Skip to main content

Top 10 Craziest Environmental Ideas

Top 10 Craziest Environmental Ideas

Top 10 Craziest Environmental Ideas

Many people have proposed wild ways to solve the myriad problems facing Earth, including water pollution, smog, mounds of trash and global warming. Ideas range from the rational (if not always easily implemented) to the downright zany. We've compiled a list of some of the wackier (or at least wackier-sounding) proposed solutions to today's environmental challenges.

Build Earth Some Sunglasses

The original Blue Marble photo was taken on Dec. 7, 1972. The original NASA caption: View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap. Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is the Malagasy Republic. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast.

The original Blue Marble photo was taken on Dec. 7, 1972. The original NASA caption: View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap. Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is the Malagasy Republic. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast.

When you're lounging on the beach on a sunny day with the sun's hot rays beating down on you, you may try to keep out the glare with a pair of sunglasses or a hat. Some scientists have proposed taking a similar strategy with our warming planet: putting a ring of sunlight-scattering particles or micro-spacecraft in orbit around the equator. The idea is that the ring would reduce the amount of solar radiation hitting the planet and counteract some of the warming induced by greenhouse gases. The wild idea would also be an expensive one, with a potential price tag in the trillions of dollars.

Give the Ocean a Dose of Iron

Sunset in the Pacific: Cocos Island is uninhabited, but the waters that surrounded the tiny island are rich with a dazzling array of ocean life.

Sunset in the Pacific: Cocos Island is uninhabited, but the waters that surrounded the tiny island are rich with a dazzling array of ocean life. (Image credit: © Conservation International/ Scott Henderson)

Here's the basic idea: Tiny photosynthesizing plankton in the ocean use carbon dioxide from the air to make food. When they die, they sink down to the ocean floor, taking the carbon with them. Because iron stimulates phytoplankton growth, some people have suggesting fertilizing parts of the ocean with iron to create huge plankton blooms to suck up some of the excess carbon dioxide we've emitted into the atmosphere. Several private companies have attempted ventures to dump iron into the ocean to sell carbon credits, but many scientists question just how effective the massive blooms are at trapping and storing carbon. Environmental groups have also warned that iron dumps may harm the local marine ecosystems.

Get the Ocean Moving and Mixing

rough ways in oregon

Credit: NOAA

Environmentalist and futurologist James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis, recently added a scheme of his own to the somewhat zany list of proposed global warming remedies. Lovelock's idea is to use pipes to stimulate mixing in the world's oceans, bringing deep, nutrient-rich waters to the surface to feed huge algae blooms that would suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sink it to the bottom of the ocean as they died. This method would only be a Band-Aid though, Lovelock says, because warming will continue for some time, even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases today.

Fill the Air With Sulfur

iceland volcano eyjafjallajokull

The plume of ash and steam rising from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano reached 17,000 to 20,000 feet (5 to 6 kilometers) into the atmosphere on May 10, 2010, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image. (Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC)

Certain types of aerosols, or tiny particles suspended in the air, are thought to have an overall cooling effect on the atmosphere. These particles intercept some solar radiation and scatter it back into space. The cooling effect on the Earth's climate can be seen after a volcanic eruption, which can spew millions of tons of sulfur into the atmosphere. Some scientists have suggested that we mimic nature and inject a bunch of sulfur into the atmosphere to counteract global warming. One problem with this plan is the increased amount of acid rain this would generate. Another is that sulfur would have to be regularly injected into the atmosphere to keep up the cooling, or global warming would pick up right where it left off.

Keep Worms in the Kitchen

earthworm, worm,

Earthworm (Image credit: Wikmedia commons user Michael Linnenbach)

They're not just pets (or food for them) - worms can be made useful by putting them to work eating those bits of sandwich crust and apple cores from the garbage and turning them into compost. The compost can then be used in gardens and to plant houseplants. Los Angeles city employees have been keeping a plastic bin of the little wriggling creatures in their office to recycle their lunch leftovers. If you're not wild about keeping a worm farm in your kitchen, you could always compost the old-fashioned way with a bin in the backyard.

Change Your Diet

healthy grilled foods

Credit: Barol16 | Dreamstime

If more Americans walked and avoided red meat, we could reduce carbon dioxide emissions and attack the country's obesity epidemic, some researchers have said. One scientist has calculated that if all Americans between the ages of 10 and 74 walked for half an hour a day in lieu of driving, it would cut annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 64 million tons (and shed some pounds from American bellies). A more vegetarian diet could also reduce emissions. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that the meat industry is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, through fertilizer use, animal manure and the energy required to transport food and meat.

Bury the Carbon

How much carbon is in the air? Where does it come from? How does Earth naturally keep carbon balanced? Why should Humanity capture industrial carbon?

How much carbon is in the air? Where does it come from? How does Earth naturally keep carbon balanced? Why should Humanity capture industrial carbon?

Since we have all this extra carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere and warming the Earth, some scientists have proposed taking that excess gas and trapping it somewhere, perhaps underground in aquifers, coal seams or depleted oil and gas fields. (The method is already used to push up dregs from the latter.) To do this, carbon dioxide would have to be separated from plant emissions, compressed and injected into an underground tomb, where it could be kept for thousands of years. There are still questions of the costs involved in siphoning off carbon dioxide from plant gas streams though, and some environmental groups worry about the gas seeping out of the ground.

Live in Trash

(Image credit: The Coca-Cola Company)

No, this doesn't mean you should stop putting your garbage out every week and start living in an ocean of food wrappers and tissues. Rather, an engineer at the University of Leeds in England has created a construction material out of waste (for example, recycled glass, sewage sludge, and incinerator ash). These "Bitublocks" keep litter out of the landfill and could be used to build houses. They also take less energy to make than concrete blocks, their inventor says. Other scientists have proposed using waste material from poultry farms, such as chicken feathers, to make more environmentally-friendly plastics.

Cut and Cap Emissions

Cutting global greenhouse gas emissions by mandatory caps or a cap-and-trade system may not be scientifically zany, but it's been a political hot potato. Proposals to revamp pollution-emitting power stations, limit the amount of carbon dioxide that businesses, industries or countries can emit, or putting a tax on greenhouse gas emissions would bring emission levels down worldwide, and many countries have signed on to make the (voluntary) cuts called for in the Kyoto Protocol. But the United States in particular has objected to mandatory emissions cuts on the grounds that they will damage the economy, though some states, particularly California, have pushed for regulations on carbon dioxide.

Ban Plastic Bags and Light Bulbs

Oceanographer David Gallo posted this picture of a lone plastic bag floating near the site of the RMS Titanic on his Twitter account.

Oceanographer David Gallo posted this picture of a lone plastic bag floating near the site of the RMS Titanic on his Twitter account. (Image credit: David Gallo.)

It may sound like a rash decision, but San Francisco, China and Australia have all jumped on board. China wants to rid the country of "white pollution" — the plastic bags that clog city streets and waterways. And Australia hopes to cut its greenhouse gas emissions and reduce household energy bills by phasing out sales of incandescent bulbs. Such measures have gained momentum within the last year with more governments considering taking measures against the wasteful bags and inefficient bulbs. But before you worry about how you'll carry your groceries or light your home, these measures promote alternatives: recyclable paper bags and reusable cloth ones and more efficient (and cost-saving) compact fluorescent bulbs.