Real Global Warming Options

As someone who finds myself fascinated with simple mechanisms scientists think might help (like painting roofs white, or sending a giant bomb up into the atmosphere to deflect radiation), I am even more fascinated by a recently released ranking of the various methods.

We hear so many options in different contexts, and they all sound good, so how do we know which ones to actually try?

I am often struck by the fact that many people, when faced with something they are told is a "good cause", react with some sense of obligation to goodness. People not in the field, or not associated with the field, often justify drunken galas or excessive auction spending (guilty!) with the "good cause" clause. As long as it's going to charity, it's good, and I get to feel good about myself...right?

In philanthropy, it's an entirely different world. Because there are so many "good causes", we not only have to determine which issues are most important (to our boards, to our missions, to the world), but also which organizations address those issues best. It's a crazy competitive world involving impact rankings, financial efficacy, and some relationships thrown in for good measure. We never take a good cause as simply that - always delving into it further before supporting it.

The green movement, however, throws most of us back into the uneducated category. We all want to do something good for the world. We want to address the issue, so we grasp at anything we can. We step up our recycling, we promote windmills, we install solar panels, and we might even paint a roof or two white. But are we really doing the right things?

Well, Wired Magazine just featured a recently published scientific paper that collects the different ways in which we could address global warming, and how effective each of these methods would be. VERY informative article with some great graphics and a pretty comprehensive and easy to understand list of potential solutions.

Here are a few of the more interesting ones, with rankings:

1. Inject enough sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to reflect the small percentage of sunlight necessary to offset increased warming caused by carbon dioxide. This scheme is akin to the cooling induced by large volcanic explosions.
2. Manufacture sea salt spray to change the way clouds form over the ocean to increase their reflectivity.
3. Cover the earth's non-sandy deserts with a material composed of a white polyethylene top and an aluminum bottom. That would increase the albedo of those surfaces, cooling the earth.
4. Use chemical processes to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and sequester it in geological reservoirs.
7. Create charcoal from biomass, effectively sequestering the carbon in the plant matter, and bury it.
9. Breed or genetically engineer shinier crops to increase the reflectivity of the world's farmed land.
12. Plant massive amounts of trees across the Earth and count on them to sequester more carbon dioxide naturally.
16. Cool down huge amounts of water with large pumps to form and thicken sea ice that would in turn cool the sea water. That water would descend to the depths, taking a bit of extra carbon with it.
17. Make cities considerably more reflective by, say, painting roofs white.

Check out the complete Wired article, including awesome graphics.

At the very least, I feel a bit less guilty about not secretly splashing white paint on all the roofs of the city.

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