Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

Should We Do Something About Climate Change?

By now it is apparent that either chemists are not reading these posts, or they are not interested in evidence suggesting bond strengths are additive, or why, sometimes, they are not.
I must change my approach.  In the most recent Chemistry World there is a comment on climate change. What we see is that two proposals have been made to reduce carbon dioxide levels. One is to introduce crushed silicates into soils. Of course, they have to be the right silicates. One that has been proposed is peridotite. Most certainly, the earth is not short of this; it makes up most of the mantle, but of course the mantle is somewhat difficult to access, and we wo0uld have to deal with outcrops that have reached the surface.
The problem with this proposal is the rate of reaction. Some rocks weather tolerably quickly but overall the process is slow. It can be accelerated by at least a million times by injecting carbon dioxide into a suitable fractured rock layer, but that requires a lot of energy. This sort of proposal depends on sufficient of the right silicates being available, and the energy demands on the processing not generating, either directly or indirectly, more carbon dioxide than is removed. One problem is the source of the rock; if you can find it on the surface, obviously it is not reacting very quickly.
A more straightforward method suggested was to greatly increase afforestation. One point noted briefly in the article was that such forests might generate unintended consequences. Does not the logic of this comment grate a little?
First, huge amounts of forest have already been cut down. Allowing them to regrow would merely return the system to where it was before. A particularly good area to let re-develop would be the tropical rain forests. Huge areas of Brazil have had their forests removed, and the land is not that useful for anything else, so it tends to lie barren or be eroded. Replanting the forest, or simply stopping cutting it down and letting it regrow and spread would be a start.
One scheme that I think is worth further consideration is ocean fertilization, to let algae grow. There are two forms of algae: micro and macro algae. Microalgae grow simply with modest fertilization, usually with iron containing materials because the ocean waters away from the coast are remarkably deficient in certain cations. This proposal has been examined, and rejected because it was argued that only a minor part of the algae sunk to the depths and thus would be taken out of circulation. That, to my mind is ridiculous. What happened to the rest? Some, at least, would be eaten by fish and if we helped the fish population regenerate, would that be such a bad idea? Similarly, in the 1970s the US Navy showed that macroalgae could be grown in deep water on rafts, fertilized by sucking up water from the depths using wave power. The experiment ran into trouble during a major storm, and the consequent drop in oil prices killed it, but it might still be worth while. Some algae are the fastest growing plants on the planet, and as I have argued in my ebook "Biofuels", it is reasonably straightforward to make biofuel from it, which would replace fossil oil.
But for me, the biggest problem with the logic of "unintended consequences" is we are going to see some really major unintended consequences. There is a possibility of a sea level rise of up to 60 meters, as a consequence of our fossil fuel consumption. London sits between 5 and 30 meters above sea level. Is not drowning London an adverse consequence? Check with Google Earth, and if you live somewhere near the coast, your descendants may not be living where you live.
My view is the Society should be making as many efforts as it can to persuade various governments to invest more money into geoengineering research, and to coordinate it, because geoengineering alone can reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. What do you think?
Posted by Ian Miller on Apr 18, 2016 12:50 AM Europe/London

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