Ridiculous times call for ridiculous measures. With catastrophe constantly threatening the planet from countless directions, every option is on the table.
Or is it? Because there are some pretty wacky damned schemes that have been invented by people who are otherwise considered geniuses. We're not qualified to say if these drastic measures would work or not. All we're saying is that if it comes down to any of these, we may already be screwed.
It's estimated that cosmic boulders over 0.6 mile in diameter regularly hit Earth every 500,000 years or so, utterly obliterating all life around their impact sites and sending ripples of species-killing horror through the ecosystem. Worse, Hollywood's portrayal of just how we would stop one of these monsters seem fairly implausible.
"Now wait a minute," you might be saying ,"what's wrong with sticking a couple of nuclear warheads up the asteroid's ass and calling it a day?"
Aside from the obvious.
Unfortunately, according to the B612 Foundation, an atomic blast could easily fracture the asteroid, resulting in thousands of illegitimate baby asteroids bombarding the planet like global buckshot. Instead, the B612 scientific group--helmed by former astronaut Rusty Schweickart--wants to use some high-level scientific spells to gently bump or tow all dangerous space dirt away from us. The problem is that the aiming process would temporarily point it at places in the so called "risk corridor."
Also known as the "Fuck You Line."
Yes, they've proposed a path that would cause the least amount of damage, which the scientists admit is a real "fuck you" to the many millions of people that the plan requires to sit tight while they pass beneath the sites of a rapidly approaching asteroid. A hit along that Equator of Expendables, which includes Russia and Venezuela, might result in the least amount of damage (chances are you're not getting international approval without a few wars).
Schweickart presented the group's theories at the American Geophysical Union in December 2009, and his proposal will probably soon land in front of some UN delegates. Maybe they'll be able to decide who gets to take one for the team: the vast, empty plains of Siberia or the home-country of Stefania Fernandez.
Russia who now?
The 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines was a big one, so big that the sulfur it launched into the stratosphere reflected enough solar radiation to cool the Earth by 0.5 degree Celsius. Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen says, hell, why not just do that and solve this global warming thing? He doesn't mean we should explode a bunch of volcanoes--we can replicate the process by seeding the heavens with sulfate particles and partially blocking out the Sun.
It totally worked in The Matrix!
Crutzen's "Albedo2 Enhancement Method" of bringing us closer to The Matrix's scorched sky scenario would be achieved by high-altitude balloons carrying artillery cannons that would release sulfur charges into the upper layers of the atmosphere.
Though hailed solely as a last resort, Crutzen claims this method could neutralize the effects of Global Warming in just six months and with his 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for studying the ozone layer, the man probably knows what he's talking about when he says Aerial Flatulence Canons are the key to the future of our planet. And we have to admit, it sounds less crazy than the competing proposal...
...to fill the sky with reflective mirrors.
British-born astronomer Roger Angel, in a plan he may possibly have stolen from a cartoon, wants to send an assload of mirrors into space and reflect the Sun's rays, thus cooling the globe.
Just like in Futurama!
For this solar restraining order to work, we would need to put 16 trillion(!) glass discs in orbit around us, covering a reflective area over 60,000 miles wide and blocking about two percent of Earth's sunshine. That's what it would take, according to Angel's calculations, to completely reverse Global Warming.
The biggest concern right now is how to get all these mirrors into space for cheap. He says the answer is as simple as it is fuckin' awesome: a gigantic railgun. There have been talks about building an electromagnetic "slingshot" up in the mountains to fire cargo beyond our atmosphere, and with the amount of stuff needed in orbit for Angel's plan to work, the railgun might turn out be the most cost (and badassness) effective option.
Then again, by his estimates the project would take 30 years and cost $4,000,000,000,000 to complete.
In another attempt at what seems like the reverse psychology of environmental science, oceanographic researchers are trying to combat pollution by "polluting" the oceans with iron, hoping to turn them into ginormous sponges for harmful gases.
Iron, though bountiful on the mainland, is a very rare commodity in the underwater kingdom, where entire gangs of fish probably hold bloody turf-wars to gain control over its supply. What the element actually does is act like some magical mixture of fertilizer, caffeine and comic book radiation, causing a rapid bloom in the ocean's plankton population.
