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Is It Possible To Reverse Global Warming? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Dylan Musselman
We're in the middle of a Climate CRISIS! As global warming threatens to destroy the environment on Earth, it's more and more important to be carbon neutral. But should we actually be aiming for more than that? In this video, Unveiled looks at plans to turn our planet into a carbon NEGATIVE world, where we not only limit our CO2 emissions to halt climate change... but actively REPAIR the damage that's already been done. Is it possible to reverse global warming?
Transcript

Is It Possible to Reverse Global Warming?


The average temperature on Earth is rising. And although some have written climate change off as “natural”, according to NASA reports 97% of working scientists agree that the driving force for global warming is human activity. If it’s left unchecked, we could be facing a global catastrophe. So, is there a way to not only stop what’s happening but reverse it completely?

This is Unveiled and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; Is it possible to reverse global warming?

Global Warming is a major aspect of climate change, referring to the steady rise in the average temperature on Earth. Figures from NASA show how we’ve seen a planet-wide increase of 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880, but also that the majority of that rise has occurred only in the years since 1975. While a one-degree difference in average temperature might seem small, it actually takes a massive amount of heat to warm the entire planet by even that margin. And such a temperature change may have major consequences - after all, it can take just one or two degrees of cooling to trigger an Ice Age.

Global warming occurs because of greenhouse gases getting trapped in the atmosphere. The heat from the sun then can’t escape back into space, and our world gets hotter and hotter. The most prominent of these gases are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The main causes of them include the burning of fossil fuels, mass deforestation, and the keeping of domestic livestock; all of which can be traced back to human hands.

But have we already done too much damage? It’s almost always one of the key questions asked as climatologists try to assess the state of our planet. Well, one issue with global warming is that the effects - for better or worse - take a long time to really show. So, in as much as we’re now paying for our actions in the past, if we magically stopped adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and all became carbon neutral today, global warming wouldn’t halt immediately, but could continue to happen over the coming decades. The likes of carbon dioxide stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, so everything that’s been added since even the industrial revolution will continue to wield damage. There is no quick fix, here. If we fail (or flat out refuse) to try for carbon neutrality, however, NASA also predicts that the global average temperature will increase by as much as six degrees Celsius in the next century - a potentially devastating shift for life on Earth!

So much so that perhaps being carbon neutral isn’t even what we should be aiming for anymore; we should instead turn our minds to becoming carbon negative. But the latter cannot happen without the former, so the first step is for human society to severely limit (or even stop completely) the greenhouse gasses it produces. A car has to hit the brakes before it can start reversing, and it’s the same principle here. It hinges on a change in momentum, and there have been some positive starts made in recent years.

The burning of fossil fuels remains one of the first concerns, and the Environmental Protection Agency points the finger at transportation as the biggest culprit, accounting for nearly 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions. So, what’s needed to bring that figure down? We’ve seen electric cars start to appear more and more on our roads, but there’s still a distance to go until our car-use is anywhere near green. Public transport as a concept is better for the environment, ensuring that more people use less vehicles, but there are problems here, too. For things to improve we’d also need big changes in how (or how often) we fly or ferry ourselves around the world, while underground subway networks (particularly the older models) need updating.

But converting our vehicles - or anything else - so that they have lower or zero emissions only works if the power they do consume is gained in an environmentally friendly way as well. Despite its importance for greener technology, electricity also gives cause for concern. We’re increasingly dependent on it in a modern society, but a lot of that power still originally comes via the burning of fossil fuels. There are various initiatives to hasten the use of things like solar panels, wind turbines or even nuclear power for our energy, but alternative sources are still in the minority. It’s another imbalance that would need to be addressed on our road to carbon neutrality.

Say we do one day achieve a carbon neutral world, however - what happens then? Well, on our next quest for carbon negative living, we’d either need to draw the existing carbon and greenhouse gases out from the atmosphere or devise a way to reflect more of the sun’s heat back into space under current conditions. And we’d need whatever technologies we chose to achieve these goals to be green and sustainable in themselves. After all, it’d be no use building a fantastic machine to rid the world of its excess carbon dioxide if that same machine gave out high emissions to do so!

The simplest and arguably most effective way of accomplishing this is to plant more trees. Or, to at least stop cutting them down! Trees are carbon drains - they pull it from the atmosphere and store it, with a single tree capable of absorbing thirteen to forty-eight pounds of carbon every year. If we planted millions of acres of trees - arguably not too difficult considering one 2019 study found that 2.2 billion acres of land could offer that opportunity - we’d be well on our way to shedding gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Given that trees can also help to generally lower surface temperatures, reforestation should be task number one if we ever hope to turn this situation around.

Elsewhere, scientists are looking into other sources of carbon absorption, including artificial carbon sponges to soak up harmful gasses. There’s a problem, though, because what do we do with all that carbon once we’ve collected it? Obviously, we can’t just burn it back into the environment - making the whole process pointless - and the idea of storing it underground is a limited and temporary fix. One company, CO2 Solution, has had some success by using genetically altered E. coli bacteria to convert the CO2 into bicarbonate. But, perhaps the natural world already provides the best answer with algae ponds, which capture carbon and get rid of it via photosynthesis. Create more ponds and spaces like these, then, and we could be onto a winner!

Meanwhile there are more futuristic, mostly theoretical and often controversial plans to reverse global warming by deliberately altering the climate in the other direction; creating a means by which we, by design, can intentionally cool the Earth. Here’s where the idea of reflecting more of the sun’s energy back into space comes in, with suggestions that we could purposefully scatter choice aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere in a bid to reflect sunlight outwards… or even that we could build massive mirrors to suspend around Earth, to do the same thing. Failing that, scientists are also reportedly able to seed clouds to make them more reflective. And, as a response to how rapidly the world’s ice is melting, there are even proposals from a non-profit called Ice911 to scatter tiny, glass beads like sand across the Arctic, to make up for the lost ice by reflecting light away from Earth as the depleted glaciers still do. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are also fears that such projects could end up doing more harm than good to the environment... but there is a growing realisation that if we are to navigate the climate crisis then we’re going to need some truly innovative ideas!

Depending upon which group or government is speaking, there are reported deadlines in place for various countries to achieve carbon neutrality - in 2019, for example, the British government committed to “net zero by 2050”. Whenever it happens, only then can we truly look toward becoming carbon negative. The plans to tip the scale the other way can seem extraordinary and feel quite unlikely, but we’ve now at least got a grasp of what we need to do. It’s possible, but there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then.
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