Time to face two facts. First: Mother nature doesn’t love us; she’s a psychopath with a box of matches and a penchant for murdering her children. And right now, this psychopath is at the wheel of a runaway truck, flying down Monteagle at 120 with the brakes on fire, no ramp in sight and humanity sitting in the passenger seat. Second: Carbon cutting is a dead end at this point. Yes, humanity lit mother nature’s match; we gave this truck that first push downhill. But now, cutting carbon is just putting out the match that set us on fire, and it’s doing nothing to stop this runaway truck. It’s time to enter a new era of climate activism. To seize the wheel from our psychotic mother, and take control of the planet ourselves. Not with carbon cutting, but with true Global Climate Controls.
Runaway Thermal Cycles
To hear climate activists like Alexandra Occasio-Cortez tell it, we have 12 years to reach carbon neutral before the Earth reaches a point of runaway thermal overload. But with all due respect toward her, and others who believe the same…no. Not at all. In practical terms, we passed that point a long time ago.
But first, what is runaway heating? What causes it? First, we need to understand something called “albedo.”
Albedo is a measure of reflectivity; how much lights energy a thing reflects back to the source instead of absorbing. In practical terms, we can think of albedo as a spectrum from “black hole” to “perfect mirror.” The darker an object is, the more energy it absorbs. The shinier or lighter, the less energy. Everything has a net albedo, including the Earth. Just taking a step back, it’s pretty clear which parts reflect and which absorb. Oceans (being the darkest part) absorb the majority of solar energy. Polar ice caps, on the other hand, act as mirrors. They reflect solar energy back out into space.
This reflectivity balance works pretty well to regulate the Earth’s temperature. Or rather, it would, if not for one glaring design flaw: Earth’s mirrors tend to melt when temperature goes up, exposing the dark ocean water beneath. Water which, as it happens, serves as a fantastic heat sink.
This is why the Earth tends to go through runaway heating and cooling cycles. Temperature goes up, melting sea ice. Earth’s reflectivity drops, energy gets stored in ocean water. This melts more ice, causing more energy to go into the ocean, causing further heating and faster ice melt and higher temperatures, which melts more ice and increases temperatures, which melts more ice which…you get the idea.
This exponential decrease in albedo is the primary culprit of runaway warming. But there are a few others. One is extra carbon released as a result of wildfires, happening as a result of global warming. Another is the release of methane trapped in ice. And there are others. One of which seems a little odd; but anyone living in Florida can tell you how much it matters.
Water vapor is, by far, the most powerful greenhouse gas on Earth. Because, unlike carbon, the effects of water vapor (humidity increase) is non-linear. Water vapor acts as a greenhouse gas in two ways both acting as a blanket to trap heat in and working as an energy storage device and magnifying glass.
While water vapor alone is a pretty short-lived gas, it amplifies the effects of other greenhouse gases by about two to one. And it’s well capable of going into the same feedback loop as albedo. Higher temperatures vaporize more water, and warmer air holds more. This amplifies the effects of other greenhouse gases, which causes more heat, which puts more vapor into the air.
Between albedo and water vapor alone, we have a doubly exponential situation, where climate can run away very quickly with even minor changes.
That’s where we are right now.
I say “right now,” because that is effectively the case. The moment we started to lose sea ice cover, and failed to reduce carbon, the deal was already done. And there isn’t a chance in Hell we’re going to reduce carbon enough in the next 10 years to reverse the cycle. Best case scenario, we slow it down a little and buy some time. But some point soon, we’re going to need to begin taking efforts to break these feedback loops and take control of the climate ourselves.
Who are we to trust, after all? Ourselves, or the psycho with the matches?
Breaking the Cycle
First, to be clear: I am concerned with getting us off of fossil fuels and onto clean energy. I’ve got a few ideas along those lines; in addition to a few devices I’m quietly patenting and we’re working on through the Rowe Foundation, we’ve also got the EPIC Protocols for electric vehicle phase-in and a strategy to move us toward a hydrogen. Just wait till you see SeaStar. It’ll blow your mind. I’m really excited about it. Generating energy using (at least in part) waste heat from the oceans, while cooling said oceans, removing carbon dioxide and returning oxygen to them. Very cool.
That’s on a long list of things we’ll be working on through the foundation. Medium-altitude terawatt wind generation has a lot of promise, too. But, for now, a short word on two of my other pet projects. The ones I can talk about right now. Projects which may, or may not, go on to play a role in saving life on Earth. Fair warning: some sound pretty laughably impractical or sci-fi. But with all humility…that’s what they said to Jules Verne. Ahem.
I’ll be doing longer articles on all these and more later. But for now, here’s the summary of a few ideas.
