Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Part of the Precipitate

I came up with a plan, last week, to solve both the economic crisis and the climate change crisis. Climate change is caused by an imbalance between the energy coming into the earth-atmosphere system and the energy exiting that same system. Almost all of the energy coming into the system is in the form of light from the sun. Almost all of the energy exiting the system is radiation, the amount of which is dependent on the temperature of the earth-atmosphere system.

At present there is more CO2 in the atmosphere than there has been for a very long time. CO2 effectively blocks some of the radiation that is trying to leave the system: there is now more energy coming in than there is going out. The result is that the temperature of the earth-atmosphere system will go up, shedding more energy in the form of radiation.

If the problem will correct itself as the temperature of the system changes, who cares? Well, there are a few important things to consider:
  1. We keep adding to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere which means the temperature has to increase at an even higher rate to keep up.
  2. As the temperature of the system increases, more water will evaporate, which will block radiation from leaving the system, which will increase the temperature, which will cause more water to evaporate.
  3. Coral reefs are sensitive to temperature. If we let the temperature rise too quickly we could find that 70% of our planet's surface is covered by septic tank rather than ocean.
The way I see it, if things stay the way they are, we will turn the whole planet into a giant cesspool.

Solutions to this imbalance come in two flavours: decrease radiation entering the system; increase radiation leaving the system. Actually all of the currently proposed solutions that I know of are of the first flavour. So why, thought I, aren't there any of the second flavour?

My proposed solution is this: We build an enormous geothermal power plant. Normally this would result in no net change in the radiation of the system. But, what if we use the electricity generated by this system to power a giant laser which is tuned to the atmospheric window? Bam, we have now increased the amount of energy leaving the planet. And, since building a giant laser and a massive geothermal generation facility is no mean feat, we will have to employ thousands of labourers, thus sovling the world's current economic woes.

No plan is perfect, of course. Drawbacks of this plan include a defacto no-fly zone in the beam of the laser (I propose we place the laser in an area with a high seagull or pidgeon population) and the possibility that we will accidentally hit a distant planet, thus precipitating an interplanetary war thousands of years in the future. But really, that is some future generation's problem.


Linguo said...

ok, this illustrates the fact that all energy use is not equal when it comes to global warming. i just wonder if there is some way the energy could be used before being shot off into space. what if it were powering a giant supercomputer, and then the resulting heat was sent up through a giant smokestack into space?

Justin said...

Wouldn't all the hype about reducing greenhouse gas emissions also count as second flavour; success allowing more heat to escape than currently does?

Would solar thermal generation be as good or better (more direct) than geothermal to get the energy back out? Technically I guess the solar radiation would never even touch the ground.

Also, the laser would be wicked sweet.

Also, also, if there are any visible frequencies available that would work make the laser minutely aimable and sell the laser time for projected on the moon advertising. I admit this could be rather unpopular, but it might even break even : >

terriblenews said...

The problem with reducing GHGs is that we can't do it fast enough. If we capped our emissions at today's level, we'd still be screwed for maybe a thousand years. And if we stopped emitting entirely today, it'd be 100 years before levels returned to "normal."

I wonder if I could build a semiconductor laser powerful enough to shine a visible-from-Earth image on the moon...

As for supercomputers, maybe we could build a supercomputer in a satellite...