerosols in the atmosphere, particularly the stratosphere,” Spergel said. Although the foundation did not fund the Alameda experiment, Spergel affirmed their ongoing commitment to related research.

A Commitment to Open Research???
The abrupt end of the Alameda study, which operated for only 20 minutes instead of the planned months, has not deterred future funding. The Environmental Defense Fund has indicated its intent to support more solar geoengineering research, lending mainstream credibility to the field despite criticism that it might undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, commended the University of Washington and SilverLining, a nonprofit advancing geoengineering research, for their initiative to conduct the experiment aboard the USS Hornet, now a museum. She praised this approach as “a fantastic model for educating the public on this important type of research.”

Continued Financial Support
The Quadrature Climate Foundation, linked to hedge fund Quadrature Capital, focuses most of its grants on reducing carbon emissions but will continue to support geoengineering research. Greg De Temmerman, the foundation’s chief science and programs officer, stated their commitment to transparent, equitable, and science-based approaches to mitigate climate risks. Quadrature plans to allocate $40 million over the next three years to this research, doubling the total funding from the previous decade.

While SilverLining and SRI International, another nonprofit involved in the Alameda project, did not respond to requests for comment, SilverLining Executive Director Kelly Wanser previously noted that her group provided about 10 percent of the funding for the project. Wanser emphasized that the funding was strictly climate-related, with no ties to fossil fuel interests.

The University of Washington refrained from discussing its relationships with donors but mentioned that the research team is exploring alternative paths for the experiment. Among the notable backers of the program are former Google executive Alan Eustace, the Larsen Lam Climate Change Foundation, the Kissick Family Foundation, and the Cohler Charitable Fund, alongside other prominent individuals from the tech and investment sectors.

The dedication of these philanthropists underscores a persistent belief in the potential of solar geoengineering research to contribute valuable insights into climate change mitigation, despite the inherent controversies and technical challenges.