Hitting the Books: Sci-fi strategies may be needed to prevent climate change

The temperature on Earth is too damn high. Unless we can stop our planet from normal warming, and sooner or later, our species that will continue to exist here is really at risk. Sure, we have implemented countless climate change mitigation plans over the past decades but the reality remains that our window of opportunity for resolving this issue is quickly closing. There may come a time in the near future when we will stop sniffing using half -steps and pulling out the proverbial multi -gun, which is geoengineering and terraformation.

on Breach Breaks: The Science of Our Planet, Stockholm Resilience Center researchers Owen Gaffney and Johan Rockström read readers through the scope and extent of the environmental challenges we face today, explored the concept of “planetary management,” and in the quote below, discuss what we can do what ‘do not work.


Excerpt from Breach Breaks: The Science of Our Planet also printed by permission of DK, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 Owen Gaffney and Johan Rockström.

If all else fails, can we restore the Earth with serious technological improvements? In the worst cases, protecting billions of people will take unprecedented engineering activities. Geoengineering aims to provide solutions to climate change using deliberate and mass technological intervention. Think terraforming our own planet. To be honest, most of these ideas come from the pages of science fiction. But many are now taking scientific attention seriously. By 2030, we need to know where our best bet is.

Geoengineering has two flavors. The first option is to block sunlight reaching the Earth. The second is to suck greenhouse gases from the air. Equally insane are high -risk interventions in a complex system.

There are many ways to block sunlight, starting on a cosmic level. Building giant solar basements between the Earth and the sun would do the job well, by potentially stopping about 2 percent of the heat coming from the sun. The numbers crunched. We need hundreds of thousands of 10-foot-square (1-meter-square) sunshades weighing 20 million tons (18 million tons). In total, it costs several trillion dollars and will last about 50 years. But it will not help acidify the ocean, because carbon dioxide will continue to build up in the atmosphere. If we continue to emit, even if we block future solar radiation, then the ocean will continue to be more acidic – one of the main causes of past extinctions. In addition to cost and engineering challenges, giant solar bases are likely to bring unintended consequences: for example, changing weather patterns around the world.

Perhaps the most talked about geoengineering solution is to scatter millions of tiny particles into the air to reflect the heat back into space. We knew it would work. Each main volcanic eruption releases ash into the upper atmosphere. It has a measurable impact on climate. With the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, the planet would cool slightly a few years after the initial eruption, but this effect did not last long because these fragments disappeared in high air for several years. . The scale of this type of intervention should be the maximum: some up to 5.5 million tons (3 to 5 million metric tons) of sulfur released annually.

Cloud seeding or whitening is another option. Digging up a lot of soil can throw salt particles into the air that help form clouds. Many clouds will show a lot of heat back into space and maybe the planet will be cool. This idea can be applied locally to protect coral reefs, for example. However, on a global scale, it would require multiple armadas of autonomous ships to travel the oceans indefinitely.

We can also paint our streets, roofs, and city white to reflect the warmth. Locally, this effect could keep towns and villages cooler. A similar suggestion is to grow genetically modified crops that are better at reflecting heat from the sun, for more widespread cooling. There is a risk factor that runs through all geoengineering ideas. Once we start we can’t stop. If we are forced to stop a geoengineering project for any reason-running out of money, geopolitical strife, disasters with unintended consequences, for example-then the Earth’s temperature suddenly rockets.

Several ideas for sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are also proposed. What is commonly discussed is carbon capture and storage. There are two main ways to do this. First to pull carbon from the atmosphere using a type of machine. The second is to grow and burn plants for energy. Bursting plants releases carbon dioxide, but it must be compressed and stored in a safe place, away from the air. The usual suggestion is to pump it back into used oil reservoirs, under the sea, for precaution. However, if we rely on plants to get carbon, the scale needed will disrupt world food production, and we will have a hard time providing enough food for our growing population.

Finally, some of the technological solutions it needs, even if the world makes a lot of emissions cuts, because we are close to unmanageable risks. If geoengineering is to be important, we need to plan for a smorgasbord, and in -depth systematic assessment of the risks. Capturing and storing carbon seems like a more promising option: it will survive economically and appear safe. Over the next decade, we need to start lifting it, so that we are ready to pull 5.5 to 11 billion tons (5 to 10 billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. We need it even if the world follows the Carbon Law. Going beyond this, however, is really in the realm of science fiction.

Finally, the researchers also suggest a way to stabilize parts of the Antarctic ice sheet. It will take about 12,000 wind turbines to generate electricity, but giant snow machines can be used to absorb seawater and turn it into snow to stand up the ice sheet and protect the world from many yards of level rise. at sea. Our evaluation is of ideas like these, so far, interesting projects on paper and in the minds of scholarly colleagues. While they show the magnitude of the challenges we face, it may not be realistic at the moment. Ten years from now, we may change this opinion. This is the most we are forced to consider.

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