Crazy-sounding ideas for saving the planet are getting a serious look from top scientists, a sign of their fears about global warming and the desire for an insurance policy in case things get worse.
There's the man-made volcano that shoots gigatons of sulfur high into the air. The space "sun shade" made of trillions of little reflectors between Earth and sun, slightly lowering the planet's temperature.
The forest of ugly artificial "trees" that suck carbon dioxide out of the air. And the "Geritol solution," named after a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement with extra iron in which iron dust is dumped into the ocean.
"Of course it's desperation," said Stanford University professor Stephen Schneider. "It's planetary methadone for our planetary heroin addiction. It does come out of the pessimism of any realist that says this planet can't be trusted to do the right thing."
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is putting the finishing touches on a report summing up some of these ideas and has spent $75,000 to map out rough details of the sun shade concept.
One of the premier climate modeling centers in the United States, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has spent the last six weeks running computer simulations of the man-made volcano scenario and will soon turn its attention to the space umbrella idea.
And last month, billionaire Richard Branson offered a $25 million prize to the first feasible technology to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the air.
Simon "Pete" Worden, who heads NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, says some of these proposals, which represent a field called geoengineering, have been characterized as anywhere from "great" to "idiotic."
As if to distance NASA from the issue a bit, Worden said the agency's report won't do much more than explain the range of possibilities.
Scientists in the recent past have been reluctant to consider such concepts. Many fear there will be unintended side effects; others worry such schemes might prevent the type of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are the only real way to fight global warming. These approaches are not an alternative to cutting pollution, said University of Calgary professor David Keith, a top geoengineering researcher.
Last month, Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, told the nation's largest science conference that more research must be done in this field, but no action should be taken yet.
Source: China Daily/agencies