Saturday, June 13, 2009

Worrying About Nothing

There were two articles this week that made me wonder what the big deal was. One was about decreasing the nitrogen content of the atmosphere to cool the planet. The whole paper while interesting and thought provoking is making several assumptions. The paper assumes that humans won't change anything, but we've been changing the planet for 50,000 years with our use of the low tech methods of axe, plow, and fire. While they are correct that the carbon dioxide levels have fallen dramatically since the birth of the planet, the nitrogen content has been largely unaltered. The atmosphere used to be roughly 70% nitrogen and 30% carbon dioxide. When photosynthesis evolved, the carbon dioxide was combined with water to form sugars and oxygen was excreted as a waste product. The iron precipitated out of the oceans and aerobic respiration evolved leading to multicellular organisms in the last 500 million years or so. Once oxygen hit a critical concentration and the land masses spread out, cyclical cooling in the form of Ice Ages began to occur. Earth is a water world and the water will moderate the the planet's temperature for quite a while.

The second paper was about planetary orbits fluctuating, leading to planetary collisions - possibly the end of the Earth. Good grief, what hyperbole! That's like a baby worrying about getting hit by a meteor when he or she is 80 years old. Both this paper and the previous one have likely ignored the paper on orbital engineering that came out a year ago. Within 100 years, we will have the technology to move and direct asteroids and icy bodies within the solar system for orbital and planetary engineering projects. We could move Venus and Mars into habitable zones with this technique, and Earth can be moved to a higher orbit which would offset the solar heating. It would even allow us to move icy bodies from the outer solar system to impact with Mars and Venus to create oceans. We would also have to create a large enough artificial moon for Mars to remelt the core and create a magnetic dynamo which would recreate a magnetosphere and protect the regenerated Martian atmosphere. With the addition of water to Venus, and perhaps genetically engineered photosynthetic microorganisms, the Venusian atmosphere might be rendered breathable and cooler. I'd have been more impressed if the articles had not been so alarmist.

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