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March 24, 2014 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

So Crazy It Might Just Work

Climate change is a difficult problem to solve because it requires fundamental, institutional, or legislative change. Too often it feels like climate-change experts resort to doomsday predictions and politicians pass on reform for easier or more immediate concerns. Time is passing quickly, and our climate is deteriorating at an exponential, irreparable rate. Now is the time for radical solutions.

  1. Blanket over the ice caps

The polar ice caps are melting at a dangerously fast rate, raising ocean levels and threatening coastal cities. As ice caps melt, they darken in colour, losing their reflectivity and absorbing the Sun’s rays more. This process exponentially increases the rate of melting. Scientists want to cover the ice caps in areas like Greenland with a reflective blanket, reversing the trend.

Some scientists worry that doing so would simply trap heat between the blanket and the ice caps, increasing the melting rate, but there is no substantial evidence of this.

A massive blanket sounds crazy, but restoring the reflectivity of the ice caps could be a game-changing idea.

  1. Artificial trees

Carbon dioxide removal is a well-documented potential solution to global warming. A variety of means of artificially capturing and storing carbon are being explored, with one company at the forefront.

Global Research Technologies (GRT) is creating “artificial trees”, towers that mimic photosynthesis. Using a dry resin, the towers will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the next step in the photosynthetic process, which would be to release oxygen, has yet to be developed.

The idea doesn’t seem to be totally motivated by environmental concern. The real genius is that GRT plans to sell the CO2 to oil and natural-gas companies, who use CO2 to create pressure and get natural resources out of the ground. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it.

  1. Stratoshield

The “Stratoshield,” an idea engineered by a company called Intellectual Ventures, attempts to cool surface temperatures by piping liquid sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. As described by the idea’s inventor, Nathan Myhrvold, the “Stratoshield” would dim the Sun in critical areas of the world, mimicking the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption.

Unfortunately, many environmental activists see this strategy as “geoengineering”, the type of radical, man-made tampering of the Earth’s ecological system that created global warming in the first place.

The theory of blocking the Sun’s rays to combat rising temperatures has been seen before in other ideas like orbital sun shields and cloud-making ships.

  1. Dials in every house

Pause from the futuristic, sci-fi theme for a moment, because one of the best ways to curb our use of greenhouse gases is also the most simple: the government installs a dial in every household to measure energy consumption. Seeing the number, people will attempt to lower their consumption, both out of awareness for the environment and consciousness of energy bills. A similar system has been implemented in cars like the Toyota Prius, and has shown that the idea really does work.

Researchers estimate that the dial would cost governments around $100 per household, including installation. Small price to pay to help save the planet.


  1. Tree Bombs

The depletion of Earth’s forests has heavily contributed to the increase in carbon dioxide. Without the process of photosynthesis to limit our carbon production, the ozone layer will continue to vanish. This idea works by dropping bombs full of seedlings on fertile ground, rapidly dispersing the seeds and regenerating our forests. It sounds bonkers, but the idea was actually used in New Orleans to regrow the mangrove forests after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, with considerable success.

No one likes the idea of littering forests with bombshells, but fly-over planes that disperse seeds could help fulfill the “plant 1000 trees” goal in a matter of hours.

  1. Engineer Plankton Blooms

This may be my favourite idea yet. Plankton may be one of the world’s smallest organisms, but as a whole they consume massive amounts of carbon and produce a significant portion of the Earth’s oxygen. Scientists are proposing placing wave-powered pumps in the Pacific Ocean that would force the nutrient-rich water in the colder depths to mix with the warmer surface waters, essentially acting as a feedlot for large plankton blooms.

Ecologists worry about the ramifications of tinkering with the food chain, but increasing plankton could fill a void left by diminishing forests.

Whether it’s reprogramming AIDS cells to target leukaemia or using internet microfinancing to combat poverty, humanity’s most serious problems have been challenged by innovation and ingenuity. Global warming is no different. Radically reinventing the ways we think about transportation and construction, adapting our food-processing systems, harnessing untapped energy sources; these are the solutions. And turn off the fucking lights when you leave a room.


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