On August 11th 2016, Ice911 founder, Dr. Leslie Field, and Xros founder, Dr. Armand Neukermans, presented at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, addressing the safety of using engineering to address climate change. Leslie began the panel by presenting the dangers of sitting idly while we wait for a decarbonized economy. Most notably, if no action is taken, the world will be more than 50% likely to experience warming over 5°C by 2100, leading to extinction of more than 40% of known species and sea level rise of 13-20 feet.
With the need for engineering to address climate change justified, Field introduced the concept of reversible environmental engineering to The Commonwealth Club’s audience. Reversible environmental engineering is a localized method of preventing the adverse affects of climate change that can be completely reversed if necessary. Ice911’s Ice-Aid technology is engineered to be, first, bio-safe so that when it degrades it simply becomes sand, and, second, completely removable if it is no longer needed.
Ice911’s Ice-Aid technology uses small glass-like beads to increase the amount of sun reflected from an ice sheet or body of water. On an ice sheet, the Ice-Aid materials sit on top of the ice, reflecting solar radiation and reducing ice-melt. Field believes the technology has the greatest potential to “band-aid” the effects of climate change in the Arctic (which contributes to approximately 1/3 of global warming), but asserted that more local testing is needed before this can be done.
Field also introduced a regional use for Ice911’s technology, by applying the material to water reservoirs. When floating on water, the Ice-Aid materials have been shown to reduce water loss by up to 25% and keep water an average of 5° cooler. Field, again, stressed the need for more large-scale testing in local reservoirs to validate past results and is currently seeking additional donations for Ice911 to do so.
After Dr. Field, Armand Neukermans introduced the concept of “marine cloud brightening” to the audience. Dr. Neukermans’ technology essentially adds water droplets to clouds to make them brighter and reflect more solar radiation. He noted that marine cloud brightening is already happening unintentionally from the emissions of cargo ships crossing the ocean, but with more harmful sulfate molecules. Neukermans’ technology would outfit ships with a modified snow canon that would up-spray salt particles around which water could condense and, thus, brighten marine clouds.
On the topic of safety, Neukermans listed two potential adverse effects of marine cloud brightening: droughts and increased storms in some regions. He, however, stressed the need for more testing to determine the severity of these adverse effects. Neukermans estimates that it will cost between $5-6 million USD to launch his first experiment on a research ship.
Concluding the event, both Field and Neukermans took questions from the audience, with the most concern surrounding who, if anybody, approves climate change engineering projects in the Arctic or in the ocean. Field responded that there is no existing body to approve of or fund these projects that affect the entire world, not just a specific country. Neukermans noted that a similar concern existed around genetic engineering of humans and the scientific community formed a governing body that set the rules for scientists in the field; and it may be the same in the case of climate change engineering. However, with the need for immediate action, Field stressed the importance of making sure that, regardless of a governing body, our climate change solutions must be reversible.