“Delhi misses it’s date with monsoon”.
For the past few years this has become the staple headline of newspapers about the start of july. And we are comfortable with it. No surprise here, cause except for the lovers, monsoon doesn’t matter to delhiites a lot.
But if we move a little north on the map of india , we notice the states of Punjab and Haryana. And for that matter, if it’s late for us, it’s late for the entire nation. India happens to be one of the few nations in the world whose economy relies heavily on the type of monsoon the country receives every year. If it’s a bad monsoon it leads to inflation, economic downfall and what not. But if it’s a well-enough monsoon the entire nation dances in joy.
But this year its late and that is a problem. A well informed citizen would definitely know that acche din are not coming soon.
But isn’t it up to the gods to control the climate. The most we can do is pray. Right?
Well that’s where geo-engineering steps in.
Imagine a world where we could have rain on demand, or city wide lightning shows, reflect sunlight to reduce temperatures and even reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. No. This is not science fiction.
Geo-engineering, or commonly known as climate engineering, is mainly using chemicals lasers and everything science to alter the climate of a geographical area. Although it still is a work in progress major advancements have been made in the past decade or so.
Different techniques are used for achieving different results.
- Like for reducing the amount of sunlight entering the earth, high altitude aerosol drops (of sulphate) are placed in the atmosphere. This reflects back sunlight and reduces the temperature of the earth. Scientists started thinking about this idea way back in 1977, but testing environment and techniques were unavailable. So they had to wait, wait till Mt. Pinatubo in Philippines grew impatient and blew itself up. Basically during the explosion it threw some million tons of sulphates in the sky and subsequently the average temperature of the world reduced by half a degree. More recently in 2009, Russia a long time supporter of geo-engineering, performed some field tests using this method. The results were largely inconclusive but opened the gates for future tests (if allowed to conduct).
- Meanwhile, for reducing CO2, we can dump iron in the sea. No Kidding. Apparently when Mt. Pinatubo exploded scientists observed a strange phenomena in the adjoining sea. The iron deposited in the sea led to the growth of an organism called phytoplankton. These single celled organisms absorb CO2 from the environment, convert it into energy, and after they die settle down at the bottom of the sea never to be seen again. This technique is being tested at various places in the world in controlled phases.
- And then comes rain. Recently the University of Central Florida published a paper about a new technique which beams a high energy laser at clouds to make it trigger lightning and rain. The study is still in its nascent stage and uses highly advanced optics to achieve its goal. So don’t expect to throw an “Axe Rain Party” at your own farmhouse.
Not only will these lasers be ridiculously expensive, they would also be really dangerous to operate. Doing so will most probably require an international certification.
Done right, these techniques would really help humanity in building a better world. But then like every new invention are its disadvantages and skeptics. They argue that the effects could go out of control and cause major havoc. So much so that the UN itself has put a temporary ban on field test of geo-engineering, which leaves scientists to rely heavily on computer generated virtual environments. Well yes, spraying aerosol in the atmosphere may cause acid rain, lasers may harm the ozone layer and phytoplanktons may release CO2 itself. Even recently when world leaders converged to discuss about how to tackle global warming there was not a single official mention of global warming. Oh yes, it is a debatable topic. But you have to debate. Not talking about something has never been solved anything and will never will be. It can only delay.
And then there is the moral issue. It goes like this: If we can reduce CO2 emissions artificially then why go green? Why shut down polluting factories? Why not cut all the forests of the world and build cities? This is a general human capitalist view and this thought springs to the mind naturally. But then we have to realize that we are reducing CO2 and producing oxygen. And we are not the only species on earth. See, debatable. But preventing controlled field test and not talking aint the solution. People were skeptical even about nuclear energy(and still are).But that has not stopped it from being widespread. Similarly relying on mere speculation here is not helpful. No matter how much we avoid it, one day we may have to use it to save our planet. ’Cause this is the future, baby. And moving first always helps. Maybe one day we will control our own climate. And maybe one day we will become our own Zeus.