Global Warming: Technology vs. Choice
Photo via: mysi anne
Our world has become very much reliant on technology, and why shouldn't it. Technology has progressed in leaps and bounds over the years creating new and improved methods of health care, faster and more powerful networking, cleaner and more organized industry. However, despite its many great advances, technology is not necessarily what is going to save us from the ill-effects of global warming...
The Technology Behind a Global Warming Solution
Right now some of the worlds most gifted minds are working on ideas to reduce the effects of global warming. So far there has been some pretty unique ideas on how to reverse its effects. I say creative, but many people might prefer the words crazy, such as Bentley University Associate Professor, Eric (Rick) Oches.
"There are number of ways to approach the question of global warming," says Oches. "Some scientists have suggested injecting sulfur dioxide aerosols into the atmosphere." The idea behind this would be to reflect the incoming sunlight, thus cooling the atmosphere to offset warming, much like the gases emitted from a volcanic eruption.
"Another plan, is sometimes called the Geritol Solution," says Oches. "(The idea) is to fertilize the open oceans with iron, an essential nutrient, to stimulate phytoplankton production." The populations of these photosynthetic algae would then rapidly expand and theoretically lead to the minimization of atmospheric CO2.
"Other crazy things have been suggested like launching giant reflective helium balloons or putting sunshades above the Earth to reflect sunlight," says Oches. "None of them are actually feasible from a cost and engineering perspective, and all carry significant risks of ecosystem disruption or other unintended consequences."
A Real Solution to Global Warming
In many ways the crutch of technology would appear to be risky indeed in terms of a global warming solution. The unknown consequences of many of these ideas could be even more disastrous than the situation we are currently facing.
"From my perspective this is the wrong direction," says Oches. "The excess C02 in the atmosphere is already there—we are going to have to let natural processes reach an equilibrium with the excess C02 that we've already added."
Three Steps to Relief:Steps One & Two
Oches breaks down a solution to global warming into three important steps. Step one, burn less fossil fuels. "This is going to require energy conservation in addition to finding renewable energy sources," says Oches. Step two, develop the technologies that are more efficient and increase our ability to rely on renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.
Once again we are not talking about balloons or giant mirrors, but rather putting more high gas-mileage hybrids and electric vehicles on the streets. We need to focus on battery technology to solve consumer concerns about charging time, travel speed, and distance. We also need to improve the effectiveness of mass transit, and take a closer look at other alternative fuel technology on the horizon, such as hydrogen.
"There are still significant limitations to the hydrogen cell," says Oches. "Such as the need to develop a national network of filling stations and an energy efficient way of generating, transporting, and storing adequate supplies of hydrogen."
Presently generating hydrogen requires significant energy, typically from fossil-fueled electric plants. Expanding nuclear power has been proposed as a clean method of generating hydrogen as a transportation fuel. "Some creative engineers should find a way to create an on-board, solar-powered, H2O splitting system to generate hydrogen fuel from water— (this would) all be contained within the vehicle," says Oches.
Step Three, and Possibly the Most Important
"Third, we must promote behavioral changes," says Oches. "We need to be able to rely on people to make more responsible choices in their personal habits, personal consumption, and business decisions." But this is already happening, thanks to increased information being offered to the consumer, parent, student, business owner, etc.
"We're seeing people pay more attention to the fuel efficiency of the car they buy, the type of transportation they take to work, the way they build, power, light, and insulate their homes. These are all personal choices, yet they make such a huge difference and impact over the amount of fossil fuels consumed and greenhouse gases emitted.
If we can follow these guidelines to decreasing the amount of CO2 each of us is personally responsible for each year, we won't need any crazy technological devices. "Over centuries those elevated levels can be brought down through natural biological processes," says Oches.
There is going to be no grand scheme to save the planet. We talk a lot about various technologies being introduced here on Treehugger and Planet Green, and while they too are important, one of the most important messages we strive to deliver is the importance of personal choice.
No smoke and mirrors here folks, just a community of concerned folks trying to make a difference. Thanks for being a part of the solution rather than the problem!
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