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Reflecting on global warming

A radical plan to curb global warming and so reverse the climate change caused by our rampant burning of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution would involve covering parts of the world's deserts with reflective sheeting, according to researchers writing in the January issue of the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues.

Engineers Takayuki Toyama of company Avix Inc in Kanagawa, Japan, and Alan Stainer of Middlesex University Business School, London, UK, complain that there have been very few innovative remedies discussed to combat the phenomenon of global warming caused by human activities, despite the widespread debate of the last few decades. They now suggest that uncompromising proposals are now needed if we are to avert ecological disaster.

Finding a way to 'stop', or at least minimise, global warming and to even cool the Earth can be achieved by focusing on the primary heat balance between the amount heat produced by human activities and the loss of heat to outer space. They emphasise that efforts to reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, are not likely to work soon enough.

Pessimism that minimising carbon dioxide will no longer solve the problem seems to be spreading among environmental specialists," they say. As such, a lateral-thinking approach that acknowledges the fact that the heat created by human activities does not even amount to 1/10,000th of the heat that the earth receives from the sun.

Toyama and Stainer suggest that heat reflecting sheets could be used to cover arid areas and not only reflect the sun's heat back into space by increasing the Earth's overall reflectivity, or albedo, but also to act as an anti-desertification measure. The technology would have relatively minimal cost and lead to positive results quickly. They add that the same approach might also be used to cover areas of the oceans to increase the Earth's total heat reflectivity.

The team's calculations suggest that covering an area of a little more than 60,000 square kilometres with reflective sheet, at a cost of some $280 billion, would be adequate to offset the heat balance and lead to a net cooling without any need to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, they caution that it would be necessary to control the area covered very carefully to prevent overcooling and to continue with efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Albert Ang | alfa
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