Climate-change activists are once again warning of eco-Armageddon if we don’t mend our global-warming ways.
In a dramatic, opening speech at the UN climate talks in Poland this week, Sir David Attenborough struck a doomsday note when he told delegates: ‘If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.’
But the truth is we’ve proved pretty resistant to such messages before. We may make a few minor adjustments to our lives, but on the whole we carry on burning planet-warming fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases regardless of the dire consequences.
David Attenborough spoke at the COP24 climate change summit in Poland this week. He warned of the 'collapse of our civilisations' at a UN climate talk
Which is why scientists are formulating a host of ‘geoengineering’ emergency Plan Bs to try to safeguard our planet by manipulating the climate.
They include creating fake volcanic explosions to cloud our skies, moving the Earth further from the Sun — and even shrinking humankind so that we create far fewer greenhouse gases.
The projects sound like the stuff of comic-book fiction, but the science is serious. So could one of these schemes ever seriously come to our rescue?
An engineering team part-funded by Bill Gates of Microsoft has announced it is seeking ways to dim the sun by mimicking the effects of a huge volcanic eruption.
The Harvard University scientists hope to prove that by spraying tiny particles into the stratosphere, they could reduce global warming by reflecting some of the Sun’s rays back into space before they hit the Earth.
Engineers want to to dim the sun by mimicking the effects of a huge volcanic eruption. The chemical clouds would cool the planet by blocking the sun's solar rays. This means we could prevent some of the worst effects of climate change [File photo]
The experiment aims to replicate what happened naturally in 1991 when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines and threw 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere.
The solar ray-blocking chemical clouds cooled the planet by about 0.5c for 18 months. If such a reduction were sustained, it could prevent some of the worst effects of climate change, saving Arctic ice and coral reefs, and protecting low-lying communities from floods.
The $3 million ‘stratospheric controlled perturbation experiment’ (Scopex) outlined by the Harvard team and scheduled for early next year, involves sending an airship 12 miles above the south-west United States to release small plumes of up to 1kg of chalk dust (calcium carbonate) to observe how it scatters sunlight and changes the chemistry of the stratosphere.
They hope it could prove a ‘remarkably inexpensive’ way of cooling the planet, costing some £2 billion a year.
As global warming takes hold, water from melting Antarctic glaciers threatens to inundate millions of people living in low-lying areas such as islands and coastal areas. The answer could be to build a giant wall [File photo]
According to David Keith, a member of the team, ‘it would be crazy not to research it’ after the success indicated by computer models.
However, British scientists warn that the strategy would disrupt global rainfall, causing drought and famine in large parts of the world.
Piers Forster, a professor of climate physics at Leeds University, fears that up to 4.1 billion people could be harmed by changes in rain patterns. ‘The most striking example of a downside would be the complete drying-out of central Africa,’ he says.
Believe it or not, shifting Earth to a cooler spot away from the Sun has been seriously considered by Nasa scientists. Even more outlandish is their suggestion that this could be achieved by diverting comets into the direction of our home planet.
Greg Laughlin, a professor of astronomy at Yale University, says scientists could carefully direct a comet or asteroid so that it sweeps just past us — and its gravitational pull would spin Earth further out into the solar system.
An Oxford University philosopher has made an even more radical proposal that we should genetically engineer our children to be much smaller, so that they eat less, like Willy Wonka's Oompa Loompas, above [File photo]
‘The technology is not at all far-fetched,’ he maintains. ‘It involves the same techniques that people now suggest could be used to deflect asteroids or comets heading towards Earth. We don’t need raw power to move Earth, we just require delicacy of planning and manoeuvring.’
Fellow believers say the plan could add another six billion years to the lifetime of our planet — effectively doubling its working life.
However, critics have attacked the plan in the journal Astrophysics and Space Science, arguing that even a tiny miscalculation would cause a collision so catastrophic that it would destroy all life bar a few microbes.
What’s more, if Earth were pushed from its current position the Moon may be knocked out of orbit, too, drifting off into space, further upsetting our climate by its effect on the ocean currents which regulate the climate (transporting cold water from the poles to the tropics and vice versa) and tides.
An Oxford University philosopher has made an even more radical proposal that we should genetically engineer our children to be much smaller, so that they eat less, make fewer demands on the environment and overall emit fewer greenhouse gases.
Australian politicians have proposed a camel cull
Could wiping out wildlife help save the planet?
Australian politicians have made a start by