Suppose that the world is does not reduce it's carbon emissions quickly enough to avoid a climate crisis and climate change really begins to bite. What should we do? Here is a preliminary proposal for a crisis management plan.
- Immediately put a band-aid on the problem to reduce solar energy reaching the surface of the earth by using Cloud Reflectivity Modification. Methods that do not introduce anything into the environment other than water would be strongly preferred, since once a foreign substance is introduced into the environment it is almost impossible to gather it up again if it causes a problem. Most forms of cloud reflectivity modification have the great advantage that if they start causing problems then shutting down the operation will allow things to return to the way they were in a few days. The process can be started slowly and ramped up to allow time to detect unwanted side effects before much damage is done. Since we do not want our band-aid to make the problem worse by introducing more carbon into the atmosphere and since large amounts of energy would be needed we should probably very reluctantly use the safest nuclear reactors possible such as Liquid fluoride thorium reactors or Pebble-bed reactors or, if time does not permit the design and testing of a new reactor, then possibly a reliable existing naval design, such as one used on nuclear submarines, may be pressed into service. At present these first two types of reactors mentioned and several other new reactor designs are still in development. A well thought out plan would be needed for ensuring safety, decomissioning the reactors and dealing with used fuel once no longer needed. The use of nuclear power would necessitate the use of manned vessels rather than unmanned, as described in the Cloud Reflectivity Modification link, and probably fewer but larger vessels. If it is possible to do this with some form of renewable energy then this is a much preferable way of proceeding without the drawbacks of nuclear energy. Cloud Reflectivity Modification should not be thought of as a long term solution but only a way of buying time to get the rest of the plan implemented. If it became part of business as usual it would only bring us closer to an unsolvable crisis.
- Immediately ration the use of carbon fuels. Reduce airline traffic to a minimum and replace business travel as much as possible with the use of Skype and the internet. Replace vacation trips with more local ground travel. Convert coal fired power plants to natural gas and maximize the use of existing alternative energy such as power dams.
- Roll out renewable energy infrastructure. Get solar panels onto rooftops in order to provide electricity where it is used so that the electrical grid does not need to be beefed up too much to distribute the electricity. Heavily promote the sale of electric cars and penalize the purchase of gasoline or other fossil fuel powered vehicles. Build infrastructure to store excess electricity until it is needed, such as at nighttime, by a method such as the methane based energy storage system described here: . The use of biomass and fossil fuels described in the pdf are not recommended due to their tendency to produce soot, which leads to melting of ice and snow by decreasing its albedo and to pollutants through lack of complete combustion.
- As soon as there is sufficient renewable energy in place curtail the use of remaining fossil fuel infrastructure.
- Seed new forests and grasslands in order to quickly tie up carbon in living plant material, probably like this: Desert Reclamation the Easy Way
- Store carbon until atmospheric carbon is reduced to preindustrial levels like this: Carbon Capture and Storage Using Wood
At the end of this process we would hopefully be left with a functioning renewable energy infrastructure and preindustrial CO2 levels.
Of course, we do not need to wait for a complete crisis. It would be much better to start building renewable energy options in a big way right now and cutting back on burning fossil fuels and avoid the need for the first step completely. Events of the last few years seem to indicate that this problem is only going to get worse so the sooner we get started fixing it and the faster we move ahead the less damage will be done to the environment that sustains us all.
I invite anyone who wishes who has an informed opinion, or anyone who wants to ask a relevant question that someone else may be able to answer to post your comments on the discussion page.