Global warming is caused by Earth's Energy Imbalance.

The cause of global warming is that more radiant energy is coming in from the Sun to the Earth than is leaving the Earth out to space.  This is Earth’s energy imbalance.  It is caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere interfering with radiant energy departure from the Earth.  

There are two things we can do to reduce global warming: (1) reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and (2) reflect more of the Sun’s incoming radiant energy back out to space before it warms the Earth.  The challenge of the century is to find ways to do both as fast as cost-effectively possible with consideration of equity and risks.  

Successful efforts to reduce Earth’s energy imbalance will benefit large numbers of people on Earth.  Philanthropists, governments, and people all over the planet are willing to pay for low risk, equitable interventions that are cost-effective - that reduce damages by more than they cost.  The most efficient way to achieve this is with markets to pay for the most cost-effective interventions to reduce global warming. 

Good work is being done to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere; much more needs to be done and much faster. Reducing use of carbon fuels addresses the root cause of human-induced climate change, but our global dependency on carbon prevents fast enough action. More immediate action addressing Earth's energy imbalance with solar reflectivity interventions can reduce warming, both locally and globally, while long-term solutions are developed and implemented.

Subsidies for Increasing Earth's Reflectivity

Understanding how subsidies for increasing Earth's reflectivity are determined begins with understanding that Earth's energy imbalance is measured in units of power as megawatts. If we can reflect back out to space more of the megawatts coming from the sun, the imbalance will be reduced.

On average over a year, each surface on Earth reflects back to space a measurable percent of incoming solar energy. This is the “reflectivity” of that surface. Also, the annual average amount of incoming solar energy is known for each location on Earth. If the energy is all reflected (100% reflectivity), the portion of that energy that would make it back out to space through the atmosphere is known. This is the reflection “potential”, which is stated in watts per square meter. If we multiply the potential by the reflectivity, we get the annual average number of watts per square meter presently reflected to space from the surface, called the “outsolation”.  You can look up these numbers for any surface on Earth larger than about 15 meters minimum dimension using our Global Reflectivity Map tool.

If we multiply the present outsolation in watts per unit area by the area of the surface (which we can measure from satellite images), we get the present annual average number of watts reflected to space from that surface.  This is usually stated in megawatts (one million watts).  If the reflectivity is enhanced by an intervention, the number of reflected megawatts increases.  Using satellite data, Reflective Earth measures this increased number of reflected megawatts from an intervention.  If the increased reflectivity is maintained for one year, the additional amount of solar energy that has been reflected due to the intervention is that number of reflected megawatt years.  Or, if the reflectivity degrades and we know the amount of degradation by subsequent remeasurements, we can compute the reduced number of additional megawatt years reflected.  The additional megawatt years of energy sent to space is the unit of energy for determining how much subsidy should be paid.

Reflective Earth has developed technology to verify effectiveness of some surface reflectivity interventions and measure the additional megawatt years sent to space resulting from the intervention. Each reflectivity intervention can be monitored over time for changes (enhancements or degradation), always being quantitatively assessed in megawatts .

Estimating value to the planet of each additional megawatt year sent to space

A recent estimate of the amount of Earth’s energy imbalance is 587 million megawatts.  To start the Earth cooling back down, we need to offset this amount and a bit more.     

Extrapolating the present trajectory, a team of academic authors estimated that merely economic damages from global warming in 2025 will be $508 billion per year, without considering harms to life, health, or the environment or added risk of triggering tipping points.  In 2022 in the US alone, not considering the rest of the world, the total economic damages from weather disasters that each caused more than one billion dollars in economic damages was $179 billion, and this does not include cost of environmental degradation, mental or physical healthcare costs, the value of human life, or business interruption costs.

These estimates offer guidance for the value of an additional megawatt year of energy sent to space.   The prices to be paid are set by market actors, which are philanthropists, governments, individuals, and corporations. Reflective Earth receives tax deductible donations for this purpose and spends 100% of these donations on subsidies for interventions as determined by effectiveness.

Practical Reflectivity Interventions that, with a subsidy, can be cost effective

At this time, there are seven viable types of reflectivity interventions that can be cost effective and can be measured for effectiveness in additional megawatt years so that subsidies can be paid:
1  Reflective covers on water reservoirs to also reduce evaporation and growth,
2  Creating bright white salt pans on the dry beds of shrinking salt lakes,
3  Restoring former salt evaporation ponds and leaving them bright white,
4  Building multiple salt evaporation ponds for brine from desalination plants,
5  Reflective shade structures over asphalt parking lots,
6  Reflective coatings on asphalt roads, playgrounds, or parking lots,
7  New reflective layers on large roofs or on many roofs in a neighborhood.

For example, if the present solar reflectivity of a no-longer-used salt pond at the Great Salt Lake is 7% and the reflectivity is boosted to 40%, this would gain 33% of the potential reflectivity.  Where the potential is 145 watts per square meter, such as the Great Salt Lake, the gain of converting one square kilometer would be 48 megawatts.  The value of these additional megawatts is likely far more than the cost to convert the pond to white salt and maintain it.  Of course, competing uses such as for wildlife and other land uses need to be balanced.

Creating a reflective salt pan can have other benefits in addition to reducing global warming and reducing local extreme heat.  For example, desalination plants take in salty sea water, extract fresh water, and discharge a brine of highly concentrated salt water.  Instead of discharging salty brine into adjoining seas which causes environmental harm, where there is suitable available flat land, desalination plants can discharge brine into multiple evaporation ponds, one pond at a time so that most of them are white with dried salt most of the year.  The increased number of megawatts reflected to space can be determined to provide a subsidy through a market for additional megawatt years to encourage creating evaporation ponds for each desalination plant and reduce environmental harm.

Example of possible steps for planning, construction, measurement, sale, and payment

(1)  The owner or Operator of a location for an intervention identifies a boundary of a large surface that is presently dark and has been dark for a long time and proposes to make it bright white at low cost, such as by painting asphalt or erecting a reflective cover on a water reservoir or flooding a pond with salt water and allowing it to evaporate.  

(2)  An independent Verifier, such as Reflective Earth, can then determine the present annual average reflectivity, the number of years that this surface has been in that state (to be sure the intervention will be additional), and the maximum number of additional megawatt years that could practically be achieved with the proposed project. 

(3)  A description of the proposed project may be submitted to a prospective Buyer for the potential additional megawatt years sent to space.  A price per megawatt year is negotiated, perhaps with an auction.

(4)  The Buyer may pay the price to an escrow. 

(5)  If the project is not implemented within a predetermined time period such as one year, the money may be returned to the Buyer.

(6)  If the intervention has a predicable dissipation curve and there is low enough risk that something will happen to defeat the intervention, all funds are disbursed upon verification of its immediate effectiveness and predicion of its future effectiveness, part being returned to the Buyer if the effectiveness is less than hoped for.

(7)  For interventions that could have variable effectiveness over time, starting when reflectivity changes begin, Reflective Earth periodically verifies the additional number of megawatts gained or lost and payments from the escrow are made annually. 

To ensure there is no incentive for Reflective Earth to overstate the number of additional megawatt years for an Intervention and there is no appearance of such an incentive, compensation for verification services is never affected by the number of megawatts measured.  The costs of Reflective Earth’s services are funded from other sources.