There are those who feel that there is no cause for concern at this time about the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and if you trace who they are -- as for example by perusing through the comments of postings like this -- organizations like the Advancement of Sound Science Center or the Heartland Institute seem to regularly pop up. Searching further, you see that companies like Exxon Mobil provide supporting funds. Our White House provides encouragement and Republicans more than Democrats side with these detractors.
For all I know, they might actually be right. However, let's, for the sake of discussion, say that global heating is real and our world leaders are unable to agree on a workable solution in time. What if the situation gets so bad that virtually instant solutions will be required to save our civilization? I provide a wide variety of answers in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (seen in the box on the right), but for the purpose of this article, let us look at something called global geoengineering.
Various international conferences on this subject have been held over the past few decades, but, in general, proponents have generally been relegated to the lowest level of respectability by academics and funding agencies. Until, maybe now.
The concept is not new. The industrial revolution, farms, cities, transport systems and remedying the ozone hole can be considered to be forms of geoengineering. The Montreal Protocol actually seems to be working for the latter, but the Kyoto Protocol has been less than successful.
How can you quickly reverse global warming? It has been hypothesized that reducing sunlight by only 1% should eliminate this problem. Various ideas have been floated, from placing reflective sheets on the ocean or in space to exploding a controlled series of hydrogen bombs to stimulate a nuclear winter. Yes, some of the propositions have been certifiably insane.
One I favor (see the chapter on the Blue Revolution in the book mentioned above) has to do with an Apollo Project equivalent of building an armada of open ocean grazing platforms powered by ocean thermal energy conversion to suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while providing new habitats, green materials, next generation fisheries and sustainable fuels. Alas, such an effort will take decades and, horrors, maybe result in a United Nations of a thousand members.
The concept that has gained the greatest traction is the stratospheric sulfate solution (S-cubed), where large amounts of sulfur dioxide are, through various mechanisms, placed at altitude. This gas would form droplets of sulfuric acid in stratocumulus clouds to reflect back sunlight into space. Names like Freeman Dyson, Paul Crutzen and Edward Teller appear as advocates. This cure might cost $100 billion/year, for the effect wears out after a year, but that is a piffle in comparison with the $45 trillion exclaimed by the International Energy Agency as necessary to insure that our surface temperature only increases by 4 degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century.
Surely enough, Mount Pinatubo in 1991 blew its top and threw 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere and the globe cooled about a degree Fahrenheit that year. So the basic S-cubed concept has been largely verified by nature.
Before anyone gets too irrational, let me underscore that no one, not even the most extreme supporter, is even suggesting that anything of any magnitude be initiated today. It wouldn't hurt, though, to set aside a small amount, perhaps 1% of the global change budget, to comprehensively study the more reasonable suggestions, especially reviewing the environmental implications, so that if that one in a hundred chance that a perfect global heating storm (as, perchance, depicted in The Venus Syndrome chapter of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth) actually happens, we will have a few rational emergency options worthy of consideration.