Bleaching the Sky: Not Very Bright?


No cloud above, no earth below, A universe of sky and snow. – John Greenleaf Whittier

Here’s how I like to think it happened. Bill Gates is sat at his desk one day, sipping Mountain Dew while grappling with some tricky Windows-based conundrum. A shadow falls across his very expensive notepad: the sun’s gone in. Bill curses, throws his very expensive pen at the wall, and within ten minutes a thousand Microsoft scientists have their orders – “Bill wants the sky brighter!”

I’m being daft, of course: cloud whitening is a well-established part of the controversial scientific body of theory know as geoengineering. The principle is simple. If you dump vaporized water into the clouds, they become fluffier and whiter – i.e., they cover more sky and they reflect more light, blocking incoming sunlight and (in theory) helping fight global warming. However, it’s never actually been tried – until now. As The Guardian reports, the Gates-funded research group Silver Lining is building machines to spray misted seawater into clouds covering a 10,000 kilometer square area of sea, either from ships or wind-powered yachts.


And although it sounds like a Kate Bush video, it’s going to happen if Bill gets his way, that is. Critics point to the fact that we’re deliberately tinkering with a meteorological system we barely understand and are often poorly equipped to defend ourselves against when it turns nasty, which it is more and more frequently). With all the damage we’ve done to the world’s lands and seas, should the skies be made sacrosanct?

Images: francesco sqroi and Michel Filion

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.