Fixing the climate with big ideas?

October 12, 2008 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Climate solutions, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Wrapping Greenland in a giant blanket, putting trillions of lenses in space to deflect the sun’s rays, using seed-bombs to replenish forests – these are just a few of the wild ideas examined in the new series “Discovery Project Earth.”

The series, which launched on the Discovery Channel in late August, looks at possible technology fixes for our current climate woes. 

Unfortunately, the last episode aired on September 19. But you can still learn all about these ideas through an interactive Web project that was created as a complement to the series. 

Videos about each of the fixes are featured there. But there’s also a very cool section where you can read a “lab book” for each of the ideas, and learn about how they are being tested.  In addition, there are interactive timelines and graphics to explore. 

And, perhaps most cool of all, there’s a game called “Global Protection Squad” that lets you play the crazy scientist trying to save the world with a big idea.   

Not all of the ideas covered are brand-new per se.  In fact, scientists have long talked about putting something into the stratosphere to block the sun’s radiation.  The idea came into vogue after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 sent clouds of aerosols skyward, lowering global temperatures by almost a degree. 

Of course, there are plenty of concerns about these kinds of climate interventions, often referred to as “geoengineering.” As just one example, see a study published in the journal Science in May linking aerosol-injection schemes to the depletion of the ozone layer:  

The Sensitivity of Polar Ozone Depletion to Proposed Geoengineering Schemes
By Simone Tilmes,1* Rolf Müller,2 Ross Salawitch3
“The large burden of sulfate aerosols injected into the stratosphere by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 cooled Earth and enhanced the destruction of polar ozone in the subsequent few years. The continuous injection of sulfur into the stratosphere has been suggested as a “geoengineering” scheme to counteract global warming. We use an empirical relationship between ozone depletion and chlorine activation to estimate how this approach might influence polar ozone. An injection of sulfur large enough to compensate for surface warming caused by the doubling of atmospheric CO2 would strongly increase the extent of Arctic ozone depletion during the present century for cold winters and would cause a considerable delay, between 30 and 70 years, in the expected recovery of the Antarctic ozone hole.”

Still others have worried that even talking about some kind of engineering solution for global warming is dangerous. The thought is that if people believe we can innovate our way out of this climate conundrum, they won’t think it’s necessary to put an end to our reliance on oil and coal as energy sources. 

Given our current failure to uncouple development from increasing CO2 emissions, though, powerful technological fixes may begin to gain more and more currency.

In fact, the Royal Society dedicated a special edition of its “Philosophical Transactions” to the topic of geoengineering in September. At the same time, it announced that it would launch a major new study of such technologies this fall.  

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