Brenda Cooper

Scientific Choices and Climate Change: It’s All About Scale

I came across an article on CNN today about a new rice variant that will withstand longer floods.  I immediately thought, “That’s perfect.”

While there are a lot of climate change conversations going on right now, I want to simplify the suggestions to “big engineering” and “small engineering.”

Do you remember either of the abortive plans to dump iron into the water and trigger plankton blooms?  The idea is the plankton will eat carbon and die, taking the carbon with them to the sea floor.  Or something like that.   Another big idea is to add a lot of nuclear power.  Fine, but I’ll take mine AFTER we decide how to handle the waste.  Larry Niven came up with a great idea that we wrote into our first published story, Ice and Mirrors, about how to warm or freeze a planet with many, many mirrors in space.  If you’re interested, there is more reading available on this group of ideas.

I really like a series of small solutions.  Engineered food, electric cars, conservation measures, a smarter grid.  A wind-farm here, a tidal generator there.  A cloud of good ideas, out of which come many small steps and some big ones.  We need a lot of these, or we may have to try the bigger scale solutions.   Luckily, there are a lot of people working on everything from efficient heaters to electric cars to ways to store energy in the grid to ways to feed hundreds of thousands of people by designing rice that won’t drown.  Do all of these have risks, too?  You bet.  But they’re smaller risks than a lot of the big geo-engineering ideas out there.