Stupid is as stupid does. --Mrs. Gump
As I'm often wont to do, I was watching The Discovery Channel the other evening, specifically an episode of the series Discovery Project Earth. The series bills itself as "eight crazy experiments bold enough to change the world". The experiments are ways to reduce or reverse the effects of global warming.
So, what are these bold, world-altering experiments? Well, I've seen three of the experiments so far.
- Save the glaciers. The scientists running this experiment propose to save glaciers from accelerated melting -- due to global warming -- by wrapping glaciers with a reflective plastic. The experiment was performed on a glacier in Greenland that was tagged as being endangered by global warming. The glacier actually had a large meltwater lake in the middle of it -- something I had never seen before. To be honest though, I'm not sure how saving glaciers was supposed to reduce or reverse the effects of global warming.
- Create more clouds. Clouds are much more reflective than water or land. So this proposal is to create automated fleets of ships that will atomize sea water, spraying the mist high into the air to form clouds. The computer simulations of this experiment showed this being performed off the west coast of Africa. In theory, a 10% increase in clouds would cool the Earth to pre-industrial levels.
- Diffract part of the sunlight that reaches Earth. This was, by far, the boldest idea. The proposal is to launch billions of refractive lenses into space between the Sun and Earth so that a portion of the sunlight that currently reaches Earth will instead be diffracted into space. A reduction of sunlight as small as 1-2% would cool the Earth to pre-industrial levels.
As I'm listening to each of these proposals, I was immediately struck by how amazingly stupid and ill-advised each one is. Not a single one of the ideas suggested discovering and addressing the root causes of global warming.
I know that the popular theory of the cause of global warming is a dramatic increase of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. And that might be true. But it's not proven. Yes, CO2 levels have increased along with global temperatures, but correlation does not imply causation. An alternative, tongue-in-cheek, yet statistically valid theory shows an inverse relationship between the population of swashbuckling pirates and global temperatures. Specifically, that a decrease in the pirate population has caused a rapid increase in global temperatures.
I'm not saying the alarming increase of atmospheric CO2 is not the cause of global warming. I'm saying that it appears to be a promising theory with a strong correlation, but we still don't know. The Earth has experienced temperature fluctuations before that were not caused by CO2. Are we sure this trend isn't one of those flucuations? I think these experiments should have been directed at finding the root cause of global warming and not these absurd ideas.
After all, wrapping a glacier in plastic is such a stupid idea that I can't believe it was even discussed -- so, I'm not going to.
As for creating more clouds, let's ask the survivors of Katrina whether pumping warm water vapor into the air off the west coast of Africa sounds like a good idea to them. Our understanding of climatic systems is embryonic, at best, so why even contemplate creating 10% more clouds? How can we possibly predict the global environmental impact?
And diffracting some of the Sun's energy away from Earth? Let me think about that. Hmmm...every bit of the energy used on Earth comes from the Sun. And now we're discussing decreasing that energy source? By spending trillions of dollars to manufacture, launch, position, and maintain billions of strategically positioned lenses? Riiiiggghhhtt.
I have a couple of ideas to reduce global warming that would fit right into this TV series. What if we paint all the cities white! That will greatly reduce the heat absorption of all that pavement. Not to mention stimulating the economy by employing all the painters in the world.
Here's another "great" idea. A person breathing at the average rate of 12 breaths per minute, exhales 1.3 grams of CO2 every minute. What if everyone breathed slower? If every person would cut off 2 breaths per minute, their respiratory contribution to atmospheric CO2 would be reduced annually by over 116 kilograms. If everyone participated, the amount becomes 697,422,960 metric tons (1 metric ton = 1000 kgs)! The average American automobile annually spews 4.5 metric tons of C02 into the atmosphere. So merely by breathing a bit slower, we can effectively remove 154,982,880 automobiles from the road -- that's well over half the number of cars in the United States.
Thank you. You've been a great audience. I'll be here all week.