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“What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?”

reads the heading of the fifth chapter of the Rogue Economist’s (Steven D. Levitt) new book. The answer? Well, Global Warming.


Levitt and his writing partner, Stephen J. Dubner, released an aptly titled book, “Freakonomics”, in 2005. Veering away from the typical outlook on economics,
Levitt and Dubner looked for the unconventional questions; the type that no-one
asks for one reason – Why? Why would anyone wonder how teachers and sumo
wrestlers are alike? The truth is that they have proved that economics can be
found everywhere in our world, both man-made and natural.


Thanks to the success they enjoyed from their first book, the two released a second, entitled “Superfreakonomics”, which followed similar lines of thought in different real-world situations. One of the essays would prove fairly groundshaking to many as it revealed (to those who were unaware) that a possible solution to the very real issue of Global Warming had been found. This they explained by means of the question at the top of the page: “What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?”


The essay begins with a look at the “Global Warming” of the 1970s – “Global Cooling”. Scientists were worried about dropping temperatures, and suggested all types of solutions, some even involving melting the polar caps with soot! Nowadays, soot is the problem, not the solution, says the essay, before it focuses on the genii who have envisioned this new plan – the one that will form a “sunscreen” for the Earth. They are led by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft under Bill Gates. With plenty of capital from his years working at the computer company, Myhrvold has begun Intellectual Ventures, a company that seeks solutions to many of the world’s greatest
problems – for example, a laser used for assassinating only female mosquitoes –
and has now come up with the solution to Global Warming.


The answer came cloaked as a disaster in the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Scientists from many nations descended on the peak and, after much deliberation with the locals, persuaded them to leave the area. When Pinatubo finally erupted, it placed a total of 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, along with the ordinary ma**** of lava and ash. The result, observed the more watchful scientists, was a sustained drop in the global temperature of about 0.5˚ Celsius (almost 1˚ Fahrenheit) – a somewhat unexpected result and one that would allow Myhrvold and his team to formulate a plan to combat Global Warming.


They designed a “super-light-weight” pipe with which they plan to pump a stream of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere, effectively creating a screen through which sunlight would have reduced passage – cooling the Earth. Isn’t this just brilliant? Some people may argue that Intellectual Ventures are terra-forming, changing the planet’s natural state, but when the water starts to rise and coastal cities are in danger, I think that those voices may just go quiet…


Source: Superfreakonomics by SJ Levitt and S Dubner

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