12 Crazy (and Possible) Solutions to Combat Climate Change
In recent years there has been a shift of engineers and scientists envisioning a plethora of over-the-top and outlandish ideas to combat the threat of a warming earth. These crazy-sounding ideas to save the planet are seriously being considered by scientists, reflecting our growing concern of climate change as a society but also reflecting our tendency to stray from the realistic and often necessary solutions such as energy reform and halting deforestation. Billions of dollars are being invested in a number of new ideas and while some of these ideas are modest and realistic in sense, others seem straight out of a sci-fi book. The following innovations is our selection of some of the seemingly more ridiculous ideas, some of which are downright foolish and other that actually have the potential to aid in minimizing climate change.
1. Spreading Sunscreen on the Atmosphere
This household product that absorbs UV radiation and protects our skin from the sun can possibly be used as a solution for counteracting climate change. According to chemical engineer Peter Davidson, the key ingredient titanium dioxide could potentially shield the earth from harmful rays in an amplified version of how it works on our skin. The enterprising geoengineering project suggests that high-altitude balloons filled with millions of tons of titanium dioxide via flexible pipes could spread the sunblock throughout the earth’s upper atmosphere with a “hypersonic nozzle.” In an interview with National Geographic, Project leader Davidson said, “about three million tons of titanium dioxide—spread into a layer around a millionth of a millimeter thick—would be enough to offset the warming effects caused by a doubling of today’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.”
2. Dropping Tree Bombs
Some scientists and geo-engineers believe that it’s possible to generate nearly-instant forests by dropping “tree bombs” from planes. These small “missiles” are made up of compressed clay filled with seedlings, fertilizer and other nutrients that are rolled up into a small ball. The seeds disperse after they explode on the ground and eventually “blow up” into a patch of trees, flowers, herbs or whatever, depending on what seeds were packed into the bomb. It may sound farfetched, but this idea has garnered some credibility when it successfully regenerated mangrove forests after the devastating events of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Proving to be time and cost-efficient, this is one heck of a solution to reforesting the vast areas of land that have been stripped by centuries of milling.
3. Paint the Town White
It’s a widely known fact: the color white reflects solar radiation while black absorbs it. So why not put this simple idea to use when it comes to reflecting some of the excess incoming solar radiation and ultimately cooling down our planet? A building with a white roof needs less energy to keep the inside cool during the summer, leading to a significant cut in the amount of energy consumed for air conditioning each year. Scientists estimate that if every roof of every building on earth were painted white, the amount of energy saved would be equivalent to the energy saved if every car on the planet were taken off the earth for several years.
4. Giant Orbital Sun Umbrellas
Some scientists think we should prevent harmful solar radiation from ever reaching our planet in the first place. The idea behind this is elementary in nature, involving us shooting giant mirrors into orbit around earth to reflect the sun’s rays away from our atmosphere in the same way that a mirrored sunshade keeps your car cooler. This satellite could possibly cover an expanse of 100,000 square miles- an area that would block out about 2% of sun light reaching earth- and is estimated to cost $400 trillion. Another idea is to launch a number of satellites into space in the same manner and use the sunlight absorbed to send back down to earth to be used as energy.
5. Gardening the Ocean
Creating new plant life in the ocean could potentially be a major step towards reducing climate change and what better organism to use than plankton, which is one of the most important carbon sinks on the planet. These tiny organisms absorb CO2 and produce oxygen by the ton as they undergo photosynthesis. When plankton dies, they take the carbon to the bottom of the ocean with them. It has been suggested that massive wave-powered pumps should be used to force nutrient-rich water from the colder deep ocean to the warmer surface, which would induce large plankton blooms. Other scientists have proposed dumping large amounts of iron into the ocean to stimulate the growth of mineral-hungry organisms. The private company Planktos Inc. of California has already attempted this. One of the greatest challenges in making this project a success is finding ways to prevent the plankton from being consumed by other ravenous sea creatures, which would basically send the absorbed carbon right back into the atmosphere.
