3DWannabe Blog

Global warming? Get serious.

by on Aug.04, 2012, under Science

Are you someone who believes the earth is getting warmer, the sea levels will rise and we’re all going to die if we don’t stop driving our cars? Bad news people, given the rate that the world is increasing it’s energy usage,  even if you never drive a car again,  if your theories are correct, all the bad predictions are going to come true. Unless of course we do the human thing and build a tool to fix it. What we’re doing now is touching a hot stove and pulling our hand away. Any animal can do that. Let’s work the problem.

There are a couple of theories of how human activity is increasing the temperature. One is the greenhouse gas theory. We are putting huge amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere trapping the heat in the atmosphere causing temperatures to rise. This would increase temperatures in the upper atmosphere and we’re not really seeing that.  The other is that we are taking stored energy from under the earth and releasing it in a very short period of time. This would increase surface temperatures, particularly around areas of heavy human activity. This actually fits the observed data, but doesn’t get much airplay since it contradicts the actions taken for the first theory. The reasons for that are for a different discussion and for the purposes of working the problem the difference is irrelevant.

Irrelevant! Are you mad! If there is to much CO2 you must lower it, if there is too much energy being used you must use less! No, that kind of thinking is wrong. The problem is to much heat. Let’s work the problem. One thing is certain and agreed upon by all. The biggest cause of heat on the planet Earth is the Sun. 99.9% of the heat is from the Sun. If we can reduce the amount of sunlight striking the earth, even by a very small percentage, we can control the temperature. We know how to do this, we have the technology.

Blocking the sun can be done in two basic ways. The first is treating Earth like your body on putting sunscreen on it. This can be accomplished by putting particles in the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight back in to space. There was a time in the 70’s when the scientists assured us we were doing this accidentally  and were headed to another ice age. (Leading to an infamous Time magazine cover (http://obrlnews.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/climate-shame/)) The idea was that the dust in the air from burning coal would block the sun. It’s the same idea, we just do it on purpose and use something more reflective than coal dust. We can start today, pick a material, start launching it in to the upper atmosphere. It has some problems however. Air currents will create eddies making the coverage uneven. Some areas will cool more than intended, some will stay hot. Is there a way to block sunlight evenly over the entire Earth? Yep, but you can’t do it from here.

The second way is to put up an umbrella in front of the Earth. Did you see the pictures of the Venus transit earlier this year? There was a small black dot on the Sun blocking a small percentage of the sunlight striking the earth. If we could just get Venus to stay still that would do the trick. Physics is not our friend in this case and that’s not going to happen, but physics and celestial mechanics does provide a substitute.  There are points in space called Lagrange points that can help us. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point)


The one we’re interested in is L1. It’s roughly 1 million miles sun-ward from us. Anything you put in that spot will want to stay put for the most part, given an occasional correction. It’s a balance point between the Earth and the Sun’s gravity and that’s the place to build our umbrella. This umbrella can be very thin, on the same lines as a solar sail. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_sail) Very large structures can be made that only weigh a few tons. There would need to be an engineering study done to see the most efficient way to do this, either with a cluster of smaller structures or a larger one depending on construction techniques. A scifi author name Gregory Benford came up with an estimate of a 1000 mile disc to block enough light. (Arthur C. Clarke also came up with this solution twice, once in Childhood’s End, the other in Sunstorm with Stephen Baxter, the latter going in to a great deal of detail)  Large? Yep. Doable? Yep. It doesn’t have to be done with a huge 1000 mile disc, you only need to block the equivalent amount of light.  A flotilla of coordinated smaller structures would have the same affect and could be a better solution anyway since it would be easier to adjust the amount of sunlight blocked. Just move one in front of the other. Need to block more light? Launch a couple more modules. It might even be possible to use them as giant power satellites beaming electricity to collectors at the Earth’s poles.

Do these solutions sound far-fetched? Do they sound as far-fetched as convincing the entire third world that they must live out their days energy starved for the good of the planet? The world as a whole will continue to generate and use more energy. That is the fact that must be confronted and any realistic solution needs to take that in to account.

Have a better idea?

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