Can the Wright brothers fix climate change?

Posted by HC in 'Good Business' / Books / Controversies / People on 17 July 2008

A fascinating new book, Fixing Climate, holds out hope that mankind can mop up the emissions of carbon dioxide which are over-heating the planet. There are lots of reasons to hope that the authors are right. Not the least of them is the fact that two brothers called Wright are foremost in the developments. Wouldn’t it be great if siblings once again solved a problem we have with the air?

Let’s leave aside for a moment whether these men are on to anything that will work. Everything about their coming together is a great American story. We meet an immigrant theoretical physicist (Klaus Lackner) who believes carbon can be scrubbed from air. He meets a climatologist (Wallace Broecker) who is inclined to agree. Lackner (as Columbia academic) worked on a late incarnation of the Biosphere project, the failed dream child of a Texan billionaire (Ed Bass). It was an attempt to replicate the earth’s atmosphere in a manmade bubble. There’s a practical mechanic (Allen Wright) who is fired when the Biosphere finally fails. His brother (Burt Wright ) is a Tucson fireman who works with ventilation systems. Broecker hooks all these men up with a further billionaire (Gary Comer), who agrees to fund an attempt to build and (patent) carbon scrubbers.

The team have made some kit which works. To cut to the chase, the US would need tens of millions of units about the size of lorry containers. (Quite how many depends on how many big power stations mop up their carbon emissions at source.) Luckily, these container-sized units could be anywhere, and they could be near disposal sites for the carbon-dioxide waste they’re designed to produce. But disposal seems to be a whole other dimension of problem.

I imagine that whether we “solve” climate change, or merely survive it, the story of the solutions we find will often look like this. Academics, mechanics and entrepreneurs will be crucial, and chance, inspiration and adventure will be at the core of it all. Quixotic people will turn out to have been invaluable. 

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