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Urgency about global warming
Jon Lebkowsky, 17 Nov 04

Joi Ito posts some facts about carbon dioxide output from a conference he attended: "In order to stabilize the increase in carbon dioxide (at a much higher level than it is now), we would need to cut back 60% of our output. Conservation can help, but it is unlikely that conservation itself can take us to a sustainable situation. Alternative carbon free energy sources like solar, nuclear, and wind must be explored, but we must understand that we are in a situation that requires immediate action." A question for WorldChangers: if conservation isn't enough, what are other strategies for mitigation?

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Tax cuts for billionaires! So they can invest in inflatable raft and sandbag companies that will save lives as the waters rise and dikes break.

Seriously: If conservation isn't enough, then sequestration -- geological and biological -- is called for.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 17 Nov 04

Sequestration is a start but I think even this is going to look startlingly inadequate in a few years time. There are various ideas floating around - the new scientist had an article about a filter placed at the gravity-balance point between the earth and the sun, to take out a percentage of the heat before it arrives. Another alternative is bio-engineering marine micro-organisms which already take in a large proportion of the world's carbon dioxide (as much as that consumed by plants!) to take in even more - maybe only for a limited amount of time before self-destructing?
I've posted on this sort of thing in a few places and I always compare it with the discovery of agriculture in the Middle East in response to human caused climatic and environmental devastation. Only when people realise the severity of the problem will responsibility be taken for the planet-wide ecosystem. It is not only impractical to change all the flora and fauna of a place in response to climactic changes - it is inadequate and in some way possibly even unethical! I live in Scotland where climate change is already responsible for the dissapearance of the sandworm, causing a plummet in gull numbers. No-one is taking the consequences of all this seriously enough and it worries me greatly.

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 17 Nov 04

I have been opposed to nuclear power all my life, including here on WC. But I do sometimes wonder if at the global scale, we're at the the point where a tradeoff between evils becomes unavoidable.

"Okay, a few nuke plants, sited with great attention to ecojustice, with a firm phase-out schedule, combined with massive funding and ambitious benchmarks for improvements and increases in wind, solar, underwater hydro and other alternative sources, as well as conservation; implementation of good mass transit on a major scale; etc."

I know the political realities as they currently stand make such an approach unlikely, so don't bother to remind me! (But can we change those realities?) And the costs ecological and economic of containing the spent fuel (but are they outweighed by the gains against climate disruption?). And the overall badness of increasing the world's supply of reactors and the distribution of fissionable materials in the era of 4th gen warfare.

So probably I'll stick to my original position: Nukes? No Thanks!

Posted by: Emily on 18 Nov 04

It is a pretty pickle we're in. I've also heard the discussions about blocking incoming sunlight to reduce accumulated heat, but I think, given the projected 60% increase in world energy in the next 20 years (or something like that, we know it's a big increase), we can't afford to throw away any of the incoming energy from the sun, because that would only necesitate burning more fossil fuels. Plus, the idea of imposing another artificial factor on an already hugely complex natural system (the global heat retention cycle) seems like a dangerous idea.

Instead, I'd suggest trying to identify ideas that can be implemented cheaply on a massive scale. For example, rather than trying to convert all our energy infrastructure to solar, what would the effect be of converting all possible roofs to green roofing. You could do it with a really simple planting of a succulent like a Sedum:

which requires little water, and no care, and would not only absorb carbon, but would also reflect infra-red heat, which could help reduce warming. Obviously the cost of the initial prep of the roof would be the obstacle to overcome. So the real problem to solve isn't designing the foors, or implementing the roofs, but really how to "sell" the roofs. Consider this example:

when Napster came out, people loved the idea of file sharing, and it was widely believed that pay-per-download would never take off. But, by introducing the iPod, and iTunes, Apple was able to design a strong incentive to get people to use music legally. This inital success helped to start an entire online digital music distribution system, with lots of buisness players.

So, my question is, how can we design a solution which, rather than having a single government agency or environmentalist group do a huge amount of work to make happen -- like most of the proposed carbon sequestration concepts -- why not develop a more viral concept with some advantage for the consumer built in, that causes them to adopt a practice that bit-by-bit solves the problem.

If there's one thing we have a lot of in the world, it's consumers. Up till now, the only thing companies have used them for was to act as a revenue stream. But what if designers and buisnessmen could harness the power of consumption to do something worldchanging? Anyway, it's an interesting thought :)

Fire up your creativity at

Posted by: Dominic Muren on 18 Nov 04

The funny thing is up until recently we were sequestering millions of tons of carbon every year for decades maybe even centuries simply by dumping paper into modern landfills where it would have decayed slowly over 50-100 years...

Posted by: wintermane on 21 Nov 04



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