Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
Published 13th October 2009 - 14 comments - 2928 views -
Four years ago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner wrote a book called Freakonomics. It was a huge hit, selling more than three million copies.
Now, they're back with a follow up that's bound to upset liberal sensibilities and cause outrage among the global warming faithful. The new book is titled Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.
For the global cooling part of the book, Levitt and Dubner call upon Nathan Myhrvold, a former colleague of Professor Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, who became futurist-in-chief at Microsoft, and Ken Caldeira, a Stanford University ecologist and contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Caldeira starts out by saying that increases in carbon dioxide can be positive. For example, a rise in atmospheric CO2 means that plants need less water for their growth. In his studies, he has demonstrated that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide, while holding steady all other inputs, such as water and nutrients, yielded a 70 per cent increase in plant growth. Those of us who had a decent education know that carbon dioxide is the lifeblood of plants, but this will probably come as a surprise to today's schoolchildren who are being indoctrinated that CO2 is toxic.
Myhrvold says that while the IPCC is causing alarm about the level of CO2 in the atmosphere increasing from about 280 parts per million to 380, our ancestors evolved at a time when the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was over 1,000 parts per million. He then turns heretic by pointing out that "nor does atmospheric carbon dioxide necessarily warm the earth: ice-cap evidence shows that over the past several hundred thousand years, carbon dioxide levels have risen after a rise in temperature, rather than before it." This might explain why the recorded temperature of the planet has not increased over the past 11 years.
But if, for argument's sake, we assume that the "experts" advising our leaders are right in their belief that humanity is threatened by the greenhouse effect and its consequences, Myhrvold has thought that through as well. He's got a simple plan for saving the planet.
Pumps and hoses and helium balloons
He believes that the biggest sudden natural cooling events are major volcanic eruptions, which spew vast quantities of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which leads to a decrease in ozone and a diffusing of sunlight, followed by a drop in global temperatures. So, why not bring about the same effect through geo-engineering? He has conceived a system of pumps and hoses, which would be taken up into the atmosphere in helium balloons. They would spray colourless liquid sulfur dioxide that would wrap around the North and South poles in two weeks. Myhrvold estimates that this "save the poles" project would cost about $20 million, with a yearly operating cost of $10 million. Planet rescued! Phew!
The British Government, on the other hand, is suggests spending $1.2 trillion a year on a global de-carbonization program. The problem with that, of course, is that even if the British end up paying an enormous price for their power by banning coal — the world's cheapest and most plentiful form of stored energy — the developing economies of China and India have no intention of denying themselves the benefits of cheap, dirty power.
So, will the innovations outlined in the new Levitt- Dubner book be welcomed in Copenhagen? Will Nathan Myhrvold be showered with Nobel Prizes by delighted Norwegians? Not likely. The idea that the problem could be solved by spending $10 million a year on squirting sulphur dioxide around the poles would mean no more dramatic summits. As well, alarmists and utopians would be deprived of a platform and a manipulative press would be starved of populist end-of-the-world fantasies.
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