Saturday, April 10, 2010
Have you heard about planet hacking? The theory is that because carbon dioxide lasts for thousands of years in the atmosphere even if we stopped all our carbon emissions tomorrow the planet would continue to heat up . This has led a number of scientists to consider some radical plans for geoengineering the planet in order to begin a cooling process:
1. Seed the atmosphere with sulphur compounds because they make clouds brighter and more reflective. Yes, this is the same stuff that industrial smokestacks have been doing for years and the very same that has been the cause of acid rain.
2. Drop tons of iron dust into the oceans with the idea of stimulating the growth of phytoplankton which would consume excess carbon dioxide, die, sink to the ocean floor and thus sequester the CO2. Unfortunately, when they tried it for two months other creatures simply ate the excess plankton.
3. Have all the ships at sea pump compressed air into the oceans on their travels leaving swathes of microbubbles in their wakes to reflect more sunlight. There's a good possibility there aren't enough ships and besides, they do use a lot of fuel.
4. Cover the ice that's still on mountaintops (and perhaps at the north pole?) with giant pieces of white plastic. Hmmm..
5. Build artificial trees that can chemically extract CO2. Hmmm..
6. My favorite of all the geoengineering plans I've heard is the one that would see us launching millions of mirrors into a stable LaGrange point between Earth and the sun. I though this was an old joke but apparently it's being considered.
The trouble with most of the hacking ideas is that they are either too expensive or too dangerous and the law of unintended consequences wouldn't be recognized until it's too late. Growing more real trees and having green rooftops is a far better plan in my opinion so long as we could avoid the tendency of eliminating everything that doesn't make a financial profit for someone.
I don't really know much of anything and perhaps the time is coming for major operations of the kind described but what I do know is we should never consider geoengineering unless we reduce our dependence of fossil fuels first.
(The picture at the top is of a rare roll cloud from Apod.)