Wacky climate solutions at Poland meeting


Climate change


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POZNAN, POLAND: With political efforts to tackle global warming advancing slower than a Greenland glacier, schemes for saving Earth's climate system once dismissed as crazy or dangerous are gaining in status.

Negotiating a multilateral treaty on curbing greenhouse gases is being so outstripped by the scale of the problem that those promoting a deus ex-machina – a technical fix that would at least gain time – are getting a serious hearing.

Inspired by science fiction

To the outsider, these ideas to manipulate the climate may look as if they are inspired by science fiction.

They include sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air by sowing the oceans with iron dust that would spur the growth of surface plankton.

The microscopic plants would gobble up CO2 as they grow, and when they die, their carbon remains would slowly sink to the bottom of the sea, effectively storing the carbon forever.

Another idea, espoused by chemist Paul Crutzen, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for his work on the ozone layer, is to scatter masses of sulphur dioxide particles in the stratosphere. Swathing the world at high altitude, these particles would reflect sunlight, lowering the temperature by a precious degree or thereabouts.

More ambitious still is an idea, conceived by respected University of Arizona astronomer Roger Angel, to set up an array of deflecting lenses at a point between Earth and the Sun. Like a sunshade, they would reduce the solar heat striking the planet.

Crackpot or not?

Put forward in various forums and journals, these so-called geo-engineering proposals have been dismissed by science's mainstream as a distraction or crackpot, with the risk of further damaging the biosphere.

And even if such schemes are safe, they could cost many times more than reducing the heat-trapping pollution from fossil fuels that causes the problem, say these voices.
But as the enormity of the problem looms ever larger, geo-engineering is shedding its untouchable status.

"The notion of deploying geo-engineering research and even commercialising geo-engineering is enjoying a level of respectability in science policy circles that would have been unthinkable even three years ago," says Jim Thomas of Canadian-based watchdog group, ETC.

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