In 2019, I started a long-term project called “Future Climates,” which is a series of short stories inspired by geoengineering. These are grand-scale technologies proposed to roll back or block the effects of climate change. I’ve written four stories so far, and I’ve sold two of the them. One, “The Great Greenland Quilting Bee,” is scheduled for publication in the anthology Terraforming Earth for Aliens. A second story, “Who Shall Reap the Grain of Heaven?” will be published in the anthology Fix the World. Both collections will come out in 2021.
The geoengineering concepts proposed for climate change are ideal science fiction fodder. All of them are global in scale, feature new or updated technologies, and entail a certain level of risk, which is necessary for dramatic tension. I thought I’d share some of the ideas which have inspired my Future Climates project.
The geoengineering concepts proposed for climate change are ideal science fiction fodder.
Carbon Capture and Storage: There’s too much carbon dioxide in the air, right? Why not just remove it? The idea seems simple. After all, plants remove millions of tons of CO2 from the air each year and store it in their tissues. Oddly, humans have never been able to develop a scalable technology that mimics photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn CO2 in to sugars plants use for food. Instead CCS ideas rely on properties of other materials. One of the most bizarre is a proposal to use asbestos—a known carcinogen—to soak up atmospheric CO2. Why? Because the surface area of asbestos fibers are huge, and they like to grab CO2 molecules.
Cloud Brightening and Seeding: Humans have been coaxing water out of clouds since the mid-twentieth century by injecting them with silver iodide or frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice). Furthermore, science has known that debris and gas belched into the atmosphere by volcanoes have altered climate, at least temporarily. Some scientists have proposed deliberately pouring sulfur dioxide into the air or brightening clouds to reflect more sunlight away from the ground. This is the idea that inspired “Who Shall Reap the Grain of Heaven?”
Space Reflection: Perhaps the most audacious idea for cooling down the earth artificially has nothing to do with modifying the atmosphere. Engineers have proposed giant orbiting sunshades or parasols, something like 19th-century ladies carried to keep off the sun. Though sun shields would be hugely expensive to build, they might prove the inspiration for a practical use of space that would give people hope that the climate problem can be solved. But if the cost is too much to bear, there’s an alternative. Painting everyone’s roof white might reflect enough sunlight to cool down our overheated planet. Or, as I suggest in “The Great Greenland Quilting Bee,” reflective blankets could slow the melting of glaciers.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of relying on technological solutions to fix the climate crisis. As a species, we need to take responsibility and change our behavior to mitigate and even reverse climate change. However, good, practical technical solutions should be part of the mix. New tools can help us put things right.
What’s your favorite geoengineering idea?