Saturday, December 21, 2013

Adaptation or Big Science Fixes to Global Climate Change

Calcite, calcium carbonate.
Click for photo credit.

At the close of the year, I write a series of posts on overlooked environmental stories of the year.  In previous years, I wrote about the acceptance of the "new normal" in climate change, the growth of GMO food in the US diet, the expansion of benchmarking in sustainability management, the growth in the science of Mars, the acceptance of climate change by big energy, the high carbon cost of the internetwhite nose syndrome, the lack of clear US energy policy, the normalization of sustainability in everyday lives, the decline of the nuclear energy industrythe end of sprawl, and population growth.

It is interesting to go back to those posts and gauge their relevance in today's conversations on the environment and sustainability.  If you have any suggestions as to what I should feature in this year's series on overlooked environmental issues, send a note or leave a comment.

Yesterday I wrote about the science of early humans.  You can catch this post here.  Today's overlooked environmental issue about the increasing awareness in the scientific community that current policy around global climate change is doing very little to mitigate the long term problems associated with climate change.  In the west, getting a Prius or turning down your heat or air conditioning isn't going to cut it.

Thus, many scientists are looking at big fixes to global climate change or trying to understand how we need to adapt in order to deal with the consequences of a much warmer world.  The big science fix that most interests me is carbon sequestration.

Carbon sequestration pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it in some way in rock, living matter, or in some media in the subsurface.  I find this approach fascinating because it intervenes with the carbon cycle, which is very much tied to the rock cycle, particularly the parts of the rock cycle that involve karst landscapes.

A number of interesting questions are being asked.  Are there ways that we can enhance calcite (calcium carbonate) formation?  Even while many reefs are sick or dying, can we enhance reef formation to pull more carbon out of the atmosphere to create carbon-rich reefs?  Can we pull carbon out of the atmosphere and manufacture calcite or find ways to store it in water or voids deep within the earth?

Many do not realize this, but there are many carbon sequestration projects already in place or being built.  But these are largely for sequestering new releases of carbon, and not existing carbon in the atmosphere.  The challenge will be to try to remove existing carbon and other greenhouse gases.

Other scientists are focusing on climate change adaptation.  Those of us who have seen the sea rise models know that the next century will be a challenging one for coastal communities.  There are entire nations that could disappear.  In our own country, places like Florida and coastal Louisiana will be particularly hard hit.  Many of our coastal communities, including New York, Miami, and Washington DC will be threatened by sea level rise.  How do we adapt to changing sea level?  It will happen rapidly by geologic standards, but more slowly over the span of human life.

Most coastal areas in the U.S. are developing sea level change adaptation plans.  Check out Delaware's here and San Diego's here.  There are dozens of plans out there for communities throughout the U.S. This indicates a level of awareness on sea level rise that wasn't in place a few years ago.  Clearly, we are getting ready.

While we can all do our part to reduce greenhouse gases, the reality is that our society is failing to address the problems with global climate change in meaningful ways.  Big science fixes and adaptation seem our only options at this time.

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