101 Ways to Save the Earth

Earth is good to us. Like a kindly stable owner in Bethlehem, it gives us a comfortable place to stay in a cold, harsh universe that wants us dead. All it asks is that we don’t pollute or mine it too much, and in return it stops us floating about in the vastness of space and dying like this.

It is a simple deal that works greatly in our favour, yet humans in our infinite wisdom like to casually piss on it. Much like the bloke that stopped his car in the centre of my road yesterday daytime, got out and relieved himself on his own car, then got back in and drove on. This isn’t relevant by the way, it just pissed me off (no pun intended). Back to my original point… Depending on which climate experts you speak to, we’re either on the verge of messing up our planet, or are pretty much already in the red. The time to do something about it is right now, not tomorrow or when the mood strikes: right now. We might not be able to completely reverse the effects, but there’s still the chance to lessen the effects. There are, of course, self-proclaimed ‘sceptics’ claiming it’s all a bit of a mountain made out of a molehill and that everything will be fine some undetermined time in the future (when we’re all dead, probably). I would claim that the evidence for severe and destructive climate change is nigh on conclusive, and that the nay-sayers are simply burying their heads in the sand like environmentally averse ostriches, but then I’m not a scientist. However, the information is out there for all to find, and it’s building all the time. Seek and ye shall find. Who do you think I am, Al Gore?

Our species has developed a dirty habit; the global equivalent of a school pupil sneaking behind the bike sheds to choke on a Marlboro. But it’s not all bad news. All we need is to get every developed nation to stop producing so much CO2 and everything will be ok (ish) again. Simple! Let’s give ourselves a biscuit!

Of course, it’s not that simple at all, as is painfully obvious. Trying to get the big, lumbering governments of the world to do anything at a decent speed is like poking elephants with matchsticks. Eventually, the elephant may stir, but only when it feels like it, and it won’t be anything to do with your matchstick. Then it will stamp on you.

It’s easy to lose faith and give up; but not everyone does. Some people try to solve the climate change problem in ever more increasingly bizarre ways. In the second episode of our podcast, Skeptics With A K,  we covered the story of Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg’s completely bonkers idea of creating a fleet of 1,900 wind powered ships, which would criss-cross the oceans forever, spraying seawater into the air in order to create a giant sun-reflecting cloud. Lomborg, a man previously known as a bit of a climate change denier, seemed to think that combating global ‘warming’ was simply a case of cooling the Earth down a bit. Well, sorry Bjorn, it’s a bit more complicated than that. For one, the Earth isn’t the same temperature all over. Cooling us down isn’t going to solve the problem. In fact, suddenly cooling the Earth down will probably have the same effect on global weather as global warming is having. The point of climate change is that it affects the weather in all kinds of extreme ways. It doesn’t work the way you imply in comments like this one:

“While warming will mean about 400,000 more heat-related deaths globally, it will mean 1.8m fewer cold-related deaths.”

Bloody hell, Bjorn, the Earth isn’t a seesaw. And what do you mean by “cold-related deaths” anyway? It’s not like we were all freezing to death until the day we started manufacturing CFC areosols. The number of people dying of, say, pneumonia isn’t going to dramatically alter in tandem with deaths from sunstroke. Weather is going to go bonkers: extreme heat, extreme cold, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, that kind of thing.

Secondly, the plan still leaves us with all that darn CO2. CO2’s other big problem is increasing ocean acidification. That will still continue no matter how many daft ships we have floating round spraying water into the air. Well done, we cooled the Earth down but all the fish are dead and the human race is dehydrating into an early grave!

I suppose you could argue that at least Mr Lomborg is thinking outside the box. About several million miles outside the box, but outside the box none-the-less. And he’s not the only one. I’ve noticed many of these outlandish green ideas in the media over the last couple of months, so I thought I’d list some of them here, with their advantages and disadvantages:

Chocolate-Powered Racing Car:     Advantages: a steering wheel made out of recycled carrots, and the ability to run on waste chocolate and wine. Good for farmers and vineyard owners.  Disadvantages: it’s a waste of chocolate, and your pet rabbit might eat your steering wheel.

Sending Mirrors Into Space:     Would involve firing trillions of mirrors into space from a giant gun. Advantages: er, none. It involves firing sharp objects from a massive gun, for Christ’s sake! Disadvantages: again, lots of mirrors being fired from a gun is not generally considered safe! (Oh, and it would cost 244 trillion pounds.)

Artificial Trees:     One of the more feasible ideas; this would involve giant, fly-swat-shaped artificial trees lining the sides of motorways, which would absorb CO2 through their ‘leaves’. Advantages: they would be more effective at removing carbon than real trees, and would convert it into a form that can be easily stored. Disadvantages: disposing of the carbon would ultimately be a problem, unless you could find a use for it. People who don’t like wind turbines probably won’t be too fond of artificial trees either.

