Recently, my consumption of fiction has dropped off to within an epsilon of zero. I try to stumble through a New Yorker story now and then, and I've been known to stop what I’m doing to read Jhumpa Lahiri, even though I didn’t dig The Namesake. All in all, there's very little fiction passing in front of my face. Instead, to test my imagination these days, I've been looking toward geoengineering. You know, the idea that in order to save ourselves from the devastating effects of climate change, we need to act fast. We need to do something drastic and dramatic that will fine-tune our atmosphere and keep human beings alive a little bit longer; we need to build a great big something to save ourselves. Country by country, the climatologists are getting on board.
This is not an advocacy editorial. Or an anti-advocacy editorial. I’m not well-read, smart or scientific enough to advocate. Or anti-advocate. On one level, it does seem paradoxical. How do we know that if we do artificially adjust the global thermostat, we’re not causing bigger mal-adjustments down the road? Could it be true that the way to remedy the dire consequences wrought by human activity on the planet is to step-up human activity on the planet?
Many geoengineering ideas don’t seem strange: carbon sequestration, for example, seems fairly benign and, dare I say it, like a reasonable way to buy some time. But for the purposes of this blurb, I’m not interested in the reasonable ideas. I just want to point out a handful of the wildest papers, the ones that suggest thrilling and secret stories in a manner akin to one of my favorite children's books, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. I’d like to think that these ideas will feature prominently in high-quality science fiction one day. There are other far-flung proposals out there: sulfur cannonballs that blow up in the stratosphere; dropping lots of lime or iron into the ocean; variations on an aerosols-increase-albedo theme; etc.. Here are my top four.
Idea 1: Inflatable mountains. I'd like to think that if either Ridley Scott or Philip K. Dick had thought of this, the last scene of Blade Runner would feature Harrison Ford and Sean Young riding away, dotting in and out of the shadows cast by an enormous floating peaks... Excerpt from the paper:
In this paper is presented the idea of cheap artificial inflatable mountains, which may cardinally change the climate of a large region or country. Additional benefits: The potential of tapping large amounts of fresh water and energy. The mountains are inflatable semi-cylindrical constructions from thin film (gas bags) having heights of up to 3 - 5 km. They are located perpendicular to the main wind direction. Encountering these artificial mountains, humid air (wind) rises to crest altitude, is cooled and produces rain (or rain clouds).
Idea 2: Use cloud-seeding ships to spray salt water into the atmosphere. The additional salt water would, in theory, increase the reflectivity of clouds above the oceans. Excerpt from an article in Physics World:
The 300-tonne unmanned ships used to seed the clouds would be powered by the wind, but would not use conventional sails. Instead they would be fitted with a number of 20 m-high, 2.5 m-diameter cylinders known as “Flettner rotors” that would be made to spin continuously. This spinning would generate a force perpendicular to the wind direction, propelling the ship forward if it is oriented at right angles to the wind.
Idea 3: (Similar to #2) Send tiny mirrors into space to reflect sunlight into space, thereby reducing the amount of sunlight that makes it to our planet. Surely these could be tuned to make an intergalactic lighthouse? From a press release:
The plan would be to launch a constellation of trillions of small free-flying spacecraft a million miles above Earth into an orbit aligned with the sun, called the L-1 orbit. The spacecraft would form a long, cylindrical cloud with a diameter about half that of Earth, and about 10 times longer. About 10 percent of the sunlight passing through the 60,000-mile length of the cloud, pointing lengthwise between the Earth and the sun, would be diverted away from our planet. The effect would be to uniformly reduce sunlight by about 2 percent over the entire planet, enough to balance the heating of a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere.
Idea 4: Hydromancy! Pump seawater out of the ocean onto the world’s sand dunes, thereby mitigating the harmful effects of a rising sea level. (By the same wild mind behind idea #1.) An excerpt from the paper:
Seawater extraction from the ocean, and its deposition on deserted sand dune fields in Mauritania and elsewhere via a Solar-powered Seawater Textile Pipeline (SSTP) can thwart the postulated future global sea level. We propose Macro-engineering use tactical technologies that sculpt and vegetate barren near-coast sand dune fields with seawater, seawater that would otherwise, as commonly postulated, enlarge Earth’s seascape area! Our Macro-engineering speculation blends eremology with hydrogeology and some hydromancy.