Plankton eat CO2, and in ecosystems where the theory was tested scientists saw a 20 percent drop in CO2 and other gases' levels. So, by our math, on a worldwide scale it could clean up a fifth of our air pollution problem.
Though the long term effects of iron fertilization are not yet known, giant projects like this never, ever have unforeseen consequences. And after all, how hard would it be to just fish out all of those billions of tons of iron if we don't like the results?
"We'll be done by lunchtime, gents!"
Last year, a group of engineers from the University of Essex combined their concern for the environment with their love of insane science by designing and building "cutting edge" robotic fish programmed to seek-out pollution off the coast of Spain. The carp-shaped Terminators' job will be to find contaminated areas in the ocean and report them to us via Wi-Fi.
Also, look like some sort of undead alien demon.
Initially the fish will mainly keep an eye out for damaged underwater pipelines, but in the future they might be equipped with systems allowing them to neutralize pollution on the spot. We assume with lasers because, hey, once you've already designed autonomous underwater droids, weaponizing them seems like the next logical step.
A single fish will cost over $30,000 and only move at a rate of two miles-per-hour, but the robots will be advanced enough to help locate surface chemical spills and contaminants that have already dissolved in the water. This doesn't necessarily indicate that the fish's A.I. will be sophisticated enough to one day rebel against their human masters... but it might.
The experiment has already gotten lots of support from the European Commission, and if successful they want Nemo 3000 to be placed in rivers, lakes and puddles all around the globe, monitoring the waters and totally not spying on people or blowing them up.
Recent studies put the Arctic melt-rate at 46.7 cubic miles a year (that's 47 trillion "Jesuschristareyouserious" gallons). This side effect of Global Warming creates a whole series of problems, from messing up the temperature of ocean currents to (eventually) flooding coastal cities.
A bunch of exclusive ski resorts in Switzerland have found a band aid solution to the problem (ice loss is a more immediate problem for them--if the Alp glaciers turn to water there will be less skiing which will translate to less monogrammed caviar for the resort owners). Having the most to lose, they contacted a local textile company who produced an answer to their thawing livelihood issue.
They gave them the "Ice Protector", a thermo-regulating fabric and the least imaginatively named product in the universe. The material is wrapped around the melting sites, insulating the white snow on the inside and protecting it from the colorful Sun rays on the outside.
A 2005 experiment was conducted, during which the Swiss Gurschen glacier was blanketed with the "Ice Protector" for two years. During that period, old Gurschen amazingly showed over 80 percent less leakage than its bed-wetting neighbors.
So we can just cover the whole Arctic with these, right? Uh, well, the blankets cost $12 million... per square mile.
There has to be a better way, right? Well, Canadian industrial engineer Peter Flynn of the University of Alberta says we should go up North and start dropping ice in the local waters to control Earth's climate.
Yup, again just like in Futurama.
This plan would call for over 8000 ice-making barges to be sent near the glaciers off the coast of Greenland in the winter and start spraying them with salty water. Due to the extreme cold, the saline would freeze up into a huge ice cube the size of New Mexico. Thus solving the problem once and for all.
Now we wait for photos of dead, ice-glazed whales to come pouring in.
If we don't like the "throw it at the Russians" asteroid plan (and why wouldn't we?), aerospace engineer David French says he has one of his own: Simply tether a gigantic counterbalance to the celestial bullet using a 500-50000-mile long rope. It should effectively change its course and together with the weight transform the space stone into a monstrous pair of intergalactic cajones.
Admittedly, we don't really understand the mechanics of getting more than twice the Earth's girth worth of rope and (we assume) a giant iron ball into space--much less to lasso an asteroid cruising at 30,000 miles-per-hour--but actual experts seem to seriously be considering this approach. That's why French's tether ball proposal was reviewed and accepted for presentation at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SPACE 2009 Conference and Exposition in Pasadena, CA--and you know they don't just let any asshole speak there.
Besides, if the plan fails and French's project results in not one, but two projectiles slicing the Earth in half with their massive tripwire, what are we going to do? Fire him?
It's not like it's the only one we've got.
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