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New Futurismic Column Up

My monthly column at Futurismic is now up: The Geoengineering Option. Those who are familiar with my pieces at WorldChanging on "Terraforming Earth" will find some of the content familiar, but the focus in this piece is on understanding geoengineering/terraforming as a last-ditch option.

It starts...

Here's the good scenario: we have maybe a decade, fifteen years on the outside, before we need start seeing a significant and sustained global reduction of greenhouse gases if we are to avoid absolutely catastrophic environmental results. You know the litany by now: unstoppable sea level rise, famine from loss of agricultural land, countless deaths around the world from the heat and opportunistic diseases, extinctions galore, and on and on. Ten years is enough time to implement significant improvements in our transportation and energy technologies, our consumption patterns, and the design of our communities. We know the pieces that we need to put into place, it's just a question of getting them assembled in time.

Here's the not-so-good scenario: you know that decade we thought we had? It's more like a year or two. Good luck.


I have been thinking that we may need to use something like a sun shade in outer space, and we should be shading the northern polar zone. The north pole is an area in which a whole lot of positive feed back loops exist. (ice reflecting sunlight - liquid water absorbing sunlight; Permafrost melting releasing huge amounts of methane)

Eric Drexler has written about a type of space vehicle: a solar power ion sail. It is a very large very thin machine that uses a lot of very tiny mirrors, photovoltaic cells, and ion engines and it can pretty much zoom around the inner solar system. Instead of using the Solar powered Ion Sail to go anywhere just keep it positioned between the sun and somewhere on earth's northern pole (~200km up?)
You can also position the sail to block morning, noon or late day sun if that makes a difference.

This attempt at terra-forming is incremental, regional in primary effect, and you can turn off the effect whenever you want.
I think the biggest challenge for this approach is getting the Ion Sails into space in the first place. If you use conventional rockets your impact is going to be very high.


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