Friday, April 23, 2010

Earthbound Science

The main premise of a science fiction story is that science is in some way, shape or form going to figure into resolving a major plot point. Most of us (I include myself there) assume that requires galactic-scale science. It needn't. In the War of the Worlds, an alien invasion that no human-made power on earth could stop was nevertheless doomed from the moment the first alien ship touched down. Earthbound viruses killed the invaders when nothing else could. (Irony? Viral invaders kill the alien invaders?) It's fascinating to me that some of the most elegant solutions to complex problems aren't always huge, grandiose schemes of technology, engineering and discovery. They're humbler. Simpler. Like viruses, which are so simple, there's considerable debate as to whether they're actually alive. Or like this potential carbon-sink - something that could pull excess carbon dioxide from the warming atmosphere and lock it into the ocean - researched by scientists in Australia. Whether that carbon-sink can have a significant impact on global warming remains to be seen, but the idea itself is a lovely example of being willing to look anywhere and everywhere for a solution to what looks like an intractable issue. It's tempting, when writing on a galactic scale, to believe that big problems require bigger solutions. Sometimes they do. But occasionally, a little virus, or a single flea infected with plague, or a bit of iron-rich whale poop will solve all sorts of problems.

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