“If human activity is warming up the planet, could human ingenuity cool it down?”
S. Levitt & S. Dubner in Superfreakomics
I just finished reading Superfreakonics, a book that…..well… challenged a lot of my misconceived perceptions on prostitution, altruism, child car seats and most importantly climate change. I would like to share with you some of the radical geoengineering solutions to climate change the writers discuss which are miles away from the usual talk about reducing consumption of fossil fuels, renewable energy, and going vegetarian…..
On June 15th in 1991, Mount Pinatubo, a dormant volcano on an island in the Philippines erupted. This violent eruption shot 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide over 10km up into the sky, into the Earth’s stratosphere. This blanket of sulphur dioxide caused a reduction in the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth, that during the two years after the eruption, ground temperature dropped by 0.5 °C. Now if only we could manipulate the Earth’s geology to cause controlled volcanic eruptions at specified intervals to reverse the effects of climate change. Obviously we can’t (or can we?)….a group of people not sure whether to call them scientists /inventors /engineers /programmers/ designers/ innovators at Intellectual Ventures (IV) have come up with a proposal called Budyko’s Blanket, which in a sense is “ dump [ing] chemicals into the atmosphere to reverse the damaged caused by…dumping chemicals into the atmosphere.”
The idea is to pump 100,000 tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere every year to reverse climate change in the polar regions. A 29 km “garden hose to the sky” suspended from helium balloons, would release sulphur dioxide in the stratosphere, where it would have the desirable global cooling effect. This plan would cost $20 million to set up and $10 to operate which is far less than the 1.5% of global gross domestic product, $1.2 trillion, that the British economist Nicholas Stern has proposed to attack climate change.
Before you laugh, this scheme is being suggested by credible scientists and engineers – Nathan Myhrvold (former chief technology officer of Microsoft) and renowned climate scientist Ken Caldeira who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.
I am not suggesting their credentials gives them outright authority to manipulate the Earth’s climate but they are proposing a possible cheap, fast effective solution that would be more productive than the collective behaviour change that is needed to reduce carbon emissions. Less hostile is their second idea to extend by 29 kilometres, the smoke stacks of coal powered stations that already discharge sulphur dioxide. Other scientists have argued that these sulphur sunshades have in the past and could in the future reduce rainfall.
Other ideas – reflective clouds, space mirrors, and solar reflective plants
Listed as above, they almost sound like a sequel to Back to the Future with nutty harebrained scientists spewing out insane ideas. Clouds even the man-made kind from condensation trails left by jet engines have a cooling effect. IV are suggesting producing reflective clouds made from saltwater and air.
Western governments are currently considering orbiting space mirrors to reflect solar radiation. Slightly more controversial and thankfully banned was an experiment to artificially fertilise the oceans with 100 tonnes of iron to stimulate plankton growth that would absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. What about bio-geoengineering – growing solar reflective plants (e.g. plants that have glossy leaves) to reduce surface warming.
John Moore, a palaeoclimatologist, recently co-published a study that suggests geoengineering will do little to combat rising sea levels. He says “Anything that isn’t reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is like putting [on] a bandage rather than actually solving the problem”
I am simply putting these geoengineering and bio-geoengineering ideas out there for comment and consumption by the African public…..least we as Africans have a say about inventions that would have a significant impact on our continent.