Hosed by this theory or greenwashed? Photo by Tony Stl via Flickr
On ABC's 20/20 last Friday, Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft's former chief technology officer, and founder/CEO of Intellectual Ventures (IV), resurrected the idea of stretching a 2-inch hose up 100,000 feet (15 kilometers) into the stratosphere and releasing sulfur dioxide to cool earth's temps by a degree and reverse global warming. Cheap and easy solution or preposterous possibility?
How do you get a hose that high vertically, 20/20's skeptical Elizabeth Vargas asked? Simple: the hose stays up with balloons, said Myhrvold. "Doesn't sulfur dioxide cause acid rain?" she pressed him. It's a small amount of pollution to save the arctic and planet, was his response.
Myhrvold's company, created to combine capitalism and invention to benefit the world, is delighted that its climate science ideas are featured in the new book Superfreakonomics by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The controversial theories it proposes have received some dubious reactions, as recently described in Treehugger.
Solve cause of global warming or symptoms?
In the TV segment, the authors defended IV's hose notion, saying eradicating polio with a shot to the arm seemed impossible 80 years ago. They insist the world's better off than ever and unfixable problems have always found solutions, often cheap and easy ones. Big on simplicity, Levitt and Dubner claim that changing behavior is harder than a hose to the sky.
Mt. Pinatubo key to global cooling or just world's smallest volcano? Photo by Byron SA via Flickr
Sulfur dioxide lowered temps by .09 Fahrenheit after a volcanic eruption in The Philippines in 1991 when Mount Pinatubo blew, explains Myhrvold. (It also depleted the ozone substantially.) He also describes his company's method to mitigate hurricane damage by forcing warm water below the ocean's surface but also has stated that solar panels worsen climate change.
Pumping SO2 into the atmosphere, was considered "wild and crazy" in 2006 when Treehugger described a New York Times report about Dr. Crutzen, the Nobel laureate, who proposed it. Fighting one form of pollution with another was considered irresponsible by fellow scientists. And the cost? $50 billion. "Climatic engineering, such as presented here, is the only option available to rapidly reduce temperature rises" if international efforts fail to curb greenhouse gases," wrote Dr. Crutzen.
"When you read the actual scientists' reasoning for how [geoengineering] could work," says IV, "it's really hard not to come to the conclusion that it's idiotic to discount it." Are they saying the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who believe this harebrained idea would set us back decades, are the dodos?
How about pursuing those "international efforts to curb greenhouse gases?"
More on sulfur dioxide:
Huge Drop in Chinese Birth Defects After Local Coal Plant Closes
Canadian Study Shows Air Pollution May Trigger Appendicitis
EPA Sues Louisiana Coal-Fired Power Plant to Install Required Pollution Controls