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Clean energy simpler than mirrors in space

December 3, 2010

Although it sounds like something straight out of an Austin Powers movie, scientists at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun are seriously considering putting mirrors in space and sprinkling iron filings into the world’s oceans to reduce the impacts global warming.

According to an article in the Vancouver Sun (reprinted from the Daily Telegraph), Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the Panel’s next report on global warming would not only look at the threat of rising temperatures but also consider “geo-engineering” options that could reverse warming.

Honestly, who puts a fricken "laser" on the moon?

IPCC “expert groups” will reportedly meet in Peru later this year to discuss these “geo-engineering” options which include putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight away from the earth or covering Greenland in a massive “blanket” so that it doesn’t melt.

Okay, honestly, we really have to ask: wouldn’t it be a lot simpler to just bring more clean energy sources online instead? We’ve certainly got plenty of these in B.C. that we could contribute to such an effort: conventional hydro, run-of-river hydro, wind, biomass, geothermal, wave, tidal, solar.

The carbon footprint for a typical run-of-river facility, for example, is less than five grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour, or 100 times less than gas-fired generation and 200 times less than coal-fired generation (see “Carbon Footprint of Electricity Generation,” United Kingdom Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology).

And who really knows what the unintended consequences of mirrors in space or some of these other “geo-engineering” options might be.  After all, no one intentionally set out to change the Earth’s climate when they realized they could unleash the energy (and the CO2) stored in fossil fuels like coal.

Overall, it seems kind of defeatist to be resorting to elaborate “geo-engineering” options like covering Greenland with a “blanket” when we haven’t yet exhausted the clean energy options available to us.

That’s not to say that “geo-engineering” options to combat climate change aren’t going to be necessary; especially with the expectations being so low that the Cancun climate conference will result in any meaningful agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It just seems like we’re moving rather quickly toward medicating the symptoms of climate change rather than addressing the root cause of the disease.

Fortunately, there are signs that progress is being made on the sub-national level to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, at the conclusion of the recent Governors’ Global Climate Summit 3 (GGCS 3), Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined several prominent leaders from around the world, including B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, to announce a first-of-its-kind, innovative subnational public-private alliance that will work toward climate change solutions and building the global green economy.

As Schwarzenegger said in a November 16th press release:

“We can’t afford to wait for national and international movement. Action is needed now, and action is what we’re taking with R20,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “The role of subnational governments is more important than ever, and California has shown that state and regional governments can institute policies that will grow the green economy, create jobs and clean our environment. With this unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration, R20 will continue this leadership around the world and will help influence national and international action.”

And while the Governors’ Global Climate Summit 3 (GGCS 3) was going on, Schwarzenegger also hosted a meeting of the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) Leaders Forum with Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and Premier Gordon Campbell.

In addition to discussions that focused on collaborative efforts to improve the health of the Pacific Ocean and address sustainability issues such as developing infrastructure to support electric vehicles and laying the foundation for the future of high-speed rail along the Pacific Coast, the Pacific Coast leaders also approved reports on the actions to date in the areas of renewable and low-carbon energy and energy conservation.

Considering that we’ve barelyscratched the surface of the renewable clean energy resources we’ve got here in B.C., it’s really a no-brainer that clean energy is something we should be contributing to these sub-national greenhouse gas reduction and climate change efforts.

Besides which, clean energy technologies are well-proven and well-understood. Can we really say the same for some of the “geo-engineering” options being considered by the UN’s climate scientists in addition to putting mirrors in space? 

These other “geo-engineering” options could include: “seeding” clouds to block sunlight; sprinkling iron filings into the oceans to fertilize CO2-absorbing algae; erecting artificial “trees” that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere; painting roofs white to reflect sunlight; and building man-made volcanoes that spray sulphate particles high into the atmosphere to scatter the sun’s rays back into space, all of which sound an awful lot like mounting a giant laser on the moon ala Austin Powers’ Doctor Evil.

So while some scientists and politicians are considering elaborate “geo-engineering” options to reduce the impact of climate change, we can perhaps take some comfort knowing that sincere efforts are also being made to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the fossil fuel use that’s causing our climate to change. 

And if you ask us, developing B.C.’s untapped clean energy potential and helping our neighbouring provinces and states reduce their greenhouse gas emissions seems a whole lot less complicated than building man-made volcanoes that spray sulphate particles into the atmosphere (see Doctor Evil above).

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Joseph J. permalink
    December 5, 2010 11:29 am

    mirrors in space should definitely be option #2. Let’s do clean energy first.

  2. Modred Avalon permalink
    December 9, 2010 2:55 pm

    I would think the least costly, and easiest to complete, would be to get off our dependency on fossil fuels to generate electricity and make the switch to renewable energy generation. This would mean there wouldn’t have to be a “blanket” over Greenland, or any other land mass to prevent it from melting. The alternative is to move to higher ground. I like preventative measures rather than reactionary solutions to global warming.

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