Global warming has always been a controversial topic, but this controversy has changed in recent years. The dispute over global warmingâs existence is not an issue any more. Scientists are now researching and discussing different aspects of global warming, like the rate of progression, who/what is being affected, how they are being affected, and the implications if we donât react soon. Scientists have been able to come to an agreement on what needs to be changed in order to avoid further damage. We need to stabilize and reduce our greenhouse gas output as soon as possible. The only thing that is not clear is how do we do this? There are many ideas that have been presented but which ones will save our planet?
One approach to this problem is using geoengineering to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we have already put into our atmosphere. There have been a few approaches presented but the most popular idea is to use geological mechanisms to store excess carbon dioxide in empty oil and gas fields or old coal mines. Even though this would return the carbon dioxide to its original source, it would only be a limited amount and would still leave out other greenhouse gases. (Hunter 2008) Another example of geoengineering is using the strategy of injecting aerosol precursors like SO2 into the stratosphere in order to cool global temperatures. The idea steamed from the history of volcanic eruptions that have previously caused a decline in the earthâs temperature by the formation of sulfate aerosols. In Wigleyâs experiment he concluded from his data on the volcanic eruptions, that a modest geoengineering investment like this could relieve the need for immediate cuts in CO2. Thus giving us more time to find and develop sustainable solutions. (2006)
Surprisingly even though agriculture is responsible for only 15% of CO2 emissions, it accounts for almost half the global anthropogenic emissions of methane and nitrous oxide. The CO2 emissions from agriculture are a result of the change in land use, like deforestation, and can easily be reduced by better management practices. Even though methane and nitrous oxide are released in small quantities, they are considered the most potent greenhouse gases. In agriculture the main producers of methane gas are rice fields and livestock manure. Nitrous oxide on the other hand results from fertilizers and nitrogen fixing crops. Changes in these agricultural practices has the potential to eliminate 10% of anthropogenic climate change.
Unfortunately changes in these practices can only reduce these emissions instead of eliminating them, but there is another source of methane that can be collected and used for energy. Garbage in landfills decompose entirely into methane which usually escapes into the atmosphere. (Hunter 2008) Typically it takes decades for the process to happen but, Paul Imhoff, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware and a senior member of the California landfill reactor project said, âWe developed strategies to decompose waste to methane several-fold faster, and capture the resultant methane with high 90% plus efficiency. (2008: 510)â Water processing plants can also produce and capture methane by switching to anaerobic decomposition. The methane that is captured from both sources can then be used as a clean energy source.
Methods like these have a great potential to reduce emissions from multiple sources but there is still a need for a long-term storage of carbon. While geoengineering can be used to capture CO2 into empty oil and gas fields or old coal mines these are only short term storage options. Luckily there is a possible contender for long term carbon storage called biochar. Biochar is produced by pyrolysis, a process where organic matter is heated in the absence of oxygen. Normal organic matter releases carbon as it decays over time but biochar can retain carbon for thousands of year. Not only would it help store carbon but it is highly appealing to farmers because it increases the soilâs ovrall quality by improving its water retention, fertility, and microbial activity. (Hunter 2008)
One of the most unique and possible controversial ideas in human engineering, which involves biomedical modifications of humans in order to mitigate and or adapt to climate change. An example of this is pharmacological meat intolerance, the goal of which would be to induce a mild intolerance to meat that has large harmful effects on the environment like cows. Another way this can be implemented is by making humans smaller. This can be achieved in many ways, for example, hormone treatment or preimplantation genetic diagnosis to genetically select smaller children. Other examples of possible modifications include lowering birthrates through cognitive advancement or pharmacological enhancement of altruism and empathy. (Liao, Sandberg and Roache 2012)
While all of these examples may seem unsafe or risky all of them involve tried and tested medicine and technology. The main argument for human engineering is that is less risky that geoengineering. We donât know the long term affects or damage geoengineering can cause while the techniques of human engineering are based off of medical practices we use today. Not only is it less risky but human engineering is all voluntary while geoengineering affects everyone living on Earth. A large argument against human engineering is that it ethically interferes with human nature. A good way to think about this argument is the thought that doesnât all medicine interfere with nature? Also by using this technique to mitigate climate change we are greatly reducing our interference with nature as a whole. Finally the argument that the idea of human engineering itself is crazy, preposterous, laughable, ect. Well did you know that history is filled with examples of ideas that were laughed at and dismissed? The theory of germs, the telephone, and the idea of a flying machine are all examples of ideas that were initially dismissed or ridiculed. Just in the last couple decades the idea of climate change was brushed off and dismissed but is now one of the most important problems we face today. (Liao et al. 2012)
Most of the time there is not one definitive solution to a problem. You have to be creative, think outside of the box and look at it from all angles in order. If you consider all the ideas, work on them, improve them and use them strategically together then we might be able to be the generation that saved the planet.
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