climate change

These Outlandish Climate Change Fixes Might Not Be So Crazy

photo by TWM via Flickr

As the challenges of climate change continue to mount, they’re thrust increasingly to the national stage.

The problems of climate change are often times defined quite clearly, the solutions, however, are not. This doesn’t mean such solutions, or steps towards one, don’t exist. From the genius to the seemingly absurd, here are four proposed ideas that may help combat some of climate change’s most serious risk factors. (Spoiler alert: many have caveats)

Release sulfuric acid into the atmosphere

Harvard environmentalist and apparently part-time mad scientist David Keith devised a feasible, although slightly terrifying, plan to combat the effects of global warming. In Keith’s approach he proposes that, using gulfstream jets equipped with large canisters, pilots release measured amounts of sulfuric acid droplets into the atmosphere. Keith says this will reflect about 1 percent of the sun’s rays back into space and help counter the warming effects of GHG emissions.

Of course, Keith’s solution is not exactly foolproof, and technically not even a solution. Even though Keith’s plan may work in theory, he admits it is merely a bandage on what is a more foundational problem of carbon emissions–meaning cutting such emissions is the only sure fire way to solve global warming. Additionally, the risks of unintentionally disrupting precipitation patterns or further destroying the ozone layer, make Keith’s plan, shall we say; less than ideal.

Flooding the ocean with carbon-fighting algae

A recent study has indicated that the geoengineering of algae in the Southern Sea has shown promise of mitigating some of the damage caused by excessive Co2 emissions. By fertilizing oceans with iron, environmentalists have show some progress in facilitating the growth of algae which capture CO2 from the atmosphere and funnels it into ocean depths.

Despite the results showing relative promise, a more recent study has determined that it would take 1000 years for such methods to lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by 40 parts per million–meanwhile CO2 emissions continue to grow by 2 parts per million annually, which would make progress negligible.

Carbon capture and storage (sequestration)

Carbon capture and storage, or sequestration, is the process of doing one of the following:

Scrubbing

  • Gas emissions are cooled to about 35 degrees fahrenheit
  • The CO2 is then “scrubbed’ using ammonium carbonate to make ammonium bicarbonate which separates the CO2
  • The resulting “scrubbed” gas which consists mostly of nitrogen, oxygen, and some CO2, is sent back into the atmosphere.
  • The ammonium carbonate is recycled, and the sequestered CO2 is sent to

“Pre-combustion” methods

  • The fossil fuel is heated using oxygen which produces carbon monoxide and hydrogen
  • The mix is then treated with steam in a catalytic converter, making carbon dioxide and more hydrogen
  • This third mixture is treated with a “hunter” chemical called amine which seeks out and binds with the carbon dioxide which then falls to the bottom of the cannister it’s treated in.
  • The CO2 is then heated and then siphoned off where it is sequestered while the hydrogen fuel is used in fuel cells or turbines, and the amine is recycled.

The sequestration process itself involves pumping the separated gas into deep underground saline formations or depleted oil and gas fields. After the CO2 is pumped into the porous rock, it is sealed and trapped underneath a thick layer which geologists call “cap rock,” where engineers claim the gas will be trapped “permanently.”

As you might imagine, this process also has a laundry list of caveats, from the possibility of leakage which would negate the benefit of sequestration and possibly contaminate surrounding aquifers, to the problem of international regulation which would be bureaucratically monumental to oversee.

Aerial reforestation or “tree bombing”

You’d be hard pressed to find a situation where bombing has a positive impact, however, in the case of aerial reforestation, an exception can be made. Aerial reforestation is the process of using planes to drop bomblets loaded with seeds that can help repopulate large swaths of forest significantly faster than traditional planting methods.

Scientists believe that deforestation has had a major impact on global climate change, with estimates that account deforestation for 15 percent, to  20 percent of global carbon emissions. Aerial reforestation surprisingly has little to no caveats, that is, unless you for some reason truly despise trees.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?

 

James Pero