From: Dani Eder (email@example.com)
Date: Tue Feb 24 2004 - 08:39:00 MST
Our ability to affect the environment increases
as technology improves, both for the worse and
for the better. The air pollution I grew up
with in New York City has mostly gone away by
banning apartment building trash incinerators,
putting catalytic converters in cars, and adding
scrubbers to coal-fired power plants. These
things happened because air pollution was enough
of a problem that society decided to fix it.
Carbon Dioxide accumulation is almost at the point
where society will do something to fix it. There
are various ways to address the problem. For
example, I currently put 7 tons of CO2 per year
into the air by burning gasoline, but I also remove
150 tons per year by growing trees on land that
I own. I could double my removal rate if I planted
genetically improved trees, which are already
available, and applied fertilizer. A carbon tax
on emissions and a tax credit on removals would
mean coal burning plants would pay me to upgrade
my forest so they could offset their tax bill.
A higher tech solution is to notice that the
sublimation point of CO2 (-78C) is only slightly
below the average winter temperature near the
South Pole (-60C). By making 'cold spots', areas
sheltered from the Sun, and perhaps a bit of
refrigeration, you can freeze out the CO2 from the
air. Naturally occurring cold spots on the Moon
are speculated to contain water where crater
walls shield them from the Sun near the poles.
Similarly, artificial cold spots could be made
by scooping out hollows and piling the ice around
the edges, and by suitable emissivity control
(putting shiny material around the mound to reflect
away sunlight, and black material inside the
hollow to radiate away heat to space).
An even higher tech solution is to develop highly
automated factories to first replicate themselves,
then turn out large quantities of solar panels to
substitute for burning fuels. This should be
possible with today's or very near term technology.
It does not require nanotech or AI much smarter than
The basic thing to remember is the timescale for
the problem - 50 to 100 years to double CO2 content
in the atmosphere, is
(a) much longer than the time scale for our ability
to do something about it using conventional
technology. Manufacturing productivity has doubled in
20 years, and advanced automation may have a doubling
time as short as a year.
(b) Development of really advanced technology such
as nanotech or AI is likely to happen in a generation
or less, still shorter than the timescale for the
CO2 problem. These would make radical changes in
our ability to deal with the problem.
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