What are the Big Ideas for combating global warming?
April 3, 2006 2:37 PM   Subscribe

What are the Big Ideas for combating global warming? Who is proposing them? Which do you find most plausible?

I'll admit it: I've watched some Star Trek in my time. Let me tell you, when there's a planetary crisis brewing, they don't sit around for twenty years debating Kyoto Protocols. They call in the Enterprise, drill down to the planet core with phasers, and reliquify the magma. (Substitute "tractor-beam the asteroid," "initiate a cascade reaction," or "compress the gravitational field" as you see fit.)

If you can accept the idea that we have, in fact reached a tipping point where climate change may accelerate out of control, then we're potentially too late to reverse the effects by meagre (and uncoordinated) efforts at limiting emissions. So what are the Big Ideas for solving the problem? Who is talking seriously about treating the earth as a very large engineering problem?

As just one example, are there proposals for economically feasible ways to temporarily alter the earth's reflectivity? Would such proposals be sufficiently non-disruptive to everyday life that nations could agree on them? What is the probability that such efforts would have the desired effect?

For the purpose of this question, please assume that global warming/climate change is a reality; I'm not interested in holding that debate here. Bonus points for any answers involving lasers.
posted by Galvatron to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Plant lots of trees.
posted by reklaw at 2:45 PM on April 3, 2006

I believe the carbon market is what is at the gist of the Kyoto Protocol and if it can be enacted would be the best (so far as I have seen) way to both combat global warming and allow developing countries out of poverty. The problem is that cheap energy is needed for poor countries to grow and become economically feasible and eventually green. A carbon market would allow rich countries who can burden the costs of environmentalism to do so and poor countries to benefit from shared technology and cash to become less poor and also to be cleaner in their growth. All this in a free market environment.

That's at the heart of the Kyoto protocol and I've seen some game theory suggest that there's no other way to be environmentally friendly and economically feasible with current technology, that is rich countries will have to foot the bill for the long-term benefit of humanity.

Also, I believe that carbon sinks such as trees were overstated, at least from article in the blue awhile ago. If the goal is to get rid of the worst offenders of global warming, the greenhouse gasses, the carbon market is the best place to start.
posted by geoff. at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2006

Best answer: There was an interesting article online about a man who proposed dropping iron into the oceans in order to increase plankton growth in "dead areas" increasing the total amount of biomass, thus decreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

This article from the Boston Globe mentions "Technical fixes like filling the stratosphere with billions of silver balloons to reflect the sun's rays, [and] spraying the oceans with iron to make them suck up the gases causing global warming."
posted by adamwolf at 3:09 PM on April 3, 2006

I don't know, but I found it very interesting that Goldman Sachs took a large parcel of rainforest they owned, and donated it to a non-profit a couple of years ago. I wondered if they'd planned to collect fees for brokering the sale of carbon-trading credits using the forest as a sink.
posted by Good Brain at 3:12 PM on April 3, 2006

I'm eagerly awaiting the responses. All I've heard to date are short-term solutions:
1. stop accelerating it you morons,
2. put blankets on glaciers, and
3. build seawalls and built on higher ground
posted by salvia at 3:18 PM on April 3, 2006

Oops, typo, I meant "build seawalls and build on higher ground..."
posted by salvia at 3:19 PM on April 3, 2006

Fifty Degrees Below, Kim Stanley Robinson's sequel to Forty Signs of Rain, had the main character(s) going thru various proposal for short-term mitigation of global warming (and in more detail one particular effect: north atlantic current stall). I don't know how real any of those proposed ideas were (real meaning taken from current scientific brainstorming), but it was entertaining to read. :)

The only one I remember was to literally dump salt in the north atlantic to restart downswell of warm water (also evaporation of water up there to increase salinity to archieve same).

posted by R343L at 3:48 PM on April 3, 2006

I don't think there really are any.
posted by Ken McE at 5:16 PM on April 3, 2006

Did a little web searching. On the pessimistic side, here's a scientist being quoted in the WaPo saying that preventing emissions is the only thing that'll help, "You have to start doing things now," he said. "To undo [warming] or stop it is not possible."

On the positive side, all I found in my 3 minutes was that Blair thinks "science" will solve global warming. (Yeah.... thaaanks...)

No mention of whether anyone considered using lasers.
posted by salvia at 7:58 PM on April 3, 2006

Building big mirrors etc. would be far more expensive than just cutting back on GHG emissions. The only practical ideas are those which raise the price of emissions (Kyoto and its successor) or lower the price of energy from alternative sources. The later can well involve lasers (eg: in the manufacture of photovoltaic cells) and much other advanced technology, from torque limiting gearboxes for wind turbines to the particle accelerator in a Thorium powered "Energy Amplifier".
posted by Canard de Vasco at 9:07 PM on April 3, 2006

This man with a plan, if given his way, would prolly cool things off right quick.
posted by rob511 at 11:18 PM on April 3, 2006

Best answer: Carbon geo-sequestration isn't particularly Trekkie, there's a fair chance it will work, but it's about the only big idea I've seen that promises a huge engineered reduction in CO2 emissions. The main other contenders revolve around a radical re-organisation of the economy. Like that's going to happen voluntarily.
posted by wilful at 11:46 PM on April 3, 2006

1. run out of fossil fuels
2. ...
3. profit?
posted by juv3nal at 11:50 PM on April 3, 2006

How We Can Save the Planet by Mayer Hillman goes through a lot of the potential fixes - hydrogen economy, carbon sequestration etc. and comes to the conclusion that we need personal carbon rationing asap.

Interesting book, even if you disagree with him. Not sure that quite meets your criteria for big engineering though - although it would be a pretty big IT project to roll out the cards and network.
posted by crocomancer at 4:57 AM on April 4, 2006

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