Project Silverdome – Sunscreen for the Planet
Might as well start by shooting for the stars. Literally.
Project Silverdome is a research project aimed at breaking or slowing the cycle of runaway warming with a literal deflector shield around Earth. Frankly, I have no idea if this would actually work. That’s what makes it a research project. But there’s also no reason to think it wouldn’t.
In short, imagine a giant, semi-transparent mirror shield covering the planet. Ideally, this shield would be almost invisible from the ground, yet capable of reflecting some percentage of the sun’s energy back out into space. For practical and cost purposes, is should be light (with in terms of color and weight), as well as nonmagnetic, and penetrable by spacecraft and satellites.
We could accomplish this with a light dusting of some light colored material in low geosynchronous orbit between the tropic lines. I would suggest something like titanium dioxide; the pigment in white paint, as well as the active ingredient in most sunscreens. Titanium dioxide is incredibly effective in repelling solar energy (hence its use in sunscreen). It’s also incredibly light, as titanium typically is. This reduces cost of implementation. So does the fact that the stuff is almost literally cheap as dirt.
I’m also open to the idea of using more infrared selective materials, likely in bands between the tropics where you don’t want to block ultraviolet. That would probably be bad for plants. Silica (glass) is the obvious cheap choice, but I’m not too thrilled about the idea of sandblasting reentering spacecraft at Mach 12. We might want to go for some IR selective plastics for that. Though less durable and effective, they’d probably burn off in the plasma sheath if in low enough orbit. Dunno. Smart people will figure it out.
Whether they be launched by public or private funding, a few Silverdome satellites carrying a few tons of powdered titanium dioxide (or other materials) would theoretically be enough to increase the Earth’s total albedo by a few percent. Enough to interrupt the thermal runaway cycle and give us a chance at getting to carbon neutral before the entire planet burns down. Depending on the particle size, it could also be removed or reduced later as needs may be. It could also be added to.
Silverdome would give humanity effectively permanent control over the Earth’s albedo, and the ability to turn our global thermostat up or down at will.
Obviously, there are some practical consideration here. Not least of which being exactly where we concentrate the particle percentage, and avoiding damage to satellites and spacecraft and whatnot. Titanium dioxide may also not be the ideal material; it just seems like the obvious choice to me. At least, above the Tropics. “Research Project.”
In any case, I believe Silverdome or something like it may prove a key tool in interrupting Earth’s thermal runaway cycle. Permanently. And cheap.
The PolarStar Initiative
PolarStar is an approach to actively rebuild the Earth’s ice cover without literally repaving the North Pole. As pet projects go, this is the fuzziest of them in my house. I’ve been working on it for twenty years or so.
A few things to understand first.
- Sea Ice doesn’t typically just melt in place. It usually breaks off, and floats down to warmer waters to melt there.
- Salt water doesn’t generally freeze at surface temperatures on Earth. You have to get it a few degrees below freezing (usually about 28 degrees) to mechanically desalinate it.
- Stagnant salt water freezes faster than turbulent water. As temperatures drop, ice crystals begin to form on the surface. These crystals mechanically squeeze out the salt, causing it to drop into a dense brine solution. Put a glass of ocean water in the freezer, and it will separate into two layers; dense brine on the bottom, and fresh water on top. This layer separation is absolutely critical to the formation of sea ice. If you keep mixing the layers from below with tidal forces or above with wind, you’ll never get a solid chunk of fresh surface ice.
These were all things I discovered while figuring out how to build a Peltier Cell continuous ice extruder. An endeavor I abandoned once I realized you didn’t actually need to cool Arctic ocean water to freeze it. All you needed to do was mechanically desalinate the water, and create stagnant freezepools long enough for the fresh surface layer to skim over into ice. Turns out Arctic water is plenty cold enough to freeze over once you remove the salt. So, the energy is better expended in desalination and creation of stagnant freezepools. Nature would handle the rest.
There are a lot of mechanisms for doing this. You could use mile-wide towed arrays behind surplus nuclear aircraft carriers. You could rely in tidal or geothermal powerplants to desalinate water. But my favorite is using windpower. Anchoring floating windmills the ocean floor, and pumping desalinated water up into cross-arrayed distribution pipes. The water down there is below zero; it would almost instantly freeze at surface pressure once run through reverse osmosis filters.
But no matter which system we choose to use, the goals for all remain static:
- Create a grid-like structural framework of freezepools, trapping ocean water in stagnant conditions, allowing mechanical separation to take place and ice to build quickly during winter. The ideal would be sort of a “waffle” pattern; we build the “walls” of the “waffle” out of ice, and nature fills in the center. This reduces the time, effort and cost required on our end. Instead of repaving the Arctic, we’re just creating the conditions for it to repave itself.
