Thursday, November 27, 2008

Geo-engineering: Apocalypse Averted?

O.K. I admit it. I'm addicted to TED talks! If you don't know about TED, check out this website:

The talk I'm sharing today is about geo-engineering as a possible response to climate change. Sounds ambitious, I know. This has to be the ultimate techno-fix dream solution. Half-mad scientists have proposed all sorts of methods for artificially cooling the planet: a host of plans to sequester carbon for instance. I picture them scrambling behind the scenes with their research teams, desperate to patent the great silver bullet that saves humanity from climate chaos. But as crazy as it sounds, if climate change gets too scary too quickly, we may be happy to have an ace in the hole.

We all hope it doesn't come to that. We would love to believe that the human family is capable of coordinated, aggressive action to cut emissions in time to make a difference. But garnering the political will to tackle a problem that does not seem imminent is always difficult. Scores of climate scientists have testified before world leaders at these so-called 'earth summits', and we still lack the sense of urgency required to take bold action. Current evidence suggests we may have waited too late.

I think we are quickly approaching a tipping point with the melting of polar ice. The glaciers in the arctic circle are receding at an accelerating rate, and it's probably too late to reverse that trend by cutting emissions. Losing the polar ice would have all kinds of severe ripple effects, so a tipping point for polar ice melting is effectively a tipping point for global climate. Without the Greenland ice sheet for example, the gulf stream current stops, throwing Europe's climate into chaos.

The tough fact to consider is that CO2 concentration in the atmosphere represents the accumulation of carbon emissions over time. So even if we stopped emitting carbon tomorrow, the amount of CO2 in the air will still be far higher than the 350 parts per million target. And because we are rapidly destroying many natural carbon sinks through deforestation, it will take a while for mother nature to equilibrate. In other words, cutting emissions is a slow process, and it does not reduce the atmospheric concentration of CO2 over night. So, assuming the worst case scenario unfolds, what do we do to save the polar ice and preserve some semblance of climate stability? Support your local geo-engineer!

The method discussed in this video basically involves spraying loads of sulphates into the upper atmosphere to 'shade' the planet from the sun, particularly at the poles. We know that sulphates in the atmosphere have a cooling effect because scientists have observed it after the eruption of major volcanoes. Hypothetically, it could work. It could definitely cool the planet.

The obvious danger is that people assume that geo-engineering is a free pass to emit carbon. It is not. All it does is buy us more time to help mother nature recover balance. We have to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere for a bunch of other important reasons. Geo-engineering is just a possible way of saving billions of lives in the meantime.

Hope you like the video. Post a comment and let me know what you think.

1 comment:

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