Scientists agree that a worldwide temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius is the tipping point of global climate change. After that tipping point, it would no longer be possible for the climate to recover naturally, possibly creating a runaway global warming effect similar to what happened to the planet Venus. That is why it is very important that we reduce our global CO2 emissions in the coming years.
But what if we don’t make it, what if we do reach the 2 degree increase? Will all be lost?
The answer is, maybe not. There are a couple of ways human ingenuity could save us. Here are three of those potential solutions that we could put in place in a situation of runaway global warming.
Solution 1: Carbon capture.
There are many techniques to capturing carbon, most of them require large amounts of energy. There are machines, like the ones found in spaceships, that recycle oxygen and remove the carbon dioxide. Having some similar machines to take CO2 out of the atmosphere would be possible, but not feasible economically.
The captured CO2 would then have to be stored, either in the ground, or in the ocean. It is worth noting that storing it in the ocean would cause the ocean to become acidic, so we can safely say that this option is off the table. It is also risky to store it in the ground, because it could leak into the groundwater that supplies drinking water to most of us.
There is a third option; witch would be even more expensive. We could store it in minerals. If you make CO2 react with metal oxides, you can create minerals with the carbon trapped inside. It is the safest option, but would be very expensive.
Solution 2: Genetically modified trees/bacteria.
This option is a kind of carbon capture, but the logic behind it is: we already have a very cost efficient way of capturing and storing carbon, called photosynthesis. As every high school biology student knows, plants capture CO2 with a process called photosynthesis. The only problem is that we need more space to grow food because of an ever increasing population, so we have massive deforestation.
But what if there was a way to make photosynthesis more efficient? What if we could engineer a tree, a plant, or a bacteria to capture more CO2 in less space?
For now, we can only improve some parts of photosynthesis, making it slightly more efficient. But maybe with more research it will become possible.
Of course there are some problems with this solution. First, the modified plants or bacteria could be so efficient that they would become an invasive species, ruining other ecosystems. It is not hard to imagine a sort of bacteria that would spread so fast, that it would reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere so much that it would cause a global cooling instead; witch would be just as bad. There is an historical precedent of this happening on earth around 2.3 billion years ago with Cyanobacteria.
The second problem is how do we store it? Trees consume CO2, but then they die and decompose, putting it all back in the atmosphere. An interesting option, proposed in this ted talk, is to use the wood to build things, like buildings. Buildings can last for hundreds of years, and could store the carbon for a very long time.
Solution 3: Climate geo-engineering (Blocking some of the sun’s rays).
If we cant capture the CO2 in the atmosphere, we might be able to block the sun’s rays from hitting earth. There is a proposal to put mirrors in space to reflect the sun’s light from earth, but it is unrealistic for now, because of the cost of putting large structures into space.
When volcanoes erupt, they put sediment in the atmosphere, creating a cooling effect. There is an example from an article that said: ‘’the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption lowered temperatures nearly half a degree Celsius’’.
The volcano had sent sulphates into the atmosphere, creating a global cooling effect. If we were to send out sulphates into the atmosphere, it would have the same effect.
But there are also side effects caused by an increase in sulphates in the atmosphere, including droughts, and affecting the ozone layer.
The conclusion we can extrapolate from this analysis, is that there is no miracle solution to global climate change. These are last resort options, which might give us a hand in case of an emergency climate catastrophe. The safest and most cost-effective method of dealing with climate change would be to reduce our emissions by switching to renewable energy sources, and finding a sustainable way to produce food.
The fact that humans aren’t good at thinking long term, makes it very hard to do those things, this is why this article was written; to show that there are still chances of avoiding a climate catastrophe, even if we don’t completely meet our goals on greenhouse gases reduction.
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