Weird and amusing climate solutions serve as a reminder that there are other, less sad perspectives on serious issues.
We don’t laugh enough. Everyone, but especially those of us experiencing, researching, and writing about climate change, can testify to the truth of it.
Think about the suggestion the Australian government made a few years ago that people hunt ferocious camels from helicopters to help with that. The government claimed that doing this will help reduce the 1.2 million camels that roam the Outback’s vast methane emissions. Even better was the twist: citizens would receive carbon credits in return for their dead camels.
Though it’s an old concept, I just lately become aware of it.
The humorous and also slightly unsettling picture of Australians dressed like Mad Max, flying a helicopter, and slaughtering camels—but with a conscience—stayed in my head for days and inspired me to hunt for the most ludicrous ways to combat climate change.
The concept itself is not too absurd. Not so long ago, some of the options helping us in reducing greenhouse gas emissions appeared like science fiction (think powering your home using wind and sunlight). The way the media portrays climate change, which is sometimes summed up simply as “doom and gloom,” also has the unintended consequence of making people feel less engaged, according to scientific studies.
I learned that scientists have wild imaginations.
Steven Desch, an astronomy professor at Arizona State University, proposed in a paper from 2017 to use wind energy to pump water to the surface where it would freeze more quickly in order to stop the loss of ice in the Arctic. The wintertime ice thickness may be increased by around 1 meter with the right equipment and a $5 trillion expenditure over ten years.
The field of geoengineering is ripe with incredible, occasionally terrifying concepts. The idea is that if we can make the globe hotter, we can certainly make it cool again.
John Latham, a late British physicist, envisaged ships that could release clouds by spraying seawater into the atmosphere, which would assist to cool the planet. Others have dreamt of engineering an event that would mimic Mount Pinatubo’s explosion in 1991, which caused the world’s temperatures to drop by around 0.5 degrees Celsius the year after.
When a group of scientists published a study calling for an international non-use agreement on solar geoengineering earlier this year, the premise of Kim Stanley Robinson’s compelling novel The Ministry for the Future ceased to be a subject of science fiction.
Matthew Liao’s study on climate change and human engineering is further down this road. Liao, a philosopher and the head of the Center for Bioethics at New York University, says that conventional solutions may be too delayed and geoengineering may be too hazardous. Instead, he suggests reducing the size of newborns or making them meat intolerant in order to reduce humanity’s carbon imprint. He goes on to explain, in a further odd turn of events, that human engineering would be optional but would be encouraged by rewards like tax cuts or free healthcare.
Another project illustrates the risks of accepting wild offers. White paint was applied on glacier-free Andean mountains in 2009 by Peruvian Eduardo Gold, who claimed it may mimic the ice’s cooling albedo effect. In a submission to the World Bank’s 100 Ideas to Save the World, he argued that the painted rocks would even aid melting glaciers in recovering, and — sure enough — the regrowth could be tied to lucrative carbon credits.
One of the contest’s 26 winners, Gold’s initiative received $200,000 from the World Bank. His project to paint mountains received extensive coverage in national and international media, including the BBC.
However, Glaciares Peru’s website has since disappeared, and there have been no updates on the project’s advancement or the $200,000 award.
Another non-creepy climate solution exists, but it’s as easy as it is challenging: girls’ education.
According to a survey by the Malala Fund, the nonprofit organization created by Nobel Prize laureate and female education activist Malala Yousafzai, nations that invested in girls’ education have experienced fewer deaths from droughts and floods than countries with lower levels of girls’ education. Total emissions from fossil fuels might decrease by 37 to 41% by the end of the century if females were allowed to exercise their reproductive rights and had access to contemporary contraception, the paper continues.
However, preventing the extinction of biodiversity, a source of profoundly depressing comments, is by far the happiest climate solution. Knowing that $10.5 million helped remove 140,000 invasive wild goats from Isabela Island in the Galapagos, increasing the chances for seabirds and the islands’ famous giant tortoise, should help ease climate anxiety.
The 200 million cane toads that live in Australia are a constant source of amusement. I promise to cheer when they entirely eradicate what may be the most harmful invading species.
In the interim, I’ll continue to track the introduction of creative ways to get rid of them, such as letting them eat one another, infecting them with parasites that muddle their communications, eating them, cooling and then freezing them, and other less-than-civilized methods like hitting them with cricket bats or running over them with cars, trucks, and lawn mowers.