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Should the flooding desert help to stop global warming?

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By James Rainey

Imagine flooding a desert half of the Sahara. Use 238 trillions of desalinated sea water to do the job. Create millions of 1

-hectare square microreservares to grow enough algae to look up the entire Earth’s climate-changing carbon dioxide. For an encore: What about spreading the water and the fertilizer (the dead algae) to grow a large new forest of acid-producing trees?

A venture capital company Silicon Valley, Y Combinator, revealed the radical desert flow plan as one of four “moonshot” scenarios, hoping that innovators will explore potential solutions for catastrophic global warming.

But should it work? And should it be tried?

With unlimited capital and political will – far from given – experts said the system would be a chance to reduce the risks of greenhouse gases. But while they generally think that the climate crisis has become big enough to push even extreme options on the table, experts warned against interventions that could create as many problems as they solve.

“We do not want this purely profit driven,” says Greg Rau, a California university, Santa Cruz climate researcher and a team member who helped the Y Combinator craft contract documents. “We try to benefit the planet, not just make money. So we need this kind of research and development first, but then monitoring and controlling how any of this is being utilized.”

The Y Combinatorial proposal is growing out of what is now climate researcher’s agreement – that humanity must move beyond slows down the production of carbon dioxide and begins to remove the overflow of gas that already spans the atmosphere of the earth.

The startup accelerator that helped finance Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit asked innovators last month to come up with specific desert floods and three other extreme plans to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations. The existential threat that climate change entails requires research into solutions that the investment firm itself admitted may be “risky, non-existent, even unlikely to work”.

Y Combinator said it had a rush of interest for its challenge. It refused to say how many took up the desert flow option. But Sam Altman, President of the Combinator, predicted that his company in 2019 will finance three companies to drive the “Plan B” climate solutions.

A number of researchers who have studied the Earth’s ecosystem, climate change and bio engineer said further investigation may be justified. But they were quick to quote many reasons that the desert flood is unlikely to be successful.

Massive size

Y Combinator is called to fill 1.7 million hectares of dry land with 2 meter deep water pools “the biggest infrastructure project ever” In order to pump seawater inland and desalination, it would require a grid that is much larger than the Earth now deals with all other uses.

“It’s a desert for a reason,” said Lynn Fenstermaker, a research professor at Nevada’s Desert Research Institute. “Overcrowding the desert and then holding the water there, in an already water-poor area with all evaporation, is hard to imagine.”

Y Combinator does not deny the scope of the challenge. “Economies of scale and breakthrough in materials science and engineering will all be necessary to succeed,” says his proposal.

Unbeatable Cost

Y Combinator points the $ 50 trillion price tag. It’s about half of the entire world’s economic productivity for a year. Altman said in an interview that the cost of any solution will have to fall into the billions to become more realistic. “You can do a lot of things that require you to spend more money than you’ll ever be able to get,” says Altman. “And it’s not possible.” At a more realistic price, he believes the governments will pay.

Destruction of unique ecosystems

Many species would be wiped out by massive artificial flooding of deserts. “People think there is no value in the desert, but it is far from the truth,” said Henry Sun, a microbiologist and research professor at the Desert Research Center. “These different species deserve, and need, the desert to survive.” Most of the world’s countries would set a high bar, said Sun, before destroying habitats.

Potential to make matters worse

Disturbing nature can have unexpected consequences. Katherine Mackey, a university in California, Irvine climate scientist noted how Australia has long tried, and failed, to combat overpopulation of native species by introducing non-native beings. Famous case in the case: Toads was introduced in 1935 to tame sugar cane beetles. But the toads could not climb sugarcane. Therefore, the beers, along with their new neighbors, welcomed an out-of-control toad population.

“We intervened and created a problem of global warming, so let’s further intervene, that’s not the case,” said Mackey. . “It’s not how you solve the problem by replacing it with another problem.”

Distract from more useful solutions

Climate researchers believe that most, if not all, the necessary solutions to limit new greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon dioxide concentrations are already available. Environmentalist Paul Hawken has cataloged solutions in his Project Drawdown. Overall, Hawken has said that they would reduce emissions and put up enough coal to surpass the goals set by world leaders in the 2015 climate agreement in Paris.

Among the carbon-lowering projects that would require little or no new Technique: Creating new forests in buried pasture, farm and other land; crossing field with trees to create so-called silvopastures, which absorbs much more coal than open fields; and preserves and restores peat fields, the skim wetlands that store coal twice the world’s oceans.

“I think it’s much easier to, for example, make our homes better isolated and sunny than flooding deserts. Also, from a time-scale perspective, how fast will this technology be available on a large scale,” says Mathis Wackernagel, Chairman of the Global Footprint Network, an Oakland, California-based sustainability tank. “If we want to solve climate, why not focus on the easy things?”

The fall of a moonshot

Altman’s answer is that he and Y Combinator already support and finance pragmatic green energy companies. But major greenhouse gas reductions are still needed and do not seem to come fast enough, the company said.

Y Combinator suggests that flooding of the desert can be less risky than another solution on its list – to fertilize the oceans with massive amounts of iron or other nutrients to stimulate the growth of CO2 gobbling phytoplankton. Compared with the planning of sea plankton, “making desert reservoirs systemic risk and exposure to the marine ecosystem to our widespread involvement,” says Y Combinator’s call for proposals.

“The simple solutions window is already closed. Doing nothing is guaranteed suicide,” says the company. Altman, 33, added: “All of these things are scary. But immediate global warming where we all die is also quite scary. … None of this is where we would like to be. But here we are. “

Activists and researchers interviewed by NBC News said it was motivated to explore solutions with far-reaching solutions, as long as researchers, governments and financiers do not lose focus on other solutions.

” I’m worried that Silicon Valley seems very excited about these moonbreaks, when there may be a lot of Boeing 737s, says Armond Cohen, Executive Director of the Clean Air Task Force, a clean energy tanker and lobby organization. “And doing it on a development cycle of 10-15 years, not one that takes 30 years.”

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