There have been some suggestions that global climate change, when or if it happens, could be reversed by (advanced) technology. Terra-re-forming if you like. This obviously applies to global cooling as well - and explicitly does not count simple technology designed to reduce gas emissions (I suppose). It's also irrelevant whether the change is natural or human change. What are the options?

  1. Chemistry : Ca(OH)2 Scrubbers
    The 31 March 2001 issue of New Scientist reports on a proposal published in Geophysical Research Letters (like you care :) to chemically scrub the atmosphere. Vast chemical ponds - described as an 'artificial "superforest"' (which kind of begs an obvious question...) - absorb the carbon dioxide (not, of course, any other types of greenhouse gases). The CaCo3 is then heated to tranfer the CO2 to magnesium silicates, which are then buried. Where you bury enough MgSi to absorb 7 billion tonnes (7 trillion kilograms) of carbon dioxide, I don't know. Obviously, the ideas can be refined - such as using tree like structures to get a better surface area to volume ratio (again, that nagging question...).

  2. Biology : Seeding
    No, not forests (presumably) but fertilizing the oceans to, basically, promote algal blooms. Since algae make a significant carbon sink contribution anyway this is working with the system rather than trying to replace it. A controversial possibility - since our understanding of the climate is, well, tenuous. That probably applies to all these 'solutions'.

  3. Nanotech : Er...
    After I stopped laughing when a noder suggested this in a writeup (I'm not going to hardlink, find it yourself) I reluctantly considered how this could work. Ignoring the simple possibility of using existing, sophisticated, carbon filtration devices (see biology, above) you could construct nanoscale machines to break down CO2 or absorb it or...polymerise it into a vast woven net to advertise in the sky. Whatever, the devices would have to be constructed from something and be catalytic to catch a significant proportion of unwanted gas.

Warming is a lot easier (solar mirrors and so on) but I'm not sure how useful these anti-warming strategies are. All the ones I've listed are 'closing the barn door' approaches - surely it would be much simpler to not release as much gas in the first place. Plug those volcanoes! Even if human activities are only adding to the problem, we still don't want it warm. Reducing emissions rather than cleaning up afterwards just seems more sensible. Correct me if I'm wrong.

The above points are good ones (I don't refer to the w/u immediately above; that one's just amusing). However, I have to question the conclusion.

"Reducing emissions rather than cleaning up afterwards just seems more sensible. Correct me if I'm wrong."

Be glad to try.

The emissions reductions you are talking about would cripple the economy. If you're talking about something like the Kyoto Protocol, the economy would be absolutely annihilated. So what? Well, technological progress is greatly nurtured in a buzzing economy. In a stagnant, stalled economy, there is not as much money to go around for research and development. In a depressed economy, the situation is even worse.

The point is that technological solutions to global warming (which we still don't understand in the least) look infeasible and far-out now. They look very pie-in-the-sky. If emession cuts are passed, and scientific research slows, those solutions will be infeasible for much longer. Instead of quickly creating new solutions to our problems, we are merely putting off the time that we'll be able to act.

In other words, emissions cuts is the irresponsible, short-sighted one. It will cripple our abilities in the future to deal with whatever problems there are. Pushing technology ahead will work better, not just in making the techniques we know of now cheaper, but even more importantly in creating new techniques that we can hardly fathom now. It's not just the benefits we can forsee; it's the benefits we won't know about until we discover them.

Better tech creates more efficient power plants. Better tech creates more effictient combustion engines. Emission cuts will happen naturally, pushed forward by the economy and technology. Then, when we fully understand whatever problem we face (we have very little real understanding of how, or if, global warming or cooling works), we'll have the tools with which to deal with it.

Technology is the solution to problems created by technology. Period.

As with all debates and issues, there is never a single sided solution, as history has pointed out, compromise is necessary to achieve harmony. This is once again the case. It is possible to reduce the emissions, and pollutants distributed into our eco-sphere, by utilizing technology to reduce them. Lets take a look at two items in particular; power production and vehicle emissions.

Power Production: When we look at the abundance of power plants today, we generally see those that use coal and natural gas as there primary source of fuel. If we could transfer these power plants into nuclear plants, we would reduce the pollutant output by at least 80 percent.

Vehicle Emissions: The easiest way to address this fundamental problem is to create an efficient electric vehicle such as the EV1 which is currently in strong use in California and Arizona.

If you combine recovery and response with technological advancements, you can successfully control the problem, but if you advance technology to clean the air, you loose the focus on fixing the problem. This is the same though process as rebooting the server when it locks up instead of finding out why it locked up. You can't resolve anything by fixing the symptoms, only by fixing the cause.
The suggestion to use the ocean to soak up the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (see point 2. Biology: Seeding above in The Alchemist's writeup) stems from a discovery made by John H. Martin. There are zones of significant size which have been called HNLC areas (for High Nutrient Low Chlorophyll), in which there is sufficient phosphorus, nitrogen and silica to permit good algal growth, but little such growth occurs. Martin determined that, while there was an abundance of the normally limiting nutrients in these zones, there was a significant lack of iron in the water. While it is not normally limiting to plants, a certain amount of iron is require for cell construction and cell division.

Martin suggested that this hypothesis could be verified on a large scale by seeding parts of the ocean with iron, and observing the reaction of the algal community. Despite a firestorm of controversy over the proposed experiment, funding was acquired. In October, 1993, the research vessel Columbus Iselin left Miami and headed towards the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific, one of the well known HNLC zones. This expedition took place without Martin, as he had passed away from prostate cancer earlier that year.

The team deployed, in a single day, nearly a thousand pounds of iron, and began to note the progress. Very quickly (overnight, in fact), a response was observed. One scientist has since stated that he was able to smell the algae growing. For the next nine days the crew followed the algal bloom, and determined that overall productivity was increased three-fold by a relatively minor ion addition.

After this experiment was published and similar work was conducted in other areas to verify the global nature of the phenomenon, it was suggested that these regions be used to soak up some of the excess C02 that has been building in the atmosphere for a century. Now, it must be stressed that Martin stated, prior to his death, that he would never advocate large scale iron fertilization of the ocean until the consequences and mechanisms were fully understood. Nonetheless, it became such a popular idea amongst a certain circle (*cough* the oil industry *cough*) and their attendant engineering colleagues that three (there may be more now) patents on ocean fertilization technologies were requested (and granted, in the infinite wisdom of the U.S. Patent Office).

There is significant scientific concern over the proposal to fertilize the ocean in order to reduce the CO2 load in the atmosphere. Let alone the escaping of responsiblity and the forgoing of the concept of sustainable development that is inherent in the very idea, there are serious worries about what such a fertilization might do. First, we know it will change the composition (taxonomic) of the algal community in the region affected, which will have impacts on the invertebrates and vertebrates in the food web (this will, undoubtably, affect the fishing industry). Second, it is at best a temporary solution, as fertilization's effects are relatively short lived (on the scale of days to weeks). Finally, and perhaps most worrisome, is the fact that all of that carbon, trapped in algal cells, has to go somewhere. The original experiments showed that the grazers in the ocean were not able to consume all of the algae produced by fertilization, and that this algae died and sank. Upon sinking through the thermocline, the algal cells (with the now absorbed carbon) passed from an oxic to anoxic zone, and began to decay on the ocean floor. When algae decays in an anoxic environment, two products result: hydrogen sulfate (H2S) and methane (CH4). These two gasses are far more effective at trapping solar energy in our atmosphere, and thus iron fertilization may well result in a worsening of the global warming problem.

This is not to say that there aren't still certain people pushing for this solution. At times, it seems, the appearance of positive behaviour is more important that the consequences of our actions ...

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