- Anchor ice to the ocean floor. It does us little good to re-engineer the structural supports of Earth’s polar ice caps if it just breaks apart and floats away during summer. Regardless of how we choose to generate this framework, it must be anchored to the ocean floor. We can run wire supports in more critical areas, even consider more permanent installation of the convection-type passive coolers used to keep permafrost solid on the Alaska pipeline. But unless we want to see all out hard work float away in the summer, we have to anchor the corners of our structural “waffle” to the ocean floor.
Like anything else, there are many factors to consider here. Not least of which being cost and practicality. Different things will work best in different places, and I don’t pretend to have all the details worked out yet. Even after a couple decades, I’ve still only got more of an approach than a plan. But I can say one thing for certain: PolarStar will work. At this point, it’s only a matter of implementation.
Variable Arctic Protection Response – VAPR
If you’re from Florida, you understand humidity. Intimately. Despite being both a cause and consequence of climate change, the most common gas in our atmosphere is a byproduct of human activity. Water vapor is an anthropogenic greenhouse gas, full stop.
It seems weird and dumb to worry about water vapor, of all things, where climate change is concerned. After all, even if we were to remove it, water vapor would only return in some form through vaporization of the oceans. But remember, this isn’t about long term modification. This is a triage situation, and we’re focused on breaking runaway feedback loops. In this respect, water vapor control may prove key for global climate control.
In short, we need to start treating water vapor the same way as any other human gas emission. Because it is. Whether its gas or coal, nuclear or geothermal, every thermally induced energy source on earth essentially amounts to a fancy steam engine. We boil water using a heat source, use it to drive turbines and the excess vapor goes into our atmosphere. True, it may be gone in ten days or so; but during that ten days, it’s amplifying the effects of carbon and methane in our atmosphere by two to one.
Now, add the fact that every internal combustion event in the universe produces carbon dioxide and water vapor as byproducts. CH + O2 = CO2 + H2O. Pretty straightforward. The water vapor produced by burning stuff and using heat as an energy source adds to the amount of vapor gas which would normally be present in our atmosphere. Water vapor is an anthropogenic greenhouse gas, just the same as carbon dioxide. And vastly more powerful.
Fortunately, it’s also easier to eliminate. All we need is a global network of water condensers, concentrated in the hottest and most humid places on Earth. Preferably, distributed broadly over large areas. No problem. Right?
Actually, no. It isn’t. Because we already have them. They’re called “air conditioners.”
As I learned while living in a crappy RV on a roadside Homestead, Florida, a small wall unit AC in humid areas can condense more than 5 gallons of water a day. And not just water…the purest water on Earth. This was especially helpful knowledge for someone who was homeless, parked on the side of 73rd street with no access to water hookup. That five-gallon bucket kept me in drinking water and showers for months.
Now, imagine hundreds of thousands of those same AC units, condensing millions of gallons of water a day. All pulled directly from the atmosphere, and dumped into the Dade County fresh water supply. It would be more than every apartment dweller in Miami, or farmer in the Redlands could possibly use.
Now imagine all the water condensed from the source of that power…the Turkey Point nuclear powerplant.
Now imagine that same amount of vapor captured, from every thermal powerplant, all over planet Earth.
That’s the potential we’re looking at here.
But the benefits to VAPR go well beyond just the macro effects of saving life on this planet. They go beyond just providing millions of gallons of drinking water to the places that need it most. VAPR could actually help to control the weather itself. At least, to mitigate the damage caused by the inevitable superstorms caused by climate Meaning change. Which is of special interest to Florida, and places like it.
Recall, water vapor is like a battery; it stores energy in our atmosphere. If we were to deplete that atmosphere if its capacity to store energy, storms would theoretically dissipate as soon as they hit that pocket of dry air. Meaning that areas further inland (like Central Florida, where I happen to live), would experience less damage.
Does this mean I’m abandoning coastal areas like Miami, Houston and New Orleans? Of course not. I’ve got a plan to depower hurricanes before they even get here. But, the Stormwall is an entirely separate discussion. And probably won’t prove feasible anyway.
VAPR, however, will. Because it’s incredibly easy to implement.
Yes, we could add vapor condensers to every powerplant and internal combustion engine on Earth; it’s entirely possible to add them to automotive exhaust systems just the same way as we would catalytic converters or diesel particulate filters. It could be done. But this approach would prove ungodly expensive, and would end up consuming a great deal more fuel.
Much simpler and cheaper…just run a drain line from household and commercial air conditioners either into the city’s sewer system, or into the ground if you’re trailer trash like me. And no, that isn’t the same as just letting it drip onto the surface. Most of that water either spreads out and dries into the air, or goes into growing grass. To actually remove water from the air, it needs to drain below the growth layer of surrounding plants. About two feet would do it.
