The 5 Weirdest Ways Science Is Trying To Save The World
Every bold plan sounds stupid until it works. Well, in a world beset by potential catastrophes, we need the boldest, stupidest plans we can conceive, goddamn it! Fortunately, scientists around the world are already proposing things like ...
Resurrecting Mammoths To Save The Environment
Let's be clear: Science doesn't actually need some kind of reason to resurrect huge beasts from the past. They're going to do it regardless and come up with the reason later, after the monsters are rampaging through the streets. Still, there is a real plan on the table to fight global warming with woolly mammoth clones.
Siberia is home to broad grasslands called steppes, and steppes have permafrost below them. And as the planet warms, it turns out that this permafrost isn't as permanent as we thought. Like the McRib, we only miss it when it's gone. Also like the McRib, it's endangering millions of lives. That permafrost has huge amounts of carbon trapped beneath it, the result of millions of years of decaying plant life (this estimate states that there's twice as much carbon contained below Siberia and Alaska as is currently in the atmosphere). As the permafrost melts, this matter is released into the air as CO2, and you know what happens then.
So what do we do to stop it? Obviously, the answer is "resurrect some fuckin' mammoths." Russian geophysicist Sergei Zimov wants to use genetic engineering to bring back mammoths to the Siberian steppes as part of his Pleistocene Park project. I didn't know this about mammoths, but apparently they fiercely hate trees and will knock them down on sight. Since grass reflects more sunlight than trees, this helps keep the ground cool. Snow can act like an insulator and warm the ground, which the mammoths prevent through a process scientists call "being really goddamn huge and moving around a lot."
And in case this seems like the fanciful idea of a lonely Russian lunatic, allow me to inform you that Harvard geneticists are currently working on making a mammoth/elephant hybrid. But if that still sounds illogical to you, I'd like to present a solid counter-argument: Shut up, I want mammoths.
Building Kill-Bots To Sell Invasive Species To Whole Foods
Humanity is pretty damn good at wiping out entire species, but there's another much less-publicized problem out there: invasive species breeding out of control. This is when a species gets accidentally introduced to an alien ecosystem and spreads so fast that the rest of the system totally collapses. The wrong type of fish showing up in a river can have the same effect as a toxic waste spill. But what if we could fix this with a combination of technology and gluttony?
A company in Bermuda has been using a drone that electrocutes invasive lionfish, then sucks them into a barrel. In the Galapagos Islands, drones drop poison pellets on rats with pinpoint accuracy. In Kenya, drones drop payloads of parasitic insects to kill invasive cacti. Here in the U.S., drones are used to track invasive hogs. To quote the inventor of the hog-tracking drone, "It would be so easy to rig it with a gun, it's trivial." Hell, Australia has drones which hunt invasive starfish completely autonomously. And then Step 2 of the master plan: Convince humans to eat the hell out of them.
That drone I mentioned that sucks lionfish into a barrel? It does that so that they can sell them to Whole Foods. Florida has been spending lots of money to rebrand the lionfish as a delicious sport fish, and it seems to be working. Entire restaurants have thrown fancy banquets devoted to eating invasive species. I know what you're thinking, and no, there were no humans on the menu.
Using Polluting Ships To Deflect Sunlight
Over the next several years, you're going to hear more about fighting climate change with weird tech solutions, as opposed to the usual "Burn less coal, you idiots." The most clever solutions will be the ones that simply convert a problem into a solution. Like the team of retired scientists who want to use cargo ships to make clouds whiter.
Let's talk about the clouds first. While this might sound like the solution from a bad DreamWorks cartoon, the process of marine cloud brightening is in fact pretty sound, theoretically. Increasing the whiteness of clouds would increase the planet's albedo, reflecting more sunlight. If less sunlight is getting trapped in the atmosphere, it will essentially cool the planet -- the same thing that happens after a volcanic eruption.
That's where the cargo ships could come in. Those scientists have developed a plan to affix a sort of pump to them that sucks the salt out of the ocean and sprays it into the boat's exhaust, producing reflective clouds as they crisscross the planet. If the ships don't work out, the other idea is using a fleet of autonomous seafaring drones to do the same job. These sky-darkening drones would then join the Whole Foods hunter bots and resurrected prehistoric beasts in an army of powerful nonhumans that will surely only want what's best for us.
Using Harpoons And Lasers To Destroy Space Garbage
If you've never heard of Kessler Syndrome, then it's my pleasure to give you something new and terrifying to be afraid of: space garbage. But what's so scary about space garbage? Is it going to attract space raccoons? Worse than that, I'm afraid. There are tons of crap in orbit around Earth -- over 20,000 pieces over four inches, plus hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces, all of which are whipping around at over 17,500 miles per hour. So imagine a squad of drunken space men up there spraying machine gun fire 24 hours a day.
Kessler Syndrome refers to a hypothetical scenario in which a large piece of debris collides with another, starting a chain reaction of junk hitting each other and breaking into smaller pieces, exponentially increasing the amount of trash around the planet. According to Donald J. Kessler, former chief scientist of NASA's orbital debris program, this would make low-Earth orbit basically nonviable for generations, and it could take down satellites. We would, for all intents and purposes, be planet-bound.
So what are we to do? Well, it turns out that we can get rid of space garbage the way we get rid of unwanted body hair: with bigass lasers. But the lasers wouldn't blow up the debris like the Death Star, since that would just make more debris. Instead, they would heat up individual pieces of junk to raise them into a graveyard orbit or pull them down to crash harmlessly in the ocean, where it can only hurt us by inspiring the plot of the next Aquaman movie.
And in case there's debris that's too large to be lasered away, the European Space Agency is working on a crazier but just as awesome plan: a motherfucking space harpoon. If you think you're picturing the wrong thing, you aren't. It's a satellite with a harpoon. It harpoons the shit out of space garbage, then drags it back down to Earth. Despite sounding like it was designed by a wacky Austin Powers villain, it's on track to be tested later this year.
Catching Cow Farts To Power Cars
If I asked you what animal was most likely to destroy the planet, you'd probably get all Twilight Zone and be like "Man, the most dangerous animal of all." The actual answer, however, is cows. (Which are being bred to be eaten by humans, so ...) It turns out these delicious bastards are significant contributors to climate change due to the methane they release, which is 84 times better at trapping heat than CO2, though it does break down faster.
Luckily, California is one step ahead of those spotty sons of bitches. They're catching that methane and using it as fuel. California, which has far more dairy cows than any other state, is going to begin encouraging farmers to install methane digesters. Generally, cowpies are washed into a central poo-lagoon, which releases methane as the shit breaks down. A methane digester is like a tarp that goes over these shit swamps and catches the methane as it escapes, like a giant dutch oven.
Not only that, but the methane captured can be sold and used as truck fuel. And Argentina's National Institute of Agricultural Technology has taken this to the next level: fart backpacks. (And I don't mean the game my friends and I invented in middle school that ended with Mr. Ellis getting pink eye.)
They're not even that bad for bovine butts, as they tap painlessly into a cow's digestive system and extracts gas directly, which can then be used as a source of heat or energy. Also, using cow farts for energy is extremely feasible, as natural gas burns cleaner than coal and oil, and unlike coal and oil, it doesn't release carbon that was previously stuck under the Earth. Does it say something about humanity that this is considered a less weird solution than just eating fewer hamburgers? Probably.
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