How good ideas can help us to create a positive future

In the spirit of using technology to create a positive future, this page presents ideas that could be helpful.

The High Frontier

In his book 'The High Frontier' (William Morrow 1977), the late physics Professor Gerard K. O'Neill described how people  could one day live in space, generate energy and grow food. The book followed 'The Colonization of Space', published in 1974 in Physics Today. [source] 

This shows that contemplation of space colonization (in terms of engineering and financing, rather than as science-fiction) dates back a long time.

Space Colonies

On June 13, 2006, the topic of Space Colonies received a
boost when astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said at a conference in Hong Kong that humans must establish a base on the moon and colonize Mars within the next 40 years if we're to avoid extinction from global warming or another catastrophe.

"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said, "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

But the word "colony" should be avoided. Perhaps even the term "space" is too much associated with the "space race" of the Cold War. Would something like "establishing habitats outside earth" be a more appropriate phrase? I'd hate to see nations like the US and Russia get into another space race to see who can grab the most and the best territory, say on the moon. I suggest that we don't rely on NASA to come up with plans. I think that one of the problems today is that NASA monopolizes the funding for such projects, resulting in stagnation and waste. Instead, NASA should be split up with the resulting parts competing for clients without collusion, which will allow customers to contribute more directly to projects. Tax deductions and vouchers could assist such reform.  [ source ]

Water for Australia

Australia, the dry continent, needs water. Much rain falls in the tropical north, which typically runs straight into the sea. Many have therefore suggested to catch some of that rain and transport it to the rest of Australia by means of pipes and canals.

Another idea is to recycle more of the rainwater and tapwater that currently flows into the sea, through stormwater drains and the sewerage system.

In response to a call for such ideas by radio personality Alan Jones in 1998, John West came up with the idea of a 2,300km canal to split Australia in two, from Darwin in the north to the Spencer Gulf in South Australia. The canal would allow ships to access the center of Australia and provide water for irrigation by means of desalination plants.

As far back as 1883, there were plans to pipe or channel water from the Spencer Gulf into Lake Eyre, a usually dry saltwater lake which at its lowest point is 15 meter below sea-level. Flooding Lake Eyre would create rain for inland Australia. The government of the day rejected the proposal.

In his book Man Made Mountain, L.H Hogan proposed to construct a mountain range, 2000km long, 10km wide at the base, 4 km tall and with a 2km plateau at the top, from the south of Australia to the Timor Sea in the north, so as to create rain in the dry interior of Australia.

Many such proposals are too expensive, they require more resources than they will generate, while it's dubious whether they will produce rain. Furthermore, they may destroy precious ecosystems and sites that are of archeological and cultural significance. Nevertheless, we should keep trying to come up with ideas and put them up for discussion at places such as this. 

Making Rain

Have you heard about the various techniques used to create more rain? Small airplanes can disperse ice and salt into clouds to capture moisture. If done at the right moment, this can result in rain in areas that experience droughts. Rain is much valued for better harvests and for household use. More rain could also prevent deserts from spreading, make existing deserts fertile, improve soil quality, save rain forests, etc. So, making rain at will is a very interesting concept.

Interestingly, manipulating clouds could also have further beneficial impacts. Clouds become more reflective as the number of droplets in them increases. Rainclouds could thus act as a natural heat shields, bouncing more incoming sunlight back into space. Also, by filling the clouds with smaller droplets, they tend to last longer, thus reflecting more sunlight back into space over longer periods, before the clouds disperse.

The trick is to increase humidity in low-level clouds, or stratocumulus, to make them bounce more sunlight back into space, off their bright, shiny tops. The idea to selectively increase the reflectivity of the Earth's clouds dates back to John Latham, an atmospheric physicist based at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, who suggested it in Nature about 15 years ago.

You may remember Stephen Salter, who designed a floating canister 30 years ago that captured wave power by driving a generator from the motion of bobbing up and down on the waves. Capturing wave power in such a manner seems indeed a tantalising way to generate a constant stream of clean energy.

Well, some time ago, the same Stephen Salter proposed to make rain with floating wind turbines that make very choppy waves, known as Faraday waves. A high-frequency ultrasonic generator would spin seawater around inside a grooved drum, producing tiny waves that are thinner than a human hair, throwing tiny droplets of water from their crests up into the air. As this fine mist of sea-spray evaporates, tiny particles of sea-salt remain in the air and get sucked up into the air, especially when the sunshine causes rising currents of air. These little salt particles act as centres attracting extra droplets to form darker clouds further up in marine stratocumulus clouds.

Stephen envisages a multitude of ships to criss-cross the oceans, remotely controlled with their position tracked through GPS and their destination determined by wheather patterns.

This idea of making rain in this way could also be combined with another idea discussed earlier, i.e. of exploiting temperature differences in the sea. [source]  The deeper you go down into the ocean, the colder it gets. At the lowest points, the temperature is near freezing point. Ships could drag a pipe along, reaching down a few hundred metres into the ocean. Through this pipe, cold water could be pumped up by a solar-powered pump to be released back into the sea from a little tower of, say, two metres high. As the cold water falls down into the sea, the evaporation will act as an air-conditioner. Furthermore, condensation around the top of the pipe will drip down and can be captured in containers, to be sold as fresh water.

So, apart from harvesting clean, potable water in the above way, such a ship could also be anchored at a location where it could throw part of the seawater up into the air in the way Stephen Salter proposed, as a fine mist, in order to produce more rain in the proximity of a dry area on land.

[Links:  Air Wells | Wave]

Making it work

But will it all work? Some of the water could also rise higher up into the atmosphere and increase humidity of cirrus clouds at high altitudes, thus trapping the heat underneath and heating up Earth even further through the greenhouse effect.

Also, it could cause too much rain to fall in one region, and too little elsewhere, disrupting globally-balanced weather patterns. Since we can expect more forceful cyclones and tropical rains as a result of global warming, we need to be very careful not to artificially increase risk of flooding and other disasters. As discussed earlier in this group, the Atlantic warm stream may well change its course due to an increase of cold water from glaciers in Greenland, caused by global warming. Some therefore predict ice-age conditions in north-west Europe in future. [source]

So, we need to assess the risks of manipulating climate and weather in various ways, not only to ensure that action will work as intended, but also to avoid that an anticipated beneficial outcome in one area will come at the cost of disasters elsewhere. We need more research, comparing the various alternatives by means of computer modelling to asses the various scenarios. We need to put all such projects on the table, including combinations of the various approaches next to the alternative of taking no action at all. We need to include ideas ranging from rainmaking to sunshields, and assess which combinations of projects will work best.

Sun Shields

Sam Carana came up with the idea of positioning shields in the sky above Earth. [source]  Large shields could be positioned in orbit in the sky to make areas such as deserts receive less sunlight and thus become more fertile. Such shields could deflect sunlight selectively, their positions remotely controlled from Earth, so that one area could be shielded from the sun at one period, and another area at a later period. Also, the shields could be moved into a parallel position for minimal shielding.

The shields could be covered with solar panels, for generating power, or could be used to grow food that could be transported down to Earth. Sam Carana also discussed possible use of such shields as mirrors, deflecting sunlight towards Mars, with the aim of eventually terraforming Mars.


Good Ideas

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