Would flooding the deserts help stop global warming?

Imagine flooding a desert half the size of the Sahara. Using 238 trillion gallons of desalinated ocean water to do the job. Creating millions of 1-acre-square micro-reservoirs to grow enough algae to gobble up all of Earth’s climate-changing carbon dioxide. For an encore: How about spreading the water and fertilizer (the dead algae) to grow a vast new forest of oxygen-producing trees?

A Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Y Combinator, unveiled the radical desert flooding plan as one of four “moonshot” scenarios that it hopes innovators will explore as potential remedies to catastrophic global warming.

But would it work? And should it even be tried?

With unlimited capital and political will — both far from given — experts said the scheme would stand a chance of reducing dangerous greenhouse gas levels. But while they generally believe the climate crisis has become severe enough to push even extreme options onto the table, the experts cautioned against interventions that might create as many problems as they solve.

“We do not want to have this be purely profit driven,” said Greg Rau, a University of California, Santa Cruz climate scientist and part of the team that helped Y Combinator craft the request for proposals. “We are trying to benefit the planet, not just make money. So we need this kind of research and development first, but then oversight and governance over how any of this is deployed.”

The Y Combinator proposal grows out of what is now the consensus of climate scientists — that humanity needs to move beyond slowing the production of carbon dioxide and begin removing excess levels of the gas already straining Earth’s atmosphere.

The startup accelerator that helped finance Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit asked innovators last month to come forward with specific proposals on desert flooding and three other extreme plans for reducing greenhouse gas concentrations. The existential threat posed by climate change requires research into solutions that the investment firm itself conceded could be “risky, unproven, even unlikely to work.”

Y Combinator said it had a rush of interest in its challenge. It declined to say how many took up the desert flooding option. But Sam Altman, Y Combinator's president, predicted that in 2019 his firm will fund three companies to pursue the “Plan B” climate solutions.

A host of scientists who have studied Earth’s ecosystems, climate change and bio-engineering said further exploration might be warranted. But they were quick to cite many reasons that desert flooding is not likely to succeed.

To continue reading: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/would-flooding-deserts-help-stop-global-warming-n934551