A bipartisan group of scientists and national security experts has recommended further research and testing of extreme geoengineering projects, or climate remediation, to assertively lessen the effects of global warming before it “reaches a tipping point.”
However, the General Accounting Office recently issued a report on varied proposals for geoengineering the Earth — to reduce carbon dioxide, adapt to climate change, and develop strategies for climate intervention. They reviewed current scientific research, and considered such technologies at the present time to be “immature”. The report cautioned that major uncertainties remain on the possible consequences, stating: “Climate engineering technologies do not now offer a viable response to climate change. Experts advocating research to develop and evaluate the technologies believe research might provide an insurance policy against worst case scenarios — but caution that the misuse could bring new risks.” See the abstract from the GAO report.
I don’t disagree with the GAO’s overall conclusion… No proposed geoengineering endeavor scored higher than a 3 out of 9. Research must continue, but zealots should not be empowered when potential side effects are huge. One experiment that clearly should proceed on an intermediate scale is to create “white cities”… by whitening rooftops in a few warm climate metropolitan areas and see if the effects are positive. The data would be useful, and it’s an inexpensive measure with few conceivable downsides.
And yet, a majority of climate scientists agree that humans are already modifying earth’s climate. Jane Long, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, stated that “We are doing it accidentally….Going forward in ignorance is not an option.”
My biggest complaint? There is one proposed geoengineering project that gets short-shrift in every single appraisal I have seen, and this GAO report is no different. It is the only method that would directly imitate a natural process that is already known to remove megatons of carbon from the air, every year. A natural process that has no negative side effects but dozens of positive ones — like helping to feed the world. That process is Ocean Fertilization.
Ocean fertilization involves adding micronutrients to the oceans to stimulate biological productivity, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, sequestering it as sediment in the deep ocean. This could also reverse a widespread decline in phytoplankton, the basis of oceanic food chains. Preliminary trials were highly localized, but indicated that the potential for iron-induced carbon sequestration may be lower than originally hoped – but this has not been systematically pursued.
And yet — can anyone explain to me why the only ocean fertilization experiments were crude, blunt dumping of powdered IRON? How does that emulate nature? Sure it’s a critical bottleneck nutrient. Still, I’ve seen other proposals, such as wave powered, one-way siphons to raise cool, nutrient rich bottom water above the thermocline. Or using wave power to drive bottom-stirrers, sending mud plumes rising — just like what happens off the great fisheries of Peru. (I described such processes in my novel, EARTH, published 1989). The energy profiles may or may not be efficient… we’ll see… but no one can argue that those two don’t emulate precisely the most healthy, wholesome and natural way that the Earth already pulls down megatons of CO2.
Of course, we must beware of unintended consequences of such large scale engineering. Ken Caldera, a climate expert at Stanford University, cautions, “The real question is what are the unknown unknowns: Are you creating more risk than you are alleviating?” We need to be collecting the data that will allow us to make informed decisions.
==Powering the Earth==
One futuristic solution to our energy crisis? Shimizu, a Japanese company, proposes the LUNA RING, a belt of photovoltaic panels placed on the moon’s surface. To avoid launch costs, the solar panels would be constructed on moon, by remote-controlled robots, directly out of lunar soil (which is 23% silicon). Power would be beamed to receiving stations on Earth (220 terawatts annually).
By treaty, any such project on the moon would belong to all nations. I know Dave Criswell who first offered this idea, years ago. If completed, the LUNA RING would represent the most grandiose engineering project in humanity’s history. Not yet feasible, it requires some major breakthroughs. And, frankly, the math may not add up. But it’s the kind of forward-looking thinking that at least stimulates the mind. It reminds us we’re a bold race. A competing concept is Space Based Solar Power — with panels placed in orbit around the earth.
SpaceX has a bold new plan for reusing their Falcon rockets. After upper stages (and cargo) separate, the first stage will re-ignite engines & return to the launch site, slow & land vertically. A process pioneered by the lamented DCX a decade back. This will also let them do test flights – verifying equipment before launch with critical payloads. Even better if you have an island recovery site down-range! Ingenious.
A bacterium that transforms ammonium, an ingredient in urine, into hydrazine, rocket fuel. Apparently NASA lost interest when they realized it would be difficult to generate large quantities of hydrazine.
A new version of Moore’s Law? Koomey’s Law states it’s energy efficiency of computers, not just processing power that doubles every 18 months. Particularly relevant as portable battery-powered portable devices fill our lives. (Brin’s Corollary? CAMERAS get smaller/cheaper/faster/more numerous and mobile even faster than Moore’s Law!) What’s not keeping up? Software. Never has. Maybe never will.
Exploiting a novel technique called phase discontinuity – etching gold nano-antennas onto silicon – researchers at Harvard have induced light rays to behave in a way that defies the centuries-old laws of reflection and refraction. Read the sci fi of Wil McCarthy about “programmable matter”…. this is a subset.
You can now hold your brain in the palm of your hand, with this portable brain scanner. For the first time, a scanner powered by a smartphone will let you monitor your neural signals on the go. Quoth one bright commentator: “And, in the category of things that belong in the novel “Earth”…”