The Power of Algae:     Two ideas here. One is altering the gene structure of algae so that it effectively converts the CO2 it normally absorbs back into oil, which can then be ‘harvested’ from the oceans. The other is to lace the sea with iron filings in order to encourage the growth of natural algae, thereby increasing CO2 reduction. Advantages: it would certainly reduce CO2, though not necessarily by that much. Disadvantages: as yet, our technology doesn’t allow us to alter algae’s gene structure effectively, though we’re getting there. Algae also uses up oxygen in the water, which could detrimentally affect marine species.

Painting Roofs White:    Yeah, you heard me! Paint your roofs white and the Earth should get all cool, like it’s wearing a hat. Advantages: you won’t be able to see the pigeon crap on your roof. Disadvantages: it’s a bit rubbish. There isn’t enough houses on the Earth to have a significant effect. Plus there would probably be a rise in Rod Hull style accidents.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it certainly contains some of the more interesting (and ridiculous) ideas. Ultimately however, the key to combating global warming lies in co-operation and hard work from world governments. We could set up as many schemes as we want which reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, but in the long run the thing that really matters is reducing the amount we produce in the first place. Otherwise, we’re just putting plasters on an ever-growing wound. Of course, as I said earlier, persuading governments to get their arses into gear is easier said than done, but I’d like to end with one more fringe idea that at least attempts to address this:

Change the term ‘Global Warming’ to ‘Global Burning’

Yes, I know,  it’s silly, but there’s a serious point behind it. The ‘hole’ in the ozone layer was never truly a hole as such, but the idea of a hole, once implanted in the public’s mind spurred it on into successfully combating the problem. Think of a hole in the sky and your mind is instantly filled with the image of your atmosphere pouring away into the emptiness of space. It made the problem seem immediate and real. And the sad truth is that maybe climate change currently doesn’t feel real enough for governments to act. It still feels at one too many removes, existing only in far away melting ice-caps, or as tsunamis in distant lands. Changing ‘warming’ to ‘burning’ is not going to catch on, let alone change governments’ minds, but we need something which will.

Maybe this is simply a job for a really good marketing department. Governments don’t need facts – they already have them – they need persuasion. Short of waiting until the Thames is licking the windows of the Houses of Parliament, I’m afraid I’m out of ideas. So I appeal to you, the readers. Any suggestions how to put the global ‘burning’ wind up the leaders of the world?


  1. #1 by Colonel Molerat on September 24, 2009 - 16:20

    My father, in his legendary absent-mindedness, is ALWAYS leaving his computers and lights on. He cares about global-MEGA-DISASTER (catchier term?), but excuses himself by arguing that the differences individuals make (such as flicking the lightswitch) will do nothing until government and big business make the necessary changes – either to implement small changes across the ordinary millions, or change in industry and the most polluting sectors. He feels that autonomous individual action is futile.

    I think he has a point, although I feel that individuals might as well try and make a start, and hopefully influence others. What do you think?

    As for how to influence the leaders of the world? I think that when industry, big business and the rich start to suffer from the first effects, then the governments will start to listen.

  2. #2 by Colin H on September 25, 2009 - 00:48

    I see where your father’s coming from. If I leave a light on tonight, it’s a bit of a drop in the ocean. But I agree with you that it’s important to make a start and hopefully influence others. I suppose if enough people do it, peer pressure may take over and make everyone else do it. Then it becomes the norm and we’re all happy!

    That said, I’m terrible for setting an example. I’m probably not the greenest person, though I try, and I don’t own a car, and I recycle. Though I now have to recycle by law, so I suppose that doesn’t really count! Actually, I love the fact that we have to recycle by law. I remember the days of struggling with bags of old papers up to the local recycle bins every week, while everyone watched me like I was nuts. I miss that; it made me feel all rebellious!

    Maybe we should send homeless polar bears to the offices of big business, or those poisonous jellyfish that have migrated into British waters. That may be a bit murderous though!

  3. #3 by Michael on September 25, 2009 - 20:18

    Sorry. I agree with David Deutsch, it is too late to start to change the oncoming global warming as it will be here soon and we’ll be bolloxed. What we need are solutions. “Problems are soluble, Problems are inevitable” Hear his impressive talk at: http://www.ted.com/talks/david_deutsch_on_our_place_in_the_cosmos.html

    I would rather get my information from the cleverest of people who know most of the facts. Oh and your welcome. I vote for the box-jelly fish solution too.

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