By Dan Shapley
What if the world can't get its act together and limit the greenhouse gas pollution that cause global warming? What if we're already past some "tipping point" that means anything we do to stop pollution now won't be enough to stave off a catastrophic future?
These are the questions that inform scientists who have leapfrogged assessments of temperatures rising and ice melting. These Geo-engineers argue that it's time for action, in the form of projects that will suck carbon out of the atmosphere, reflect the sun's rays before they reach the earth, or otherwise very actively counteract global warming. They sound like science fiction, but these scientists say the only fiction is that there's any other option.
Here's a look at six projects being exhibited at the Science Museum of London, written about in today's The New Zealand Herald.
- Synthetic trees that look like "goal posts with Venetian blinds," according to their inventor, and which suck 1,000-times more carbon from the atmosphere than a typical tree.
- Orbiting space mirrors that would reflect infrared radiation before it reaches the earth's surface.
- Algae forests in now-lifeless areas of the ocean could, if induced to grow by fertilizing ocean water with iron, draw carbon out of the atmosphere, increasing the sea's already formidable role in mitigating the level of atmospheric carbon. (One problem, among many: carbon absorption in the sea is already creating a catastrophe by making the oceans more acidic, thereby preventing many organisms like corals and snails from adequately building calcium carbonate shells.)
- Floating ocean pipes that would funnel deep cold ocean water toward the surface, where it would increase the interaction of abundant carbon-sucking sea life with the carbon-heavy atmosphere.
- Sulfur-filled rockets that would explode in the upper atmosphere, spreading a "sulfur blanket" to increase the aerosols that reflect sunlight before it reaches the earth. Sulfur is naturally released by volcanoes, and increased in damaging quantities by coal-fired power plants, contributing to acid rain. Successful acid rain reduction programs have contributed to global warming by reducing the pollutant -- which is one of the aerosols that acts as a sort-of counter-balance to carbon dioxide's warming influence.
- Seeding cloud cover worldwide by spraying sea water into the atmosphere. Clouds reflect sunlight before it reaches the earth, so more clouds could prevent some warming.