Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Can the ecohackers save us?

Geoengineering, or "ecohacking" - using science to change the environment on a vast scale - could become a reality faster than you think.... The article goes on to discuss several projects proposed by scientists to make global changes meant to mitigate the looming global ecological crisis. The article puts the problem as the roughly 385 parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere today and quote a scientist saying "I think it's a good goal to not go over 450ppm".

If "The solution is mitigation," let's take a look at what they mean..

US firm Climos plans to seed the ocean with iron particles: This is a plan which would encourage the growth of phytoplankton by spreading "food" in the ocean. More food means more plankton, the plankton sequesters carbon into their bodies, eventually the plankton is either eaten by other fish etc to become part of the food chain, or the plankton dies and sinks to the ocean floor.

Atmocean plans to put large tubes in the ocean which will move vertically with the waves, pumping cool water to the surface from 200 metres down...bring more nutrients: They go on to claim that by cooling the surface temperature it could reduce hurricane intensity.

To mitigate the Greenland ice sheets from falling into the ocean and shutting down the "conveyer belt" Flynn proposed re-icing the Arctic using 8,000 giant floating platforms that would draw salty water from the ocean and spray it on to winter ice, dramatically increasing its thickness ...

To prevent light from hitting the earth, a mesh of tiny light refractors into space to sit between the Earth and the sun... The material would bend some of the sun's rays away from the planet..

The funding for these ideas would come from carbon credits. For example this idea to put refractors into space, it would require 16 trillion spacecraft and would cost a total of $1 trillion (U.S.). The only way to raise that much money is carbon credits, right?

The common aspect to all these proposals is they aren't addressing root causes, but instead acting as a kind of band aid covering up existing problems. Rather than address the real cause of increasing temperatures let's put a shield in space, or find a way to sequester the excess carbon, etc.. One of the proposals was to spray sulfur dust into the atmosphere because of an observation of global temperature decreases when volcanoes erupt spraying sulfur in the atmosphere. SULFUR!!!

The article briefly mentions complicated results. The global environment is a complex system and tweaking the system from the edges is clearly going to result in an effect like squeezing a balloon. That "mitigating" one problem tends to cause other problems, especially as scientists have only a partial understanding of the system.

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