Everybody loves a silver bullet. Load the chamber, pull the trigger, stop the beast in its tracks. These days the biggest beast we’re facing is unquestionably climate change. And everyone is looking for the silver bullet that will solve the problem and let us get on with Life as We Know and Want It.
Over the past few days, I’ve been reading about some crazy shots people want to take. One technology would literally vacuum carbon dioxide out of the air. Another scheme would inject sulphate particles into the atmosphere to reflect solar heat back into space. Still another concept calls for seeding the oceans with iron or nitrogen to promote enormous carbon-hungry algae blooms
Back on dry land, we hope that hybrids or electric cars might be the answer to our transportation dilemmas. Or maybe clean-burning ethanol, which can be made from plants.
Yet as promising as these and other ideas might be, as hopeful as we are that they might work, none is a panacea. As appealing as the idea might be, for example, the atmospheric vacuum theory turns out to be way too expensive (not to mention fairly insane). The sulphate idea will zap the ozone layer. Ocean seeding tampers with an ecosystem we’re yet to fully understand.
The whole electric car thing may not be the dream machine we thought it was either. News reports out this week suggest that electric vehicles may expose drivers and riders to hazardous electromagnetic fields. And you only have to look at your grocery bill to see that ethanol don’t come easy. As more harvests are sent to fuel refineries, the cost of whatever’s leftover to eat keeps rising.
The moral here is that there are no panaceas. Nothing is perfect and no one fix is going to fix it all. I think scientists at England’s Newcastle University have it right. They’ve invented an efficient way to turn carbon pollution into a valuable raw material. But they know it’s no silver bullet. “This is not the answer to global warming. It’s one piece of a bigger jigsaw,” said professor Mike North. “If this is one way of reducing (emissions) by 4% then we need to find another 10 ways to turn that into 40%.”
The point is to keep assembling that puzzle, to look at all the options and hunt for those that can be made to work until we have a tool kit to create a zero-carbon world. Hoovering the sky may prove just a tad too wacky, but we can’t know that until we consider it. Hybrid cars might turn out to have their problems, but we won’t solve them until they’re on the road.
This Monday post on Treehugger has it in a sustainable nutshell. On the surface, it’s about how concentrated solar energy could power the world using a single patch of Saharan desert. Underneath, it’s about how silver bullets like this always come with a lot of strings attached but how, if you tie up enough of those loose ends, you may not always get what you want, but you just might find you get what you need.