Can science save us?

Although it may seem as if we’re doing our communal best to kill our planet, breakthroughs in the fight against climate change are getting closer and closer.

A team from Columbia University is developing a gadget that can strip carbon dioxide — the leading cause of atmospheric warming — from the air, trapping it. Huzzah! Study leader Klaus Lackner says the process is 1,000 times faster than that which occurs in trees. He predicts it’ll be a commercially viable technology within a few years.

The only problem is this seemingly anonymous device won’t work on the sources of carbon emissions, but rather have an impact on the CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere. Also, removing the carbon dioxide from the device’s filters is likely to be quite expensive. In all likelihood the contraption would have a permanent base combining carbon stripping and storage. Depleted oil and gas fields have long been touted as places where carbon could be pumped and kept.

But, if it works, it’ll be feckin fantastic. Not that it would solve things overnight. However, it would be a way to tackle emissions. And it’s not the only possibility.

Alongside the by now almost passé wind, wave and geothermal energies, more exotic options include trapping carbon dioxide in the oceans, running cars on vegetable oil, hydrogen power (my personal favourite, probably because of Star Trek) and introducing carbon-loving bacteria into power plants in a bid to reduce CO2 at the source. We shall, for now, leave the likes of zero-point energy, nanoscrubbers and planetary core-tapping to the realm of science fiction.

Things are going to get worse before they get better. The IPCC is predicting a 2C increase in the average global temperature, and that’s in a best case scenario. But in the 1980s it was predicted that the nightmare scenario envisaged for 20 years’ time would be happening now. We’re in trouble, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way.

I love technology. I make no apologies for that. I believe it can address many of our problems, including global warming. We haven’t even begun to fully explore the possibilities.

But I am just one technophile with faith in the future. What do you think? Are we doomed, or can we survive? Can science save us?

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4 Responses to Can science save us?

  1. reasic says:

    I’m not sure how you’re using James McCarthy’s quote (“we can’t be that stupid”). Are you saying that you are hoping technological breakthroughs can bail us out, or that we will eventually take action to combat climate change? I believe McCarthy’s statement was describing the latter.

  2. Aye it was; I meant to use it in that context but the fact I have always seen action on climate change as going hand-in-hand with improved technology may have allowed confusion to creep in. (Or perhaps it was a lifetime’s exposure to science fiction that crept in.) I have removed the quote to make things clearer. I didn’t mean to imply McCarthy was urging breakthroughs or anything like that, I just agree with the sentiment.

    Thanks for stopping by. Incidentally, I enjoyed your “Great Global Warming Swindle Questions Answered” post. Very well researched and informative.

  3. reasic says:

    I see. I was asking because I’ve seen many skeptics use the excuse of potential technological breakthroughs as a reason for not taking action sooner rather than later. I agree that there will be newer, better technology, but I don’t think we should sit around and wait for a big magical CO2 vanishing machine to be invented.

    Thanks for the compliment. I stayed up late one night very soon after the film came out and tried to answer as many of its claims as I could with logical, fact-based arguments, and it’s brought me a lot of traffic.

  4. I agree, there won’t be a CO2 magic bullet. There’s no escaping that we need to take urgent action on climate change, and even simple things like energy conservation in homes can make a big difference. I just tend to get excited when I read stories about the likes of Lackner’s project because I see them as a step in the right direction, particularly when these synthetic trees are close to practical application. Of course, there’s no guarantee they will have the desired effect or even come to fruition. But innovations like that will hopefully augment the solutions we put in place today, although I’m not sure anything will ever repair the damage.

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