Garden hose to the sky!

Climate change is one of the most pressing matters that is confronting the human race in today’s world. Experts believe that it is no longer something that is out there; it is upon us to take charge and make efforts to control it.

Amongst the varied factors that contribute to climate change, global warming caused by the depletion of the ozone layer is the most popular one. In order to understand better, global warming is caused by the increased presence of green house gases like water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, etc. While these gases, in their right amounts, maintain the Earth’s temperature by absorbing and emitting radiation within the thermal infra-red range; an excess of it increases the rate at which global warming takes place. With the capacity of natural sinks of carbon dioxide, like the forests and oceans, coming down; and second order effects (sometimes referred to as positive feedback) including melting of glaciers and acidification of ocean water growing rapidly; it is increasingly a greater threat to mankind.

With a one degree rise in temperature, the crop yield in India is expected to go down by 20-40%. The effects of global warming are spread unevenly around the world. The developed countries in the global north contribute to the bulk of the emissions, and the global south – developing countries – bear the brunt of it. While the developed nations are called upon to act, unwillingness to let go of creature comforts and inadequate solutions at national scales is making sure that we are running out of time.

Copenhagen was utterly destructive; so much so that some say that we are not back to square one, but have actually regressed. While solutions like cutting down the carbon emissions; limiting the exploitation of ground water and mountain glaciers; preventing over-consumption and emission, especially of the rich; and working on afforestation might work out in the long run, it involves a considerable amount of sacrificing which many are not willing to go through irrespective of the repercussions.

Most often, in the face of a global crisis, a cheap and simple fix is the most effective one. ‘Intellectual Ventures’ (IV), an invention company in a section of Bellevue, Washington, is trying to do just that. A collective group of some of the best brains in the world, including scientists and engineers, they are working towards tackling some of the toughest challenges of the world. They believe that the solutions currently proposed for global warming are too little, too late and too optimistic. They reiterate the fact that the emphasis on carbon dioxide is misplaced, that the chief greenhouse gas is water vapour and that the current models do not know how to handle water vapour.

So much said what is it that they intend to do?

On June 15, 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted, and it was the most powerful eruption in nearly 100 years. The massive explosion discharged more than 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, which reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the surface of the earth. Over the next two years, this single volcanic eruption had countered the cumulative global warming of the previous 100 years, cooling of the earth by an average of nearly 0.5 degree celsius.

IV proposes to replicate just this. Their project – ‘a garden hose to the sky’ or  a ‘stratospheric shield for climate stabilization’ – intends to spray liquefied sulphur dioxide from a base station through a hose into the stratosphere forming a protective blanket that would cool down the earth. They have other back-up plans as well, like the ‘chimney to the sky’ (spewing out sulphur laden smoke from the power plants into the stratosphere) and ‘soggy mirrors’  (using oceans to produce clouds that cool down the earth).

Though there seems to be nothing permanent or irreversible about these ideas (assuming it does not work), it is being met with skepticism in most quarters. People shout out that these processes tamper with the ecosystem (something which we have already done) without looking into the details of it and the possible outcomes.

It is high time that a consensus is reached at a global level in order to implement measures that would be for the greater good of the earth. Action has to be taken, even if it means working directly on our environment, to evade the crisis.


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