Or, you could just collect the water and use it for irrigation or drinking. That’s what I did. Having an endless supply of clean, ice-cold drinking water is never a bad thing in South Florida. Honestly, I never understood why every wall unit doesn’t come with a water dispenser. (Copyright and Patent. Don’t take my stuff.)
Point is, no matter how it’s done, we need to begin treating water vapor as yet another anthropogenic greenhouse emission. Because it is. Of course we’ll never remove all of it. Nor should we. The idea is just to remove the excess we’re putting there through human activity and climate change. If we can reduce the amount of vapor in the air by even a small percentage, that should theoretically yield almost immediate effects on global temperature. At the very least, we’d be taking active measures to break at least one of the feedback loops accelerating climate change. All else is just a perk.
Shall we raise a glass to that?
But How are you going to PAY for it? – Deals with the Devil
Honestly, my default answer to this idiotic Corposervative talking point is the same as almost anyone else who understands the scope of the problem: How can we afford not to save the planet? I understand the plight of those poor, disadvantaged corporations and their billion dollar margins…but some of us have to think past the next quarter’s profits. Humanity can’t just declare bankruptcy and re-incorporate under a different name on Planet B. And I don’t think Elon’s plan to build Elysium in orbit is going to work out for the other seven billion of us.
So, no. There is no escape plan. There is no Planet B. And we can’t afford to keep rebuilding Houston every time it goes underwater.
I’m sure others will have ideas on taking control of this runaway truck, and giving humanity the known universe’s first system of true global climate controls. But these, specifically, were designed to be cheap from the outset. Because what good are solutions if nobody can afford to implement them? I design everything with an eye to cost, efficiency and practicality. And these solutions are no different. Even PolarStar, which would be far and away the most expensive, is well within reach of humanity if multiple nations pool their resources and amortize the cost over a couple of decades. America alone could probably do it if we’d stop wasting trillions of dollars bombing hospitals in Afghanistan.
Silverdome is even closer to reach; I estimate on the low side of $20 billion. That’s little enough to be funded by private enterprise, and coordinated through a nonprofit development corporation like the Rowe Foundation. Which would probably be ideal. Not least of which because private individuals don’t actually need anyone’s permission to do it. You, me or anybody else could simply raise the money and implement Silverdome without asking for the right to do so. Nobody owns space, and there’s no law saying you can’t put anything you want in orbit. Including 30 tons of powdered titanium dioxide.
If it sounds like I’m gearing up to start soliciting donations for the Rowe Foundation, that is correct. If you want it done right…
So, where’s the money coming from? Without getting too far into the weeds of product development and how the Rowe Foundation is structured, I think we’ll find one unlikely ally when it comes to funding these projects. The devil himself…
No, no, wait! Stay with me here.
Think about this for a moment: Oil corporations spend billions all over the world every year fighting carbon taxes, environmental groups and measures to drive them into extinction. How quickly do you think Exxon-Mobil will jump onboard with planet-saving measures that didn’t involve taxing fossil fuels into oblivion? How much money would the natural gas industry put up to stay in business for another few decades? These people are desperate to maintain next quarter’s profits; we can utilize that very greed to save our species from oblivion. Because greed is nothing if not reliable.
This is true in the political sphere as much as the corporate. Not that there’s much separating the two these days. Because as Big Oil goes, so go all of the politicians they own. Sorry, bribe. Sorry, own. Once we start coming up with ideas benefitting Big Oil, I don’t expect much political resistance from the other side. They’ll find the funding. Count on it.
Nothing if not reliable.
So, whether we go through corrupt politicians, corporations or my own Foundation (if you want it done correctly)…money will happen. We can do this, one way or the other. Nothing is beyond hope, with the right approach.
How to Stop a Runaway Truck
These are just a few of my ideas and pet projects. And like any pet owner, I’ll continue to feed and defend them no matter how stupid they may or may not be. I have no doubt someone else will come up with better ones, and better ways to implement them.
But no matter what route we take, all must follow the same basic presupposition: That carbon cutting is a dead end, and we need to start refocusing our efforts on breaking these climate change feedback loops. Otherwise we’re just putting out the match that started the fire; standing on the burning brakes in a runaway truck, with a psychopath holding the wheel. Humanity must enter a new era of climate activism. One in which we are no longer mere subjects to the whims of our planet, but the masters of its fate.
This is our home. This is our responsibility, and our problem. We broke the machine of the world, and it’s up to us to fix it. It isn’t enough to cut carbon anymore. If we hope to survive, we must enter a new era. One of global climate control.
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