If All Else Fails



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Sunday July 18, 2021 - If All Else Fails - We know what we have to do to stop global warming from becoming catastrophic but what if our efforts fail.  There are so many things that need to be done, and they need to be done on a global scale.  It is already beginning to look like we are falling behind in our efforts, so what can we do if all our efforts are not enough to curb global warming


There are some things that we can do to reduce or eliminate, or at least slow down the worst effects.  These come under the headings of reducing the feedback loops that are making things worse, updating infrastructure to mitigate against the worst impacts, and finding ways to pull greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.


There are two approaches being assessed for slowing down the feedback loops.  The first is actually quite simple, painting things white.  As the climate heats up we loose more and more snow and ice from the mountains. glaciers, and the polar regions.  Snow and ice are light in color and so they reflect more light, and heat, back out to space.  Once the snow and ice melt the underlying surface tends to be dark.  The darker colors tend to absorb heat and this contributes to a warmer climate.  This leads to more melting and a hotter atmosphere. 


To break this loop we need to replace the lost ice and snow with light colored surfaces.  For example, instead of using dark colored material to pave roads and parking lots we can use lighter colored material.  We can also paint roofs white.  This has the added benefit of helping to keep the interior cooler.  Scientists are currently working to develop paints that will be more reflective to further help with this.


Some scientists think that stopping the heat from reaching the surface of the planet my be even better.  They have proposed that we can spray particulates into the upper atmosphere to block light and heat from the sun.  There is much debate about the environmental impact such a process might create but it is an option that we have if all else fails.


Sacramento, CA was very prone to flooding and was hit particularly hard in 1862.  It was decided to mitigate this problem by raising the flood prone area.  Buildings along the waterfront were raised about 10 feet eliminating most of the flooding.  Global warming is going to increase the severity and frequency of bad weather incidents while melting glaciers is going to to cause see levels to rise.  To reduce damage we can deal with this issue by doing things like building sea walls to hold back rising sea levels.  Low laying areas can be raised to reduce flooding, and water can be moved from areas seeing more precipitation to areas seeing drought conditions.  In hurricane prone areas, houses can be build, or updated, to withstand more severe storms.  Drought conditions may also require the building of more desalination plants where possible. 


Areas that have no need for air conditioning may need it in the future so we will need to make sure that it is more widely available and also work on doing things like making it cheaper and more efficient to run.  Heat is more deadly than cold and so we will need to make areas available where people who cannot afford air conditioning have a place to go and cool off as temperatures get too so high that their situation becomes dangerous.


Mitigation efforts can be very effective but they will be costly.  Imagine the cost of lifting most of Miami and all of Galviston10 to 20 feet higher than they are now, then extrapolate that out to all the costal cities that are less than 25 feet above sea level.  Sea walls may be cheaper with more and more areas becoming like the Zuider Zee in the Netherlands.  The Zuider Zee is an area that is below sea level and is kept dry by a system of dykes and pumps that keep the sea water out.  Compared with that, painting large areas white will be relatively cheap and may pay for itself by reducing air conditioning needs.


If things get too desperate we may need to pull CO2 from the atmosphere.  This would require us to pull CO2 out faster than it is being put back in.  We are already taking steps to do this using natural photosynthesis as a vessel to remove CO2.  Plants use photosynthesis to process CO2 from the atmosphere and combine it with nutrition from the ground to grow.  President Trump signed the US up to the Trillion Tree project that hopes to reduce CO2 buy planting one trillion trees.  Scientists are also looking at other plants such as Kelp to help absorb CO2 from the ocean (allowing the water to dissolve more CO2 from the atmosphere while stopping the ocean from becoming more acidic).


Other promising research includes building machines that will suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it.  I just read recently that scientists in Thailand had found a way to turn CO2 into methanol which is used in the production of plastics and some medicines, and can also be used as a fuel.  There are other scientists around the world that are working on similar projects.  It remains to be seen if these experiments can be scaled up and run economically.


It is clear that we need to curb CO2 in the atmosphere to prevent the worst effects of global warming.  There is not a silver bullet for this, we need to expand our execution on all of these to sure that we don't experience the worst effects of global warming.  If all goes well we should be able to get by executing just the first 9 actions listed in these articles.  However, since it looks more and more likely that we are going to miss our deadlines on  to hold temperature increase to below 2%.  That means we should be working on our backup plan depicted above.  The truth is that if everything fails, include the items listed in the above article, then we run the very real risk of another mass extermination event.


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