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Friday, 1 August 2008

Cool it

Planet Earth actually. Now just cutting down on our greenhouse gases is not enough. We have to actively cool the planet. Or rather do smart stuff that will counteract global warming because we’re pumping so much CO2 into the atmosphere and we aren’t going to reduce that fast enough to make a difference.

I learnt this from a radio interview with Sir David King (ex chief government scientific adviser). At the same time I read that the polar ice is melting faster than was anticipated and the UK’s carbon foot print had not shrunk as we’d been led to believe but is growing. You think this heat’s uncomfortable; try sunbathing on Lewes’s beach in 2035.

This is all hugely depressing; but while I watch my fuel bills soar and my home’s value plummet, I can take some comfort that the resulting economic slow down here and more generally will push back “melt down” by a couple of weeks.

So how do you cool down a large piece of rock 24,900 miles in circumference? It’s all the fault of the sun. It’s too big and too hot. We’re being burnt to a crisp. So make the sun smaller and less hot. Which is not that simple. If you think the earth’s big – you should take a look at the sun. Oh you are?

Approach the problem from a different angle. How could we make the sun look smaller and feel cooler? Move the earth. Push it out of its orbit to say a quarter of the distance to Mars. That should reduce the sun’s heating effect to cool us down by 10 degrees. That would probably flip us into an Ice Age, but if we continued to emit greenhouse gases at our current rate – and if the earth is cooler we may have to have the heating on constantly – so we’d emit far more gas – within a few years we’d have warmed up the planet nicely.

In principle I see nothing to fault in this approach. However, Sir David hasn’t adopted this suggestion. Instead he'd send loads of planes up into the sky creating masses and masses of vapour trails and so increasing dramatically the cloud cover over the planet which would reflect back into space the sun’s rays. Less sun rays hitting planet earth, cooler humans etc.

Or we could get a huge pot of white paint and dab it all over the black bits of the earth. Ice is good for us, because it’s white and white reflects. You’ve guessed it – it is very good at reflecting back into space the sun’s rays. So the earth doesn’t heat up so much. If more of the earth was covered with white stuff we’d not only look cool but be cool. One technical problem I’ve hit upon is ensuring a consistent whiteness. Cool earth it wouldn’t be if it was a patch work of differing shades of white.

Alternatively we could turn the earth into a glitter ball by seeding the skies with zillions of tiny mirrors which would reflect the sun rays back into the cosmic void. Picture this: a white, glittery earth suspended in the inky sky. If that doesn’t attract aliens nothing would.

Or we could drastically cut our consumption – use less, burn less, travel less. But we won’t do that for a whole range of very good reasons. In fact we’re more likely to increase consumption; and accelerate the heating up of our planet.

Nature may of course get fed up with us, and take the world in hand. A massive volcanic event, California detaching itself from the USA (I know a lot of people think it has already), or a pandemic. I’ll leave out an asteroid hit – I've scared myself enough as it is. Any one of those is likely to slow our race to extinction, provided they don’t in themselves bring about our demise.

Frankly I don’t hold out much hope for any of those possibilities. No, my dollar’s on a great voice in the sky booming out “O.K, that’s it. I’m curtailing the paradise on Earth trail as of now. Forecast levels of goodness and light were hugely over optimistic. Planet earth has been bought out by a management team made up of all non sentient life forms.”

"Will you all form orderly queues, Jews on the left, Catholics and CofE to the right, along with all other revealed religions. Hindus and other transcendentals in the centre along with Muslims. Your respective leaders will direct you through the pearly gates.”

And planet earth will be silent save for the sounds of the birds and the beasts. How cool would that be!

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