Environment Forum

Imagining Bucky and Geo-Engineering

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

fuller.jpgA retrospective exhibit about the life and inventions of R. Buckminster Fuller (a.k.a. Bucky) is about to open at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City . Fuller was truly one-of-a-kind-an iconoclastic architect, inventor, engineer, and philosopher.

I still have vivid memories of a public talk he gave at Columbia University in the late 1970′s. He died in 1983. He is best known as the leading proponent, if not inventor, of the geodesic dome, the sturdy spherical structure, composed of triangular elements, that closely approximates a sphere.  

It’s hard to imagine Bucky not being engaged by the modern problems of global warming. It would have attracted him on all fronts: the energy challenges, the technological challenges and the ‘geo-engineering’ challenges.

Geo-engineering is the term used to describe large-scale human interventions that could possibly offset climate change such as deliberate releases of particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight, or the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and power plants.

There Is a Time for Everything — And It’s Changing

Snow lies on Daffodils in Heather, central England March 23, 2008. REUTERS/Darren Staples (BRITAIN)

 Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

Colleagues of mine at Columbia have just published a large study of physical and biological changes recorded around the world since 1970 , during which the globe has been warming.

The massive database they compiled describes an extraordinary and fascinating range of phenomena that would likely be sensitive to climate changes like spring flowering of plants, migration times and ranges for birds, fish and insects, spring river flows from winter snow melt, lake freezing and melting times, pollen release, egg-laying, and even the time that bullfrogs start calling in Spring. (It’s hard to find bullfrogs in a lake but it sure is easy to hear them so I trust that data!)    View of Manshuk Mametova glacier melting down to a lake in northern Tien Shan mountains. The Soviets have gone, the glaciers are getting smaller and in parched oil-rich central Asia the battle is on for water. Picture taken August 24, 2003. FOR RELEASE WITH FEATURE STORY BC-CENTRALASIA-WATER REUTERS/Alexei Kalmykov SZH/CVI/WS

Carbon is intense

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University  and is a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

U.S. President George W. Bush walks through the colonnade from the Oval Office to make remarks on the climate at the White House in Washington, April 16, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)On April 16 President Bush gave a speech laying out a new United States climate policy goal – stabilizing US emissions by the year 2025.

During the course of this speech the President reported as progress a previous goal he had announced in 2002: that the “carbon intensity” of the US economy under his administration has been declining at the rate of about 18% per decade — the rate he targeted in 2002. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon emitted by US fossil fuel combustion per dollar of US economic output.

A Truly “Green” Building Technology

A woman reads a book in a rooftop garden of an apartment building overlooking a residential area of Tokyo August 5, 2002. Trapped by concrete and asphalt, heat from heavy traffic and millions of air-conditioning units have made summer in the cities hotter - a phenomenon known as “heat-island effect.” By converting a bare roof top into a green oasis, it helps absorb heat and keeps temperatures inside the building lower. REUTERS/Yuriko NakaoThe symbolic color associated with environmentalism is obviously “green.” 

From ‘green movement,’ ‘Green Party,’ ‘green collar jobs,’ to ‘Greenpeace,’ the color reference is to plants, chlorophyll, the green pigment central to photosynthesis, which is the basis of all life. Quite often, however, the chief environmental goal being advocated has little to do with plants, but rather promoting low-impact technologies, practices and lifestyles.

This is the case with “green building design” which is receiving growing attention because of the under-appreciated magnitude of building emissions worldwide. Recently, New York City audited the source of all its CO2 emissions and found that nearly 80 percent is from building energy consumption. Worldwide the estimate is closer to 45 percent, making “buildings the biggest single contributor to anthropogenic climate change – a worse offender than all the world’s cars and trucks put together.”

Turf Battles and Plant Physics

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University  and is a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. Reuters is not responsible for the content — the views are the author’s alone.

Houston Astros pitcher Mike Hampton pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at the Astrodome in Houston September 13. Hampton was contending for his 20th win of the 1999 season. BRD/JPAn interesting environmental debate is taking place with regard to the growing proliferation of synthetic turf sports fields in outdoor settings.

These fields are modern versions of the original “AstroTurf” installed inside the Houston Astrodome in the late 1960s, after it was found living turf grass would not survive there. Synthetic fields are becoming increasingly popular as outdoor recreational fields, usually replacing grass fields.

Essential Earth Science — from your garage

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and will be a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. Reuters is not responsible for the content — the views expressed are the author’s alone.

The root cause of all environmental problems-from beer cans floating on a lake to global warming-can be explained using the following two contrasting scenes:

Emissions well out of an exhaust of a car during traffic on a street in downtown Berlin on March 23, 2005. Members of the ruling German Greens party discuss a toll for vehicles entering the centre of major cites such as Berlin, Munich and Duesseldorf to reduce exhaust gas pollution. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz TOB/MADScene 1: We are sitting in an automobile inside a small, closed garage.

You are in the passenger seat and I am at the wheel. We are waiting for a third passenger from inside the building. Suddenly I reach for the ignition and turn the engine on. Alarmed by the thought of being poisoned by the exhaust, your eyes widen in amazement as you say, “What are you doing?” When you reach to turn the ignition off, I block your hands and soon a life-and-death struggle begins for control of the vehicle. You are screaming: “Are you crazy! You’re going to kill us both!”  If we manage to survive the episode you will seek to have me put under psychiatric care. Heck, I might even end up in prison for attempted manslaughter. My days as an ordinary law-abiding citizen are over.

But we need the cold

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University who will be a regular guest blogger under the title “Exhausted Earth”. Reuters is not responsible for the content– the views expressed are theauthor’s alone.This is hisfirstblog:

snow.jpgAs the Northern Hemisphere begins to exit the 2008 winter season, I have found myself once again witnessing a well-known social phenomenon relating to weatherthat I find discouraging as I work on the issue of global warming.

It is the apparent social etiquette that assumes out loud that nobody wants very cold weather and would wish it away if they could. In my hometown of New York City, I encounter it on almost any given day — riding in the elevator of my building with my neighbors, on television fromthe weather reporter, in wintertime travel ads to southern destinations.

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