Fact check: Bill Gates is not trying to ‘block the sun’s rays’ in the name of climate change

The claim: Bill Gates is working to block the sun to prevent global warming

Bill Gates’ wealth has allowed him to donate and invest in projects across the globe — it has also made him a frequent target for conspiracy theories. 

Recently, social media users are claiming Gates is working to block the sun’s rays in order to combat global warming. 

One example is this April 8 Facebook post, which reads, “Let me get this straight. Bill Gates is working on a way to block the sun’s rays so we prevent global warming. On the other hand we are expected to go to solar powered energy. So how does that work???”

USA TODAY has reached out to the poster for comment.

Post misrepresents a Harvard project Gates partially funds

The post is referring to Harvard’s Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment, which is financially backed by Gates. But this claim, like other reports, misrepresents the nature of the project.

The project revolves around the concept of geoengineering, large-scale efforts to reduce the effects of climate change — usually temporarily — on oceans, soils and atmosphere.

At its core, SCoPeX seeks to better understand the efficacy and risks of solar geoengineering. In order to do so, scientists need to determine if there are aerosols that could reduce or eliminate ozone loss without increasing the chance of other risks.

Harvard University logo (Photo: Handout)

The experiment involves launching a high-altitude balloon about 12 miles into the atmosphere, according to its website. A small amount of material is then released to create a “perturbed air mass” about 100 yards wide and a half-mile long. Instruments carried by the balloon monitor that region for changes in aerosol density, atmospheric chemistry and light scattering.

In other words, it’s a very small-scale project, far from the climate-altering claims about it that have surfaced on social media.

After Reuters reported on the effort in December 2020, the conservative Western Journal published a piece titled “Bill Gates’ Savior Complex Spirals Out of Control, Funds Sun-Dimming Plan To Save the Human Race,” in which the writer portrays the project as a threat to humanity. 

Other reports that misrepresented the project included  a story from the British tabloid The Daily Mail, which warned  of potential disaster as a result of the experiment.

SCoPEx — and geoengineering in general — are somewhat controversial. However, SCoPEx researcher and Harvard professor David Keith argues that concerns like these are not supported by science.

“People are right to fear over-reliance on technofixes. But there’s another nightmare: It’s that after bringing emissions to zero, we realize in hindsight that early use of geoengineering could have saved millions of lives lost in heat waves and helped preserve some of the natural world,” Keith wrote in an op-ed published in the Boston Globe.

We should also note Gates’ involvement in the SCoPEx project is purely financial. His grant-making research fund, the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research, partially funds the project. SCoPEx is also partially funded by Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research program, which is also funded by foundations and donors, including Gates. 

In a 2010 Ted Talk, Gates argued that if society ends up in a position where global warming is bad enough that geoengineering needs to be taken seriously, it should already know and understand the process and its potential consequences. 

Our ruling: False

The claim that Gates is working on a way to block the sun’s rays to prevent global warming has been rated FALSE. Gates is one of SCoPEx’s funders, but he is not participating in the project’s research.

Additionally, the project is not working to block or dim the sun. Rather, the project seeks to understand the potential risks of geoengineering.

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA Today, June 12, 2020, “Fact check: Bill Gates is not planning to microchip the world through a COVID-19 vaccine”
  • Reuters, Dec. 18, 2020, “Planned Harvard balloon test in Sweden stirs solar geoengineering unease”
  • “Geoengineering monitor”
  • The Western Journal, Dec. 27, 2020, “Bill Gates’ Savior Complex Spirals Out of Control, Funds Sun-Dimming Plan To Save the Human Race”
  • The Daily Mail, Aug. 12, 2019, “Could dimming the sun save the Earth? Bill Gates wants to spray millions of tonnes of dust into the stratosphere to stop global warming… but critics fear it could trigger calamity”
  • David Keith’s Research Group, October 19, 2020, “The world needs to explore solar geoengineering as a tool to fight climate change”
  • Keutsch Group at Harvard, “SCoPEx: Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment”
  • Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society, April, 17, 2018, “Stratospheric controlled perturbation experiment: a small-scale experiment to improve understanding of the risks of solar geoengineering”
  • Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, “Funding”
  • Ted Talks, “Bill Gates TED2010 Innovating to zero!”
  • Poynter, April 15, “Claims that Bill Gates is going to ‘block the sun’ lack context”

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