Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another Geoengineering Scheme—Floating Pipes

Every few months it seems a new geoengineering scheme to save us from global warming hits the news. The lastest one is from a very improbable source, British scientist James Lovelock who gained fame for his Gaia theory of a self-regulating Earth. Lovelock teamed up with another British scientist, Chris Rapley, to write an article in the journal Nature to propose a geoengineering scheme to enhance the take up of carbon dioxide by tropical waters. The scheme involves placing huge numbers of floating vertical pipes in the water in order to draw cold water up to the surface by downward movement from ocean swells. Since cold water is richer in life than warm water more carbon dioxide would be taken up, at least in theory. An article on the BBC News website points out that Lovelock and Rapley were not aware that an American company named Atmocean has already begun testing such a scheme. Long pipes placed in water allow cold water in at the bottom and have a valve to block the downward flow of cold water during upward motion.

Why is Lovelock jumping on the geoengineering bandwagon? He told BBC News that “We are taking the very strong line that we are not going to save the planet by the regular approaches like the Kyoto Protocol or renewable energy. What we have to do is to look at it in a systems sense, or a Gaian sense, and see if it’s curable by direct action.”

It is hard to argue with Lovelock’s pessimism about our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough. If this were a baseball game the home team would be down by 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth with 2 out. However, it is also very difficult to embrace any geoengineering scheme. Whether it is mirrors in space, microscopic sulphate particles placed in the atmosphere, stimulation of plankton growth, or whatever, one has to wonder whether these people really know what will be the results of what they are doing. One thing at least is clear. We should have acted on this problem 20 years ago. It really may be too late.

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