Desperate Stuff — A Technical Solution To Two Pressing Problems

Most of you will know I’ve been concerned about human-driven climate change for a long time. Decades, as a matter of fact. (Yes. The facts have been around that long. Longer, really.)  I live in Tasmania precisely because when my wife decided we should have kids, I figured Queensland was likely to be hit harder than Tassie. (So far I’ve been right. Queensland’s copped a couple of megastorms, some killer drought, and a once-in-a-century flood event. Tasmania has had a bushfire. Oh, and sometimes the winds are stronger than usual.)


Unfortunately, that doesn’t help us if the whole world gets fucked up. And frankly, things are looking set to go down that path. First: the methane locked up under the Arctic looks to be getting loose. (See this article.) Worse still, it looks as though the permafrost is going in Siberia, and methane is starting to escape in spectacular quantities there, too. (See this article.)


This is bad. How bad? Civilisation-ending bad. Species-crash bad. TEOTWAWKI bad. Potentially, anyway. What’s certain in climate science. But you can judge for yourself what the climate boys think: yet another depressing article.


While we’re talking about problems, let’s investigate another one. A problem which is really pissing off the global energy industry: solar photovoltaic systems. 


Why is solar PV a problem? Because now it’s cheap enough for Joe Citizen to put it on his roof. And Joe Citizen expects to see his power bills fall when he does, thank you very much. But this is rapidly changing the demand for power. In fact, Germany has had at least one incident where the daytime cost of wholesale electricity hit zero as a result of an oversupply of solar PV.


The power brokers in the industry are fighting back. They’re cutting the buy-back rates, introducing limits, slowing installation, and demanding protection from governments. In the weirdest of cases, Spain has gone ahead to make private solar PV illegal. Yep. You read that right. 


It seems to me that we’ve got two problems here that can be addressed by the same means. We don’t need less solar PV, and greater restraints on how it’s used. We need more. A lot more. What we also need is some kind of heavy industry that can suck up excess solar PV power when it’s dumped on the market. And wouldn’t it be nice if that industry could also suck excess carbon out of the atmosphere?


Bingo. There are, in fact, an increasing number of catalysts and systems designed to pull CO2 out of the air and use it as feedstock to create more valuable chemicals such as methanol. Chances are there are systems which could do the same to methane. We need to build a whole fucking lot of solar PV systems — and we need to match them with a whole fucking lot of installations designed to pull greenhouse gasses out of the air and turn them back into useful, non-greenhouse gas chemistry. 


Yes. I know. The scale of this is insane. But it’s not like we’re facing a raft of choices, folks. The situation is this: it looks like we’ve hit a real tipping point, and if we don’t do something serious and major and very damn’ soon, the human civilisation is going to be nothing but an archaeological curiosity for ET sometime in the distant future. 


Costs of solar installations are continuing to fall. New means of creating them are being discovered almost every day. Protecting the idiotic central-generation power systems we have now is increasingly difficult. Why not accept the fact that we’re going to have more power than we need when the sun shines — and put that excess power to a purpose that might just save our collective asses?



  1. It a fine idea, and reminds me of one of the projects to Terrraform Mars in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars were fabricators were dropping packages as they floated across the landscape that generate Nitrogen Oxygen using small wind turbines rather than solar.

    I believe Artemis Fowl also proposed a scheme to change the reflective qualities of snow in the Antarctic to address global warming. Perhaps a design which could be could be fabricated in a 3D printer making it easier to build many and scatter them through out the world..

  2. That is a really good idea, good Sir! The evidence of massive methane escape and the traversing of an irreversible tipping point is pretty damn convincing (and I find myself glad to not have offspring to fret about), and the political melt-down over the collapse of traditional energy generation frameworks due to affordable renewables is mind-bendlingly stupid in view of the significance of these climate events. So long as the political focus is on budgets and wages and employment we’re not going to face the hard changes needed to prepare for a drastically-changed future: far easier to just pretend it’s not happening and to discredit the science than to try to sell the pain needed to the electorate. *sigh*

    I’m yet to meet a climate change denier here in Peru. The evidence is even clearer here with the melting of glaciers and the change in altitudinal range for both crops and wildlife, yet the government here too is weakening environmental protections to encourage further mining and petroleum and gas exploration in order to balance to books and maintain economic growth, and it’s awfully hard to argue against development that can drag people our of abject poverty. When you can’t feed your family *now* the unspecified impacts of climate change at some undefined time in the future become a chance you’re willing to take. *double-sigh*

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