Global warming is increasing at a previously unprecedented rate, as the IPCC now projects that we will reach a global temperature exceeding 2.0 degrees C by 2040 if nothing is done (Davenport, 2018). Should planet Earth’s temperature continue rising, every living thing upon its surface will suffer, from the tiny coral polyp to the enormous blue whale. If neither the smallest nor the greatest among us can escape the consequences of climate change, then what chance do we humans stand? To think that in a measly twenty years, we may enter the point of no return is nothing short of alarming. If we really want to undermine climate change, we would need to alter society. But in twenty years? Is that even feasible? For all our criticisms towards technological fixes, they illustrate a depressing fact about human nature: it’s incredibly resistant to change. Technological fixes serve to delay change, allowing us to carry on with our lives in same fashion. Given the short timeframe, a quick fix might be our only option, especially when it comes to burning coal. As such, I’d like to throw out my own suggestion for a techno-fix, albeit a strange one. It appears to me that carbon dioxide ought to be stopped before it even gets the chance to enter the atmosphere. But how do you stop a molecule? Well, what about plants? It’s common knowledge that plants absorb CO2 and release oxygen. This is done through a process known as the Calvin cycle (Nave, n.d.). My question is whether or not it’s possible for humans to invent a device that either mimics the Calvin cycle or directly utilizes plant cells to absorb CO2. Mind you, the Calvin cycle is a very complex system that plant biology majors take multiple semesters to learn. In the case of coal plants, we could place this theoretical invention on top of their smokestacks like a fez. These “plant fezzes” would then take in the smoke through the bottom, releasing the oxygen into the atmosphere while storing the leftover carbon…somewhere. Carbon monoxide would also be absorbed in this process. I suppose this would be easier to achieve using plant cells, perhaps by genetically engineering them so that they’re heat resistant and can only release oxygen in one direction (in this case, up). Then you could place these cells in giant mats of agar (a growing solution) inside of the fez before putting it on top of the smokestack. Of course, an even better way to stop climate change instead of putting hats on factories is to cease coal operations. Politicians as well as many citizens have been presented with facts about climate change, but these warnings are falling on deaf ears. Perhaps instead of reiterating the same rhetoric about why climate change is bad, we should try to employ a method of empathy. That is, we should understand why these individuals feel so reluctant to close down coal plants. Greed is a part of the denial, but so is job security. Politicians of this nature are clearly more concerned about jobs than the environment, so why not play to their interests? Rather than presenting renewable energy as a means to mitigate climate change, why not present it as a way to employ thousands, maybe even millions? As recent as 2016, solar energy alone generated close to 75,000 jobs, and it’s expected to keep growing (Christopher, 2017). I don’t possess the confidence to convince politicians why they should take clean energy seriously, but I guarantee there are people that do. It may not be the reason a lot of us want change, but does the reason matter if it works? If a person donates money to charity for their image rather than altruism, does their intention matter so long as help gets to people who need it? I know I started this post saying that humans are resistant to change, but that’s the thing: we’re resistant, not impervious. If we’re going to change minds, we might need to go about it in a different way.
Claiming that climate science is unreliable because it’s a “young science” is choosing to ignore history. John Tyndall discovered that carbon dioxide hoarded heat as early as 1861, nearly one hundred sixty years ago (Riedy, n.d.). In addition, the IPCC has been conducting research since the late 1980s (1., 2018). Now, that isn’t nearly as long as the time since Tyndall, but it proves further evidence that climate science is hardly a new development. This in mind, I can only wonder how long climate science must carry on to be taken seriously. Fifty years? Five hundred? Five thousand? It just seems arbitrary. We see this same logic applied to children and teenagers. How old must a child be to be taken seriously? Do the young, be it science or children, have nothing valuable to contribute? It should be noted that concepts such as spontaneous generation (in which certain animals suddenly appear out of non-living matter) had been considered fact for centuries before modern science disproved them (Levine and Evers, 1999). Time is a factor in developing an understanding of our universe, but it is not the only component.
As a side note, the term “plant fez” has a double meaning. One, it’s made for coal plants, and two, it’s designed to act as a living plant. I’m aware the term sounds ridiculous, and that is 100% the reason I chose it.
In addition, funding the research for such an invention, or really any techno-fix, might be more challenging than actually developing it.
Christopher, D. (2017, April 24). 5 of the Fastest Growing Jobs in Clean Energy. Retrieved October 20, 2018, from https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/5-fastest-growing-jobs-clean-energy
Davenport, C. (2018, October 08). Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040. Retrieved October 20, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate/ipcc-climate-report-2040.html
Levine, R., & Evers, C. (1999). The Slow Death of Spontaneous Generation (1668-1859). Retrieved October 20, 2018, from http://webprojects.oit.ncsu.edu/project/bio183de/Black/cellintro/cellintro_reading/Spontaneous_Generation.html
Nave, R. (n.d.). The Calvin Cycle. Retrieved October 20, 2018, from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Biology/calvin.html
Riedy, M. (n.d.). The Strange Deaths, Varied Lives, and Ultimate Resurrection of John Tyndall. Montana Professor,12-14.
- (2018, October 8). Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC approved by governments. Retrieved October 20, 2018, from https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/session48/pr_181008_P48_spm_en.pdf