Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Fix for Global Climate Change?

A report today in Chemistry & Industry magazine details a possible way to prevent global climate change with a very un-exciting substance - lime. Calcium hydroxide to those chemists out there, adding lime to seawater has long been toyed with as a way to increase the CO2 absorbed by the oceans. The main problem, however, is that producing lime from limestone is a very energy intensive process and in our modern economy energy equals CO2 in most cases. With the advent of carbon-neutral energy sources, however, it may be possible to produce enough lime to make a significant impact on global CO2 levels. The lime would also be beneficial in fighting the increases in ocean acidity caused by increased global temperatures.

One study found that by placing large solar arrays in desert areas (many of which have large amounts of limestone), it would be possible to return CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels. The rate at which the global CO2 levels would drop depends on a number of issues including how much CO2 the world produces from here on out, how fast solar technology develops, and the investment made in lime production, but there are realistic scenarios in which we could reach pre-industrial CO2 levels within the next 200 years.


While massive lime production may not be the solution to global climate change, this highlights my opinion on global climate change. Is it real? Yes. Is human activity an important cause? Yes. Can we find ways to address the problem with technological advances? Absolutely. That doesn't mean we should wait around for technology to save us in 50 years. We need to get working on the problem now. Whenever we can spend $1 today that saves us $100 in the future, we should. However, the thought that we are going to cause some kind of unsolvable, civilization-threatening catastrophe with global warming is just plain silly. Humanity is very good at solving problems and we will solve this one, the next one, and many more after that.


  1. "Humanity is very good at solving problems and we will solve this one, the next one, and many more after that."

    I agree. However the first step in solving the problem is recognizing it exists. Many people still deny global warming is happening. (Just listen to Rush Limbaugh!)

    Nevertheless, the leaders of the world, scientists and the heads of most corporations realize it is a problem so yes, I am sure we will solve it.

    It would be great if we could start using lime in an effective way.

    However, I'm all for a long term solution. Will things like lime make things better if our pollution levels continue to increase? Maybe.

    But innovative technologies that both match or beat oil and coal technologies and are more energy efficient and clean must still be part of the goal + something like lime that removes the bad.

    So: Go Lime! and great post.

  2. PS. I'm going to use the name Al Gore so I understand many will already be turned off but what I have to say, but hear me out.

    Al Gore gave a talk *which I don't completely agree with* but which has in my opinion a very good idea.

    He wants us to be off of oil in 10 years and claims it's hard, but so was the space race to the moon and we still pulled it if.

    Though many of his parameters may be off I firmly believe this: Uniting our country around a common goal which is on one hand difficult but on the other hand revolutionary is something this country needs.

    I been watching the who story of the Space race on the science channel recently. It originally seemed like an impossible goal and in retrospect, given that past technology, it nearly was.

    But going along with Nick's final comment, we figured it out. That period of time was full of amazing innovations. It brought lots of people together, created new jobs... People all around the country watched on TV. The flag was being flown, etc...

    I agree with at least this: We as a country could use another space race. Something that will bring us together around a common goal, filled with innovations, new jobs and the end result will be "one giant leap for mankind."

    Ending the need for oil would be "one giant leap for mankind."

  3. Hey. I'm going to agree that this is another well-written post on an interesting topic. However, for the moment I am going to play the skeptic to Joe's space race. I've been thinking about that, and it seems doubtful that Al Gore's goal will stick in the way that Kennedy's goal did. There are a number of major differences, but to play the skeptic, I think the major one is lack of competition. Back in the 60s, everything was about competing with the USSR. The whole Cold War competition had a way of focusing public mentality in a way that nothing else we've found has done. We've seen the same effects during WWI, WWII, and the recent War on Terror (although to a lesser extent). However, the focus just isn't there to the same extent on other national goals we've seen including others that are overall more interesting and valuable, like the goals to go back to the Moon and to Mars. Honestly, I don't see how you'll get the same public focus from someone who is no longer at the center of the public eye, trying to solve a problem that many people still are not convinced of, in a time frame that can be demotivatingly overwhelming. Honestly, I think the only thing that both Bush and Gore have going for them (referring to Bush's similar goal to reduce our dependence on foreign oil) is the national record-high gas prices, and the other resulting costs. So, in a nut shell, sorry to play the skeptic, but in all honesty, I'd be glad to see how anyone is planning to address these challenges.

    I also agree that "Humanity is very good at solving problems and we will solve this one, the next one, and many more after that." We have seen this time and time again. I just doubt that current sociological conditions are up to meeting such a demanding 10 year deadline. As always, great post!

  4. I agree with Joe that Al Gore's challenge is a good thing to pursue. I think we are on the verge of a transformation of our energy infrastructure in much the same way that people around 1900 were on the verge of going from using wood and coal to having a large-scale oil drilling, refining, and distribution network. Today oil is on it's way out.

    That being said, I think 10 years is an unreasonable goal to be completely off fossil fuels. However, I think in 10 years we should have a wide spread hydrogen production and distribution network running in parallel with our current gasoline network. And in 10 years I think we can reasonably only build zero emission power plants and begin to let the older fossil fuel plants age and fade away.

    In short, we can't fix this in 10 years, but in 10 years we can be well on our way.


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