6. Enhanced Cloud-making Ships
This next idea follows the theme of making the earth more reflective to sunlight. The best clouds to get the job done are puffy, white and low-flying and scientists are eager to create more of these efficient sun-reflecting clouds. According to some, by spraying high amounts of saline solution (e.g. sea water) into the sky our clouds would become whiter and thus more reflective. Scientists think that wind-powered specialized ships with underwater turbines that would generate the energy needed to patrol the ocean and continuously spray water into the atmosphere could do the trick.
7. ‘Planting’ Fake Plastic Trees
A new kind of tree could help cool the planet. Scientists imagine “artificial trees” lined up along congested roadways, sucking up the greenhouse gases caused by vehicle exhaust. Made up of proprietary absorbent materials, these fake trees can ideally absorb carbon in the same manner of real trees. To make this idea even better, scientists at the helm of this project suggest that the carbon collected in this process could be sold to soda companies for the carbonation of soft drinks. Don’t believe us? Just check out this real proposal envisioned by GRT.
8. Mimicking Volcanoes by Showering the Earth with Sulfur Dioxide
The controversial book SuperFreakonomics proposed one of the most outlandish ideas to solve global climate change. The authors of the book suggested that we should mimic the cooing effects of ash-spewing volcanic eruptions. To do this, we could attach several miles of garden hose to a helium balloon that would pump sulfur dioxide, an aerosol released by volcanoes- into the upper atmosphere. SO2 has the power to basically block sunlight, thus providing a cooling down the planet, often experienced after a volcanic eruption. Unfortunately, there are concerns of increased acid rain with this idea.
9. Simulating Algae Growth
The possibility that algae could absorb CO2 from the atmosphere is changing the way people think of these organisms. Once given the bad reputation as a consequence of agricultural fertilizer run-off, algae is now being deemed a potential solution to climate change with their natural ability to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. Like all plants, live algae undergoes photosynthesis and once it dies, it carries most of the CO2 to the bottom of the ocean with it. Environmentalist James Lovelock has proposed using giant pipes to transport nutrient-rich water from the bottom of the ocean up to the surface, essential acting as a feedlot for algal blooms. When exposed to sunlight, algae can transform CO2 into a biomass that can be used as biodiesel, whose combustion releases no greenhouse gases. French biochemist took this idea even further when he designed a CO2 absorbing streetlamp powered by microalgae. With a flip of a switch, the lamp can absorb up to a ton of carbon from the air each year- which is about the same amount absorbed by 150-200 trees in the same amount of time. Of course this idea comes with a number of negative side effects such as harming the marine wildlife in these areas.
10. Minimizing Cattle Gas
Cows and other common livestock fart a lot. In fact, they release enough gas to account for millions of tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane in the atmosphere each year. This makes for one stinky problem considering the masses of people who demand their daily meat. An easy solution- besides starting mass vegetarianism- to this could be feeding cattle a bunch of garlic, which is known to kill the methane-producing stomach bacteria that cause deadly flatulence.
11. Dumping Lime in the Oceans
By decreasing the ocean’s pH levels, we can theoretically make the ocean more efficient at converting and retaining CO2. Converted limestone could be deposited into our oceans and could potentially react with the CO2 that has already dissolved in the ocean and convert it into bicarbonate ions. The decreased acidity of the water will also enable the ocean to absorb more CO2 from the air. However, it has been calculated that we would have to mine 10 km³ of limestone in order to absorb the world CO2 output. The validity and cost-efficiency of this idea has yet to be fully analyzed.
12. Cover Greenland in White Blankets
Greenland serves as one of our earth’s most powerful reflective surfaces with its huge glaciers and ice sheets. However, with ever-increasing melting rates of the earth’s ice, we’re diminishing our planet’s natural ability to reflect sunlight back into space and creating what scientists say is a dangerous feedback loop, in which further melting of ice leads to an escalating pace of warming. Glaciologist Jason Box suggested solving this concern by covering the country of Greenland with white blankets to increase its reflectivity.