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Solutions for global warming - part 1

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  • Solutions for global warming - part 1

    A 10 Point Plan to Mitigate Some of the Ravages of Global Warming

    Anonymous - August 10, 2008

    1. Transform Deserts into Saltwater Wetlands to Slow Rising Sea Level

    No human action can reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere soon enough to prevent the large-scale melting of glaciers and, consequently, a destructive rise in sea level. However, by taking seawater out of the ocean and putting it on desert land, we could slow the rising of the sea. The transformation of hot, dry desert surface into wetlands would have an immediate evaporative cooling impact to reduce temperatures. Water vapors rising from the new saltwater wetlands would form clouds, which cool the earth by blocking incoming solar radiation (global dimming). Increased cloud formation would result in increased rainfall over some of the desert margin areas, mitigating the increasingly frequent drought conditions there. The new saltwater wetlands would act as a carbon ?sink?, as the ecosystem sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and as the alkaline desert sand and soil reacts with the added seawater to create a chemical trap for carbon dioxide. Some desert areas are below sea level, and seawater would flow in and remain trapped if a channel were created. As the new wetlands become increasingly hypersaline over time, new channels could be opened to allow the saltiest water to flow to the sea. This would maintain the saltwater wetlands at an acceptable steady state of hypersalinity, while contributing alkalinity to the ocean. Pollutants such as ?acid rain? and elevated carbon dioxide have depleted the ocean?s acid neutralizing capacity, and the transfer of alkalinity from desert land to sea would help to mitigate this. Seawater moved into deserts could combat rising sea level, cool the earth, sequester carbon dioxide, mitigate drought, and create new fisheries to feed humanity.

    2. Cool and Protect Small Areas of Tropical Coral Reefs for Future Recovery

    No human action can cool the rising temperature of ocean surface waters soon enough to prevent the widespread death of the world?s tropical coral reefs. Warmer water, in combination with the severely depleted acid neutralizing capacity of the ocean, has caused ?bleaching? of coral reefs. The destruction already in progress represents an unthinkable loss of biodiversity, as well as the devastation of the some of the most productive fisheries. Coral reefs act as a major ?sink? in the carbon cycle, and their associated carbonate deposits represent the ultimate fate of much of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Their loss would contribute to a vicious feedback to aggravate global warming, by increasing the residence time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, we can protect at least some small areas of reef using simple technology. Sea-wave-powered pumps could produce spray mist immediately upwind and upcurrent from selected pockets of tropical coral reef. Sea-wave energy is clean, nearly unlimited, and can be used to power seawater pumps with simple technology and inexpensive materials. With enough sea-wave-powered pumps and seawater misters, hundreds of these protected pockets of reef could survive. When our efforts to improve atmospheric conditions cool the ocean surface down again, these protected areas would provide the seed banks of biodiversity to facilitate the regeneration of the world?s tropical coral reefs.

    3. Manage Drained, Cultivated Wetlands to Minimize Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    Wetlands sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, and the organic matter they produce is accumulated and stored because the waterlogged, low-oxygen conditions prevent much of the dead plant material from decomposing. Over centuries, enormous deposits of organic matter can accumulate. When wetlands are drained for cultivation, oxygen becomes available to decompose the stored organic matter, and large amounts of carbon dioxide are released. It is now believed that 10% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions, and significant nitrous oxide emissions, are released from drained wetlands. To reduce this important contribution to global warming and to mitigate subsidence of land surface elevation in the face of rising sea levels, drained wetlands need to be managed in a manner that minimizes the loss of carbon. This can be achieved in some cases by restoring them to the wetland condition. Restored wetlands can be managed for flood control, wildlife habitat, fisheries, and to act as a carbon ?sink? to sequester carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, the carbon dioxide that a restored wetland can sequester in a year is one or two orders of magnitude less than the amount of carbon dioxide that an equal area of drained, cultivated wetland can emit. Furthermore, drained wetlands include the world?s most productive cropland. Mitigation of global warming can be achieved by greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cultivated wetlands, without taking them out of production. For example, a layer of mineral-rich dredged sediment can be used to raise the land surface elevation and ?cap? the organic-carbon-rich peat soil, to prevent wind erosion, impede aeration, oxidation and decomposition of organic matter, and minimize greenhouse gas emission from drained, cultivated wetlands.

    4. Outlaw Unauthorized Environmental Chemotherapy

    Prescriptions suggesting that we release chemicals into the environment to mitigate global warming range from deliberately spewing sulfur into the atmosphere to fertilizing the open ocean with iron. There are few guidelines to regulate such experiments, and few competent scientists assessing the potential consequences. A risk of fertilizing the ocean, for example, is that it might succeed, producing a bloom of plankton. Dead plankton will eventually end up in low-oxygen environments. As microorganisms consume oxygen to decompose the dead plankton, this itself can create low-oxygen conditions, such as now occurs in the enormous ?dead zone? of the Gulf of Mexico. Combined with the excess nitrate nitrogen that human activity has added to the ocean, under low-oxygen conditions, dead organic carbon can be oxidized by the process of denitrification, which produces nitrous oxide as a by-product. Nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas that has more than 300 times as much global warming potential as an equivalent weight of carbon dioxide. If ocean fertilization is followed by denitrification of dead plankton blooms, and emits just 1 kg of nitrous oxide for every 100 kg carbon dioxide sequestered by the plankton, the net impact on global warming will be three times more harm than good. We may one day all agree that release of chemicals into the environment makes sense. For example, we may need to replenish some of the ocean?s depleted acid neutralizing capacity near selected coral reefs, and a well-regulated effort could be carried out with minimal risk. Meanwhile, international safeguards are needed to ensure that private entities do not recklessly experiment with unauthorized environmental chemotherapy.

    5. Minimize Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Agriculture

    Agricultural operations emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, either directly or indirectly. Agricultural nitrogen comes at a high cost of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions during fertilizer production, and nitrous oxide emitted as a by product from excess nitrogen in the field, or in the runoff to surface water. High yield crop breeds require chemical fertilizer because they do not produce very much root mass. Input of new organic carbon through root turnover is not enough to keep pace with decomposition of preexisting soil carbon, causing net loss of soil organic matter and a net release of carbon dioxide. Fertilizer uptake by high yield breeds is inefficient, averaging less than one third of the applied nitrogen getting into the crop, and the other two thirds getting into the environment. Excess agricultural nitrogen is a major source of water pollution and nitrous oxide emissions, and the loss of soil organic matter is an important source of carbon dioxide emissions. By accepting lower yields, we could go back to using crop breeds that produce a large enough root mass to derive adequate nutrition from unfertilized soil, and very efficiently take up any applied fertilizer. The reduction in yield would be partly compensated by the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, reduced water pollution, and increased soil organic matter content, with its associated fertility benefits and measurable carbon offset value. There are such large areas of land under cultivation that managing them in a way to increase soil organic matter by even a small fraction would sequester enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. To minimize adverse impacts of agricultural nitrogen, variable rate technology can be used to ensure that larger amounts are given only to the limited areas that need it, rather than applying uniformly over the whole field, in order to get maximum yield. Agroecosystems need to be selected to be compatible with unique conditions of different environments, including steep, high rainfall regions. Compared to the mechanized tillage, chemical-intensive, monocrop plantations that have largely replaced them, indigenous agroforestry practices that maintain perennial ground cover are superior in their capacity to protect water quality, minimize soil erosion and nutrient loss, sustain productivity, and sequester carbon.
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