5 Simple Solutions to Global Problems


Courtesy Intellectual Ventures

IV has taken a cue on how to cool the earth from Mount Pinatubo's eruption in 1991, when the volcanic event spewed tons of sulfur dioxide into the earth's stratosphere. "All those particles reflected just enough light that Mount Pinatubo dropped global temperatures by one degree," said Myhrvold. "That's about the amount that global warming has affected us so far."

IV believes they have invented a cost-effective -- albeit "outside-the box" -- solution for cooling the earth, and it involves a 2-inch diameter hose. Myhrvold proposes pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere by stretching a garden hose straight up into the sky. By IV's calculations, one very long garden hose suspended in sections by hundreds of balloons, would be enough to bring down the earth's temperature.

"In our computer simulations, it is more than enough to stop the melting of the Arctic and stabilize the temperature in the entire Northern Hemisphere," he said. Myhrvold even said it would prevent Arctic species, like polar bears, from going extinct. "As crazy as it might seem, using this hose to the sky, we could dial back the temperature of earth to anything you like. So we could eradicate global warming, we could take it back to preindustrial levels."

The authors of "SuperFreakonomics" praise the work of Myhrvold because they say IV has reframed the climate change debate. "It's not about how much carbon there is. It's not about behavior change. It's about cooling the earth," Dubner said.

But are the geniuses at Intellectual Ventures crazy or just ahead of their time? "It sounds crazy just as a pill or a shot that you could give that would eradicate polio sounded crazy 50, 80 years ago," Dubner said. "But really, getting all those people to change their behavior on a daily basis? That to me seems a lot harder than the idea of putting a garden hose in the sky and cooling the earth."

3. Problem: Malaria.

Solution: Lasers.

Each year up to 500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, and over 1 million people die -- most of them young children. Female mosquitoes transmit the disease. So IV developed a plan for targeting the infectious pests -- the photonic fence.

"As crazy as it sounds, we have a system that finds mosquitoes in the air ... we find them optically and through radar," Myhrvold explained. Once identified by their wingbeat frequency, a sensor will then "lock on [mosquitoes], target them and shoot them out of the sky with lasers." The idea is adapted from the "Star Wars" missile defense technology of the 1980s, which President Ronald Reagan initiated to protect the country from nuclear weapons.

4. Problem: Preserving vaccines in remote villages.

Solution: A vaccine superthermos.

Need a box to keep vaccines cold in the jungles of Africa without electrical power? No sweat. The brains at IV have created a superthermos that could keep vaccines cold from six months to one year no matter what the weather conditions. The storage temperature of vaccines is essential to the immunity agent's effectiveness. Too warm and the vaccine will lose its potency and its ability to prevent disease. IV hopes its prototype for a cost-effective refrigerator for vaccines will save thousands of lives every year.

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