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We don’t Need cars that fly, we need Balloons that can suck up the sky?

Should we leave all out-of-the-box solutions to Elon Musk?

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Yeah, the planet is warming — tell me something new. I have heard it before, you tune in to CNN and all you see are experts talking about how we can pivot away from fossil fuels.

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria a few months ago on his GPS weekly show featured the book of a scientist. The contents of which are — quite predictable, a strategy of how we can gradually move away from fossil fuels to green energy. Again — more clutter to an already overflowing bookshelf of similar sounding books.

Every now and then, humanity wakes up and smells the wet mud before the looming storm!! This time though, its different. Especially since we’re living through times of more unpredictable hurricanes, unexpected forest fires, droughts, horrifying sink-holes, you name it ..

COP26 would probably go down in history as one of those conferences where every nation dragged themselves to the table and declared that enough is enough — even if it was only meant for good press. While the rich world acknowledges that most of the legacy pollution in the environment is of their doing they are most likely not going to make any sort of reparations, more so now, considering the ongoing Ukraine war. Apart from US$ 413 Million pledged to the most vulnerable countries in COP26, the US $100 Billion previously pledged by the developed world for more than a decade is still overdue. Clearly chasing enormous sums of money is now is going to be a never-ending game of cat and mouse game at best.

In the 1894 Great manure crisis, Britian, faced the horrifying plight that 3rd world countries face today. The possibility of mounds of dung being heaped on the sides of their road due to the rising use of carriages for transport. Back then, people weren‘t looking at smart dung disposal techniques or more efficient horse breeds that could live longer and run faster. The solution was the internal combustion engine that drove transportation into the 21st century.

In retrospect, we just kicked the proverbial can way down the road and decided that instead of piling up dung on the road, we will instead spew toxic fumes into the air. So here we are a century later with all the tools in our hands but no closer to the solution than we were before.

Whatever happened a century ago has to happen again. Today we’re still looking at clean coal (a myth), hydrogen cells, solar energy, wind turbines etc .. to take us forward. Although these technologies have come a long way in terms of their yield and will certainly play their part in cleaning the atmosphere, getting them on par with fossil fuels is still easily more than a decade away.

Creating Innovative Carbon Sinks seems to be an option out there that has not being explored to its fullest potential. A Carbon sink is something that absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it releases. The easiest examples are trees — peatlands, oceans and forests. We have been relying upon them to do our dirty work for generations and now with increasing urbanization and consumerization this eco system is coming under strain.

The time for unconventional crazy ideas is now !!

Ideas such as this one from High Hopes Labs (an Israeli startup) that has developed balloons that can suck up carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere at 15km (~ 50,000 ft) above sea level — at which altitude it freezes over and is easier to absorb. The company hopes to put 100’s of balloons in the sky over the next few years. This will obviously not be a smooth glide in the upper atmosphere with turbulent eddy currents and even possible cross communications with commercial aircraft, but it is a fresh idea that clearly merits a look.

Elsewhere in Switzerland, scientists at EPFL have discovered a way to capture carbon dioxide within the vehicle itself before it gets emitted as exhaust. This technique liquifies the gas and then stores it in the roof of the car which could then be taken to a service station. This is in fact a much more smoother alternative that the on-going switch to electric vehicles. In this case, the carbon source itself doubles-up as a carbon sink and since vehicle pollution accounts for approximately 20% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this is a sizeable factor.

Another Carbon source is livestock that caters to our never-ending appetite (or maybe gluttony) for all manner of meat — beef, pork, chicken, duck, etc .. (I guess this means sushi is still safe). Total carbon emissions from all the livestock globally account for another 15% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and going by the rate of population growth — this number will only get bigger. This explains the sudden interest in cultured meat (synthetic meat) — that is produced by in vitro cell cultures of animal cells.

Now, I know that eating food that was developed in a lab is another kind of eerie, but that soon may be the path we all head down on.

At the Paris Agreement in 2015, all signatories agreed to limit the global temperature change to 1.5 degree Celsius. This alone cannot be accomplished by converting the world to electric vehicles or switching to natural gas completely.

If a patient is sick, you do not change his diet and expect him to improve, he needs to be treated for the infection internally with the proper diagnosis for health to be restored.

Creative Carbon Sinks are the treatment that would suck up the existing carbon dioxide from the air and need to go hand in hand with cutting fuel emissions. The time has come for crazy wild ideas. Cover the sky with balloons if we have to or maybe even plant a canopy of trees to cover our metallic cities.

The time for madness is now!!



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