Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

5 Wacky Ways to Fix the Planet

Photo courtesy of NASA

Earth as seen from the surface of the moon.

With heat, tornadoes, drought, fires, extreme weather and flooding, the climate has certainly caught the world’s attention in 2011. While scientists debate just how much the world is warming and how much of that has to do with human impact, others are taking it upon themselves to reverse the changes through technology. Here are five schemes that may seem pie-in-the-sky at first, but could soon have a big impact on our planet:

  1. Make it rain. What would China be without a five-year plan? The country recently announced a new one that will certainly get the attention of Texas: seeding the skies to grow more crops. “China will begin four regional programs to artificially increase precipitation across the country before 2015,” the state paper China Daily reports. Sound fanciful? It’s not. As Matt Largey of KUT News reported recently, weather modification in Texas is already a real thing. “It’s not science fiction,” John Nielsen-Gammon, the state’s climatologist said. “About a third of the state of Texas has contracts with weather modification companies to engage in cloud seeding on an annual basis.” While cloud seeding can’t actually make it rain, it can make it rain up to fifteen percent more. “The problem with that, in a drought, is 10 percent of nothing is nothing,” Nielsen-Gammon said. But as rains improve in the state, seeding could help aquifers and reservoirs. But be careful what you wish for: weather modification in China was blamed for blizzards that caused billions of dollars in damage in 2009.
  2. Who let the CO2 out? Carbon dioxide emissions are at an all-time high, and are continuing to increase about 2 percent every year. So why not built giant vacuums and suck all that carbon back in? As Scientific American reports, a new study has found “that trying to scrub the air is much more expensive than keeping it from getting dirty in the first place.” The main problem? To capture air requires a lot of energy, and as one scientist told the magazine, “the reason we have CO2 emissions is because we use a lot of energy. Controlling CO2 by burning a lot of energy doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
  3.  Everything’s better under the sea. While sucking CO2 out of the sky may not be likely, there could be plenty of it captured from fossil fuel plants with “scrubbers.” What to do with all that carbon once it’s been collected? Why not stuff it underneath the ocean floor? There’s an entire project devoted to that idea at the University of Texas’ Gulf Coast Carbon Center. The group has $34 million in funds to study the idea of taking trapped carbon and storing it far underneath the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. The group is looking for a site that can handle 30 million tons of CO2.
  4. Power your house with your car. Nissan has come out with a new technology that allows you to plug your electric car into your house and power it. The company has developed something called Smart Home Charging technology, which “is designed to encourage consumers to move away from using electricity provided by the main grid and use their car for more than just motoring,” the British paper Metro reports. Wait, if you have to charge the battery for the car at your house, how is it going power your home? “The car would be charged at night through the electrical grid but homeowners might use the vehicle’s battery to power certain appliances and devices during peak times to save money,” Metro says. “It could also be used to power the home during blackouts.” The downside? The charging interface will cost over $6,000.
  5. Stink things up. As we reported Friday, smelly algae has potential as a power source. “Algae takes what we generally think of as waste — be it sewage, C02 emissions or, fertilizer runoff — and uses it to grow,” Mose Buchele writes. Oil can then be separated from the algae and used as a biofuel. Essentially it’s possible that we can “grow” biofuels from waste, which could significantly alter impacts on the environment.
Anything we missed? Tell us in the comments.


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