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Rx for a Sick Planet
Author: BobR    Date: 02/27/2013 14:03:12

The age old question of "are we alone in the universe?" sparks interesting debates, theories, and discussions. Does life exist on other planets? Is it intelligent? Is it more advanced than us? Have they destroyed their ecosystem like we are in the process of doing and looking for other planets where they can start over?

That latter question is one that has popped up in various science fiction movies, and for good reason. The ecological movement of the 70s resulted in the EPA and big steps towards reducing and cleaning up pollution. Nowadays, the altering of our climate via pollution (greenhouse gasses) has become so politicized that even good science has been demonized and sacrificed upon the altar of political posturing.

While we dither, while Nero fiddles, while we parse semantics, the planet continues to warm. Scientists are now warning that the permafrost will melt if nothing is done. Why is that a bad thing?
Any widespread thaw in Siberia’s permanently frozen ground could have severe consequences for climate change. Permafrost covers about 24% of the land surface of the northern hemisphere, and widespread melting could eventually trigger the release of hundreds of gigatonnes of carbon dioxide and methane, which would have a massive warming effect.

Got that? As the permafrost melts, it releases tons of greenhouse gasses, which accelerate the warming, which melts more ice, etc., in a death-spiral of recursive warming. We are on the cusp of this, with the gradual changes creating the predicted climate changes, effecting weather in a dramatic way:
Extreme weather events have been on the rise in the last few decades, and man-made climate change may be causing them by interfering with global air-flow patterns, according to new research.

The Northern Hemisphere has taken a beating from extreme weather in recent years — the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States, for example. These events, in a general sense, are the result of the global movement of air.

Giant waves of air in the atmosphere normally even out the climate, by bringing warm air north from the tropics and cold air south from the Arctic. But a new study suggests these colossal waves have gotten stuck in place during extreme weather events.
[..]
Here's how the waves may be getting trapped: The burning of fossil fuels causes more warming in the Arctic than in other latitudes, because the loss of snow and ice means heat gets absorbed by the darker ground, not reflected (as it would by the white snow). This warming lessens the temperature difference between the Arctic and northern latitudes like Europe. Since these differences drive air flow, a smaller difference means less air movement. Also, land areas warm and cool more easily than oceans. The result is an unnatural pattern of air flow that prevents the air waves from circulating over land.

Is this reversible? That is the big question. Plants are the biggest force we have for scrubbing CO2 from the air and replacing it with O2, but of course - reduced rain forests and changing weather patterns are making that harder. So what can we do? There is the obvious changes we can make in our daily lives to reduce energy consumption. It's not enough to reduce consumption, though. We need to push the equation back in the other direction. That means creative ways to increase the CO2 to O2 conversion.

Enter the biochemistry of algae. A French scientist is working on lamps that use phosphorescent algae that create energy by consuming CO2:
For the last 20 years, Calleja has focused his attentions on species of mixotropic algae, versatile little buggers that generate electricity not only from the preferred source of most plant life—sunlight—but also by absorbing CO2: “the lamps are composed of a tube containing microalgae, as well as a battery… during the day, the batteries are charged via photosynthesis of the algae, using both solar power and CO2.

Other creative solutions include reducing the footprint, natural resources, and emissions from delivery required for food production. One amazing idea is a near-bioverse proposed in San Diego, where a skyscraper building would be half-farm:
Half of the tower would contain residential units while the other half would contain growing space. Martella estimated that his farm could produce 500,000 thousand pounds of food every three months. The farm doesn’t require pesticides and could reuse the residents’ excrement as fertilizer, making environmentally friendly.

“The system I would want to use is to reclaim the grey water from the residential,” he explained. “That would actually feed into the building, be pumped to the top, through a series of aerobic reactions and charcoal filters the water would be cleansed, and that would feed the plants.”

This has "win" written all over it, and fits into a modern model which revives the old-fashioned sense that food is better when it's local. It fits into the resurgence of community gardens and home vegetable plots. It has the advantage of providing that option for high-rise dwellers, something that was virtually impossible before now.

So long as we embrace creative options, we still have a chance to roll back our blatant disregard for our planet's health. In the meantime, we can look at Mars as an alternative - it looks like what earth may be if we don't make some changes...

67 comments (Latest Comment: 02/27/2013 21:53:16 by wickedpam)
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