The oceans are nature’s way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – it’s estimated that one third of human-generated CO2 has been absorbed by the sea. But with the seas becoming more acidic, the rate of CO2 absorption is reduced. But what happens if they become more alkaline? Some Harvard researchers predict we could increase CO2 absorption by speeding up the natural release of basic solutions into the ocean, thus reducing the rate of release of CO2 in the atmosphere, helping corals and sea life affected by more acidic seas, and giving us cake.
There are some downsides, however, including localized pollution (the alkalines would be concentrated around the production plants, thus harming local sea life), price ($100 for every ton or CO2 removed), and energy – if the process were powered by coal, the net effect would be addition of CO2. Renewable energy, like geothermal, is one possibility around this, and in such a case could be more beneficial (CO2-wise) than replacing an entire coal plant.
See here for the abstract, it’s worth it just to read the title.
(article & image via Environmental Science & Technology Online)
Climate scientists released a scary report this week saying that global warming is likely to be both ‘stronger than expected and arrive earlier than expected’. Since 2000 large spikes in releases of the gas have seen the amount in the atmosphere grow much faster than expected when the Kyoto treaty was drawn up in 1990. The principle reasons for this increase include the growing economy, China’s increased use of coal and most worryingly, a decrease in the amount of absorption by the world’s natural ‘sinks’.
The UK and New Zealand have both had news stories this week with ministers seeking to go back on ‘unrealistic’ Carbon emission cuts. The problem for all these countries is as the world economy is in such a delicate balance right now (and always, you could argue), to be the first one to start making the drastic changes neccessary means a massive hit to your economy and job market. 12 States including California and New York are sueing the US government for failing to do enough about the problem. All across the news, there are gloomy tales of doom if we don’t change but very little positives highlighted of changing to a less energy intensive future.
SF Writers have a huge part to play in all this. I’m not saying we should all run off and become Mundane. However, science fiction has a capacity to inspire unlike any other genre – just look at the Space Race to see the dreams of the genre in action in the real world. At the moment people understand global warming is a problem. They just don’t have an image in their head of what can replace the current state of affairs. Most of the books that deal with climate change are overwhelmingly apocalyptic, offering no respite and little hope. If we as SF writers can paint a picture of a future where we have adapted to the problems globalisation has caused us without the world ending or life becoming depressingly morbid, we can achieve something that few people are able to do. We can stop scaring people into change and start inspiring them.
[story via the new Guardian America site, image by alasam]
Ever since finding a superb Spore video by Will Wright on TED.com, I’ve been keeping an eye on the website for new videos which are released on a regular basis. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and is an annual conference in which respected thinkers from all aspects of the world come to give fascinating speeches about their pet subjects. Only recently has the website started giving access to these speeches to anyone who didn’t attend the conference.
As well as Will Wright’s speech (and if you haven’t watched at least one presentation about the forthcoming groundbreaking game, you should), there’s a recent video by bioengineer Hod Lipson about his work on small robots which can learn and self-replicate. The website and video player is cleverly designed with an ingenious overlay on the bottom of the video telling you about the subsections of the talk, how long they go on for and what the subtopics are. Other enjoyable talks include speakers like Al Gore on global warming, Carolyn Porco on flying to Saturn with Cassini, James Kunstler’s engaging criticism of the tragedy of suburbia and Aubrey de Grey’s controversial belief that we can defeat ageing. That’s barely scratching the surface – I could spend weeks watching nothing but TED talks and not get bored. Have a browse and find the ones that engage you.
The South of California is a very precarious economy. California boasts between the fifth and tenth biggest economy in the world if viewed as a separate entity, with Los Angeles alone being an economy comparable to all of Russia. One of the main things that makes California so competitive is its agriculture, which makes it the fifth biggest provider of food in the world.
The farms, vineyards and homes of Southern California depend on a great complex construction of dams reaching out to the surrounding states. Drought in the Colorado River is causing huge problems downstream as more people move to the west coast. The supplier, Metripolitan Water District, predicts a dry spell cutting up to 30% of supply to farmers next year, the biggest set of drought conditions since 1991. California is a paradise but the climate and supply lines it is founded on are in a delicate balance that climate change may tip into unsustainability.
[photo by Steven Pagel]
As you may know, as a writer and blogger, Peak Oil is one of the topics that fascinates me, ultimately leading to the 30,000 word fictional blog miawithoutoil I wrote earlier this year for the World Without Oil project. This editorial from the Buffalo News is a great summary of Peak Oil as it enters the public consciousness. Another good frontpage diary at Daily Kos yesterday detailed a few excellent potential strategies from the Energize America project, which emerged from Daily Kos to be a major player in alternative energy related politics.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that sooner or later the resources of the planet will run out. Finite oil was always on the case, even when I was at school. But according to some writers like Richard Heinberg, we may be very close or even just past the peak in global oil production, even if it takes a few years for the news to filter down the supply lines and alert the wide world. A former Canadian oil CEO thinks we’re pretty close too.
We are already being encouraged to cut down on fuel use by environmental campaigners and everyone concerned with global warming. Peak Oil presents a natural brake on the climate change bandwagon but in a sudden stop, things will get very unstable. By encouraging smaller cars and smaller commutes, alternative fuels and increased public transport, as well as building shops, jobs and facilities closer to home and utilising the great advantages the internet gives us with telecommuting and virtual goods, we could create a world that would ride out the shrinking resource climate without capsizing. We’d better start soon.
[photo by Boback]