Travel note. I’ll be heading back to Google, this coming Monday, to discuss new visualization interfaces that may enhance 21st Century discourse... inspired by my speech there, in October. During this brief trip, I will have the honor of sharing the podium with the legendary Doug Engelbart, inventor of the mouse and internet visionary. Maybe good ideas will fizz and lead somewhere.
Speaking of Google Videos, Submarine officer Andrew Presby sent me this link to a Tech Talk given by legendary physics innovator Robert Bussard (inventor of the sf’nal “Bussard Ram Scoop Drive) who has been working on alternative approaches to fusion power for decades, operating on a shoestring in order to stay under the radar of the big ITER establishment. Instead of Tokomak “magnetic cathedrals” that cost billions and appear to have no reasonable prospect of ever working, Bussard appears to have already passed several fusion milestones with a small machine of staggering simplicity.
Excellent stuff. I am sure most of us -- who are not petro-porkers -- wish him well.
Speaking of world-saving technologies, lately the topic of “amelioration” has returned to center stage -- perfectly illustrating how difficult we modernists find our position, right now, hemmed in by romantic radicals on all sides. With the right dominated by anti-science problem-deniers and the left heavily influenced by anti-engineering neo luddites, there is an oversupply of dogma and a painful insufficiency of good old can-do spirit of problem solving.
Is it possible that -- for example -- pollution and global warming can be partly solved by ASSERTIVE means that supplement the main thrust (efficiency and responsible economic habits), rather than having to only focus on answers offered by the New Puritans? (Those who chide and wag fingers, crying “waste not!” without ever noticing that they are the prune-faced reincarnations of Cotton Mather?)
Consider this. Except on low-lying islands like Tonga, people in the developing world do not like the New Puritans. They are willing to listen to mixed programs that offer better and more efficient ways to get them all the goodies owned by people in the West. But they will not put up with being lectured-to about how “you shouldn’t want all that wasteful crap.”
Enough generalities, on to a pragmatic question! Can we eliminate some pollution by “getting rid of” it?
Some amelioration techniques include pumping carbon dioxide underground, or planting vast forests, or spreading iron powder and other fertilizers across the vast tracts of ocean that are currently almost lifeless, lacking a phytoplankton food chain, for lack of nutrients. (Most of the sea is desert, in fact. A far larger fraction than on land.) Unsurprisingly, many such experiments are supported by tiny Pacific isle nations, who would prefer vast new fisheries that also suck CO2 and cool an overheating world.
Here’s another idea I’d love to see some of you look into for us. I have long wondered about the fastest coastal subduction zones where the Earth’s crust nosedives under a neighboring tectonic plate, sinking deeply to recycle over millions of years as fresh magma. It would be interesting to know more about these zones, and whether one or two of them ... e.g. perhaps the Marianas trench? ... suck-down crust down at rates that might be ecologically significant ?
As I describe in my novel, BRIGHTNESS REEF.
Is it conceivable that there might be two or three spots on Earth - say, in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans - where toxics... and even sequestered carbon... could be dumped in such a way that they are sucked downward quickly enough not to be a threat of any kind, way, shape or form... at least none that any foreseeable civilization might blame us for?
Of course, there are those who will react to the very notion with shudders of horror. Indeed, as a lifelong Sierra Club and Greenpeace member, I admit that my own sensibilities are shocked by the initial image... dumping great casks of wastes into some of the planet’s final, pristine places. Even if it means gathering all of the vast amounts that are currently dumped illegally in fragile ecosystems and sending it to a place where it will soon disappear, sucked-down out of reach and out of harm’s way, forever... it is a concept and an image that takes some brave pondering, and still the surface image is an unpleasant one.
There are countless issues. Just how fast does crust get taken in, at the fastest subduction zones? Is it a smooth process? Is there any way to be sure that material that we put there truly will be taken below, and rendered more harmless than if it were fired into space?
Certainly the New Puritans would hate this notion, without even allowing it time to “sink in.” Nor would they wait to discuss the potential tradeoffs, since it attempts to solve this problem with something other than the prescription of abstinence, utter efficiency and hairshirt self-denial.
Still, there is growing evidence that some of them are capable of rational negotiation. Clearly we need to offer the Paul Ehrlich crowd something in exchange.
How about a win-win? Charge a stiff fee for everything that’s dumped into the subduction middens... and then use the proceeds for ecologically beneficial programs? Let’s see. Bad stuff, taken away forever... PLUS...billions collected to buy and preserve habitats... It will take some real dogmatic rigidity to turn down a deal like that one.
That is, if the science supports the idea in the first place.
That is, if the science ever gets done, at all.
Here’s my shopping list of studies that ought to determine:
1) the rate that crust is sinking in the fastest subduction zones,
2) the isolation of material dumped into deep subduction canyons, during whatever time it takes (so that broken drums don't spill contents that recirculate in ocean currents),
3) the uniqueness of the biological communities in these two or three "sacrifice zones,"
4) the volume of material that could be taken away forever, this way,
5) the kind of tipping fees that could be charged.
Any other issues? Any chance of a study? Like so many of my ideas, I simply cannot follow through on this one myself. All I can do is offer it to the wind and hope that somebody can explore it further. I remain cheerfully willing to accept rebuke, if it is proved to be stupid. But I sure hope it’s real proof, and not just dogmatic reflex.
Because I have a special hankering for win-win solutions. Most real modernists do.