7.3 Estimating the Global Agricultural Impact of Solar Radiation Management Using Volcanic Eruptions as Natural Experiments

Thursday, 11 January 2018: 12:00 AM
Room 16AB (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Jonathan N. Proctor, Univ. of California, Berkeley, CA; and S. Hsiang, J. Burney, M. Burke, and W. Schlenker

Solar radiation management (SRM) is increasingly considered an option for managing global temperatures, yet the economic impacts of ameliorating climatic changes by scattering sunlight back to space remain largely unknown. Though SRM may increase crop yields by reducing heat stress, its impacts from concomitant changes in available sunlight have never been empirically estimated. Here we use the volcanic eruptions that inspired modern SRM proposals as natural experiments to provide the first estimates of how the stratospheric sulfate aerosols (SS) created by the eruptions of El Chichon and Pinatubo altered the quantity and quality of global sunlight, how those changes in sunlight impacted global crop yields, and the total effect that SS may have on yields in an SRM scenario when the climatic and sunlight effects are jointly considered. We find that the sunlight-mediated impact of SS on yields is negative for both C4 (maize) and C3 (soy, rice, wheat) crops. Applying our yield model to a geoengineering scenario using SS-based SRM from 2050-2069, we find that SRM damages due to scattering sunlight are roughly equal in magnitude to SRM benefits from cooling. This suggests that SRM -- if deployed using SS similar to those emitted by the volcanic eruptions it seeks to mimic -- would attenuate little of the damages from climate change to global agriculture on net. Our approach could be extended to study SRM impacts on other global systems, such as human health or ecosystem function.
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