BY: PHILIPPE DE JOCAS
In the wake of the November 9th election, President Trump caused a furor when he announced that the United States would immediately withdraw from the historic Paris Accords upon taking office, sending shockwaves through the global community. As though to underscore the dire potential consequences of ignoring the changing climate, scientists working at the North Pole reported record-breaking warm temperatures at the Arctic Circle – 36 degrees higher than normal.
The universe, it must be said, sometimes has a wonderfully appropriate sense of drama.
There are approximately eight zillion articles on the Internet detailing what might happen if the billions of tons of water locked away in the ice caps were to melt, but I’ll quickly go over the details again: sea levels will rise, low-lying areas like Florida will quickly find themselves swallowed up by a tide of meltwater, and disrupted climate patterns will lead to increasingly chaotic weather, provoking more refugee and humanitarian crises as migrants abandon once-thriving areas. By 2030, we might not be seeing any summer ice in the Arctic at all. Long story short: a potential post-icecap future will be pretty terrible for everyone, especially if you’re a polar bear (or Santa Claus.)
Time is running out, and scientists are getting slightly desperate in their attempts to find some way – any way, in fact – to put the kibosh on the slow but steady melting of the ice caps. A group of scientists from Arizona State University have had enough. Citing a “lack of effective political leadership,” which certainly can’t be a jab at any recently elected Presidents, they’ve come up with a daring plan that doesn’t involve carbon taxes, curbing emissions, or any of the other buzzwords we associate with climate change. Yet their plan, if implemented and competently executed, might permanently put global warming on ice – literally.
Their plan is simple: just refreeze the Arctic and hope for the best from there. It’s a nice, simple solution… on paper, that is. After all, the Arctic spans more than 14.5 million square kilometers; it’s not exactly something you can put in your freezer overnight. The scientific proposal calls for massive, wide-spread geoengineering – in other words, harnessing the power of technology to artificially alter the climate. If successfully implemented, the plan would see a gigantic network of wind turbines spread across the Arctic Circle, harvesting the chilly winds to power a series of skyscraper-sized undersea pumps. By dredging up icy cold water from the depths of the Arctic Ocean and quickly allowing it to freeze, the engineering project would first impede, and then reverse the meltdown of the Arctic. Again, it sounds nice on paper, doesn’t it?
Here’s the problem: if we ever want to return the Arctic to something approaching its glory days, we’re going to need more than a hundred million of these puppies – pumps, turbines, and cables. Even if we approached the project conservatively, it would take more than ten years and five hundred billion dollars to set up the freezing systems, not even factoring in regular maintenance. The natural resources involved in the construction would be enormous: it would take the entire industrial output of the US steel industry to even begin to try to implement the system. Building the mechanisms, shipping them to the Arctic, and then installing them would, by necessity, have to be a gigantic, multinational effort. The Manhattan Project? Apollo? They’d look like kids playing in a sandbox compared to the amount of time and effort this would take. It’s doable, but it’d take a hell of a lot of commitment from all players if we want to see it through to completion.
There’s a scene in Futurama, also featured in An Inconvenient Truth, that pointed out the inherent, underlying flaws of a similar plan. In that cartoon, we learn that the inhabitants of the comically dystopian future have resorted to fighting global warming by dropping a building-sized ice cube in the ocean every few years and hoping for the best – treating the symptom rather than fighting the disease. The narrator of this 30th-century educational propaganda film points out that, since greenhouse gases are still running rampant, it takes more and more ice to keep the oceans cool, but he maintains that they’ve solved the problem “once and for all.”
“But-”implores the girl he’s explaining all of this to.
“ONCE AND FOR ALL!” roars the narrator.
Denial may be a powerful tool, but it’s not a solution.