Geoengineering to Mitigate Climate Change?

We humans as a species are quiet young, maybe a couple of hundred thousand years old. Modern humans even younger, say eighty thousand years old. But we are oh-so-successful. We have spread from our ancestral home in Africa around the globe, occupying every conceivable climatic niche from polar regions to the tropical rain forest and savannas and deserts and everything in between. Everywhere we go we dominate the region at the expense of any and all other life, well rats and cockroaches might be the exception.

Part of our success is due to our ability to react very rapidly to any perceived threat. We can dodge a spear from an enemy, evade a charging tiger or jump from the path of a wild pitch at home plate. What evolution has not blessed us with is the ability to recognize a slow motion threat such as climate change.

Our attitude may be changing but not in time to stop it from happening. Global warming is real and underway. The ten hottest years on record worldwide have occurred in the last 12 years. The drought plaguing the US midwest is the worst since the 1950s. The long term projections suggest that the mixed hardwood forests of the Ozarks will become more of a savanna like grass land ( Mid continental drying is predicted by global warming computer models.)

Our addiction to fossil fuels, more explicitly to cheap energy, is an apparently insurmountable risk to our future. Or is it? Can we have our cake and eat it too? We want to continue to burn fossil fuels thus producing heat trapping carbon dioxide, but somehow reverse the effects of this pollutant.

One idea that has been seriously discussed is the allowance of more of another pollutant in the atmosphere. If we take the scrubbers and and bag house filters off of coal fired power plants we could inject enough sulfuric acid and particulates into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight. The increased albedo, or reflectivity in the atmosphere would prevent sunlight from getting in to warm the earth. There is evidence that this actually works. In 1991 Mount Pinatubo violently erupted and sent massive amounts of ash particulates and sulfuric acid into the upper atmosphere which resulted in a couple of years of falling rather than rising temperatures across the northern hemisphere.

The problem of purposely polluting the atmosphere with sulfuric acid is the resultant acid rain, one of those pesky unintended consequences. So two wrongs make a right?

Another geoengineering strategy involves the use of all the old Pontiacs and Plymouths in junk yards across the United States. We take them and grind them up finely and then spread the iron across the southern oceans. Sounds crazy? But this is another scheme that might help. And with fewer unintended consequences, maybe.

he southern ocean’s primary productivity is limited by Iron. This is to say that all the things necessary to grow algae which absorbs carbon dioxide are present except iron. Iron is a component of an enzyme used to make chlorophyll. With sufficient iron present the algae grows and eventually dies and falls to the bottom of the ocean taking the carbon with it. The more Plymouths in the ocean the less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Weird, huh?

But here’s an idea, why don’t we stop burning fossil fuels? We don’t need to dump noxious chemicals into our air and water to offset our desire for cheap energy. A combination of energy efficiency and sustainable energy supplies can do it. Now there’s a thought.

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