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A Quick fix for Global warming?

Tom Feilden | 10:02 UK time, Monday, 1 September 2008

worldpic203.jpgIt's the stuff of science fiction, but could mirrors in space or giant atmosphere processing plants actually put the world's climate back on track?

That's the question being addressed by the Royal Society, which has given over an entire edition of the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions A to discussing the pros and cons of geo-engineering - planetary scale interventions to manage the carbon cycle and reduce greenhouse gases to an acceptable level. A sort of technical fix for global warming.

Some of the ideas that come under the heading of geo-engineering seem to have been lifted straight from the pages of a science fiction novel. But if launching millions of tiny mirrors into space to reflect sunlight sounds too far fetched how about using rockets to spray sulphur into the upper atmosphere? That idea was inspired by research on the impact of Mount Pinatubo's eruption in 1991. Sulphur ejected from the volcano spread far and wide over subsequent months leading to a significant, if temporary, cooling of the region's climate.

More mundane - though no less dramatic in terms of their impact - are proposals to increase cloud cover by spraying salt into the atmosphere, or to seed the oceans with iron (triggering plankton blooms that would draw carbon from the water before locking it away on the sea bed as these tiny shell-building creatures died and sank to the bottom).

Going green

Until recently these ideas were given short shrift by serious scientists. Policy makers have concentrated on efforts to reduce carbon emissions and on developing renewable energy technologies. But getting people to change their fossil fuel burning habits has proved a hard nut to crack. We simply aren't "going green" fast enough to avoid dangerous climate change, and that's forced geo-engineering up the environmental, and political, agenda.

But before you nip out to burn some guilt-free rubber in the 4x4 there are still some serious problems to overcome.

In the first place, geo-engineering solutions mean fighting pollution with yet more pollution, and all these proposals bring problems in their wake. Then there are the political consequences of one country, or group of countries, taking action than might trigger dramatic consequences in another part of the world. And, of course, there's no way of knowing how effective geo-engineering will be.

If we assume some sort of technical fix is going to get us out of jail free, and carry on burning fossil fuels in the meantime, we could end up with an even bigger problem in the years to come.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I love the idea of geo-engineering. But it does rather remind me of the old woman who swallowed a spider, then had to swallow more and more dangerous things till it eventually killed her. Or like introducing foreign species of animals to Australia to keep down the numbers of other species introduced inadvertently - it didn't go well. As the article says - we have to be really, really careful when trying any of this stuff. We don't really know what we're doing and once its done, it can't really be undone.

  • Comment number 4.

    [More mundane - though no less dramatic in terms of their impact - are proposals to increase cloud cover by spraying salt into the atmosphere, or to seed the oceans with iron (triggering plankton blooms that would draw carbon from the water before locking it away on the sea bed as these tiny shell-building creatures died and sank to the bottom).]

    Oh please, no more clouds - Not over the UK at least!!!

  • Comment number 5.

    Who says the worlds climate isn't already on track? We know very little aboutclimate change, despite vociferous attempts to tell us otherwise. How has this fragile world survived so many millions of years without us to control it? So many agendas and projects designed to control what we don't understand. Maybe we should just stop meddling and let nature take its course or have we become so arrogant, we believe we can control everything?

  • Comment number 6.

    I gave a series of speeches about Global Warming, and in my research came to the conclusion it is a natural process. The world warms up every 100,000 years a so, and then when the ocean rivers stop flowing a new ice age starts. This warming period lasts about 5000 to 10,000 years.

    I found all my information on the Internet. A lot on BBC's Web pages.

    The winners in global warming will be Russia and Canada as their climates warm. We will have to change the saying "Go west young man" to "Go north young person"

  • Comment number 7.

    I watched an interesting BBC programme on the effects of global warming that icorporated Typhoons in Asia. It stated that one of the ironies of the results of the Typhoons is that they kick up sea algae from the base of the oceans/seas. These algae absorb Carbon Dioxide and reduce global warming.

    One Question. Has any research been done into how much CO2 is absorbed and what the effect of cultivating this algea on a large scale might be? Two thirds of our planet is coved by water. Could this offer a potential solution in the reduction of Carbon levels in the atmosphere?

    Sound simplistic I know but some of the best solutions are - and as a result are overlooked.

  • Comment number 8.

    LATEST NEWS

    Figures released by the met office today show that summer 2008 may be the most average in over a hundred years. The figures, which include temperature, rainfall and sunshine measurements, were announced amidst speculation that the planet could be rapidly heading towards a climate of unprecedented predictability. Roderick Isobar, chairman of Brolley and Mac, the London based weather watchdog, said ‘What we are seeing here is averageness on a massive scale. Our models indicate that sustained average weather would have no consequences whatsoever on the planet and, if we continue to experience these prolonged spells of median conditions, by 2025 I could be out of a job’.

    The government has promised to set up a think-tank which will look at the effects of long-term average weather and says that extra funding will be made available to ensure that schools are putting the message across. ‘This is something none of use can afford to ignore’ said Irain Weekly, the minister responsible for maintaining Britain’s paranoia. ‘There can be little doubt that average weather has been caused by the actions of mankind and we all have a part to play. I am therefore initiating a full training programme which will educate people in how they can make a difference. It is absolutely essential that we take action now before the trillions of pounds invested in climate change are lost forever. I for one would hate to think that my grandchildren would never see the glory of a green plastic wheelie bin or breathe the fresh scent of bio-fuel ’.

    To help in raising public awareness the Post Office is to issue a special set of 4 stamps depicting a little bit of rain, a light breeze, a few clouds and a spot of sunshine, whilst it is believed former American Vice President Spiro Agnew is to make documentary film entitled ‘ An Inconvenient Trough’ warning viewers of nothing in particular.

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