Home GADGETS Reaching the goal: Science fiction strategies may be needed to avoid climate change

Reaching the goal: Science fiction strategies may be needed to avoid climate change

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The temperature of the earth is too high. Unless we can prevent our planet from stopping the warming trend, the continued existence of our species here will be very dangerous in the near future. Of course, in recent decades, we have implemented countless climate change remedies, but the fact remains that our window of opportunity to solve this problem is rapidly closing. In the near future, we may stop taking half-meter measures and pull out the well-known cannons, namely geoengineering and terrain modification. This may be the time.

in Pushing boundaries: the science of our planetOwen Gaffney and Johan Rockström, researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Center, guide readers to understand the scope and scale of the environmental challenges we are currently facing, explore the concept of “planetary management”, and discuss what we might do if we do it in the following excerpt It won’t work to do things again.

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From Pushing boundaries: the science of our planet Reprinted with permission from DK, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House Co., Ltd. Copyright ©2021 Owen Gaffney and Johan Rockström.


If all other methods fail, can we use extreme technical means to stabilize the earth? In the worst case scenario, protecting billions of people will face unprecedented engineering feats. Geoengineering aims to use deliberate large-scale technological interventions to combat climate change. Think about changing the terrain of our own planet. To be honest, most of these ideas come from science fiction. However, many people are now receiving serious scientific attention. By 2030, we should know which are our best choices.

There are two forms of geoengineering. The first option is to prevent sunlight from reaching the earth. The second is to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. Both are crazy high-risk interventions in complex systems.

Starting from the level of the universe, there are several ways to stop sunlight. Setting up a huge sunshade between the earth and the sun can do this very well, because it may prevent about 2% of the sun’s heat from entering. These figures have been collated. We will need tens of thousands of 10 square feet (1 square meter) sun blinds, weighing about 20 million tons (18 million tons). It will cost trillions of dollars in total and will last for about 50 years. But this will not help ocean acidification, because carbon dioxide will still accumulate in the atmosphere. If we continue to emit, even if we stop incident solar radiation, the ocean will gradually become more acidic, which is one of the main reasons for mass extinctions in the past. In addition to cost and engineering challenges, huge awnings may also have unintended consequences: for example, changes in global climate patterns.

Perhaps the most concerned geoengineering solution is to dump millions of tons of fine particles into the atmosphere to reflect heat back into space. We know this is feasible. Every major volcanic eruption ejects ashes into the upper atmosphere. This has a measurable impact on the climate. In 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines, the planet cooled a bit in the years after the initial volcanic eruption, but this effect was short-lived because the particles dissipated in the upper atmosphere within a few years. The scale of this intervention needs to be huge: about 3.3 to 5.5 million tons (3 to 5 million tons) of sulfur are emitted annually.

Cloud seeding or whitening is another option. Stirring large areas of the ocean will throw salt grains into the atmosphere, helping to form clouds. More clouds will reflect more heat back into space and may cool the earth. For example, this idea can be widely used locally to protect coral reefs. However, on a global scale, this will require countless unmanned fleets to sail to the ocean.

We can also simply paint roads, roofs and cities white to reflect heat. Locally, this influence can keep towns and villages cool. A similar proposal is to plant genetically modified crops that can more reflect the heat from the sun and thereby cool down more widely, but there is a dangerous clue in all these geoengineering ideas. Once it starts, we cannot stop. If we are forced to stop a geoengineering project for any reason (for example, running out of money, geopolitical conflict, catastrophic unforeseen consequences), the temperature of the earth will suddenly rise.

Some ideas for sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere have also been proposed. The most frequently talked about is carbon capture and storage. There are two main ways to do this: The first is to use some kind of machine to emit carbon into the atmosphere. The second is to grow and burn plants for energy. Burning plants will release carbon dioxide, but this needs to be captured and placed in a safe place away from the atmosphere. The most common suggestion is to take it back to the old oil depot deep in the seabed for safe custody. However, if we rely on plants to capture carbon, the required scale will interfere with global food production, and we will strive to provide enough food for the growing population.

Ultimately, even if the world is cutting emissions drastically, some of these technical solutions will be needed because we are very close to uncontrollable risks. When geoengineering becomes indispensable, we should plan for a large, disorganized, in-depth risk system assessment. Carbon capture and storage seems to be the most promising option: it is economically feasible and relatively safe. In the next ten years, we need to start scaling up so that we are prepared to emit 550 to 11 billion tons (50 to 10 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. Even if the world follows the Carbon Law, we will need to do so. However, to go further, this is indeed in the field of science fiction.

Finally, the researchers also proposed a method to stabilize the Antarctic ice sheet. About 12,000 wind turbines are needed to generate electricity, but giant snow blowers can be used to absorb seawater and convert it into snow to rebuild ice sheets and protect the world from digital sea level rise. Our assessment is that, for now, ideas like this are interesting projects on paper and in the minds of smart colleagues. Although they highlight the great challenges we face, they may not be realistic yet. Ten years from now, we may revise this view. These are extreme situations that we are forced to consider.

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