The Corner

Whitewashing Gaia

From a reader:

Well, couple things.

Nit picky, and not one of your nits anyway, but I think Earth’s albedo

is 0.39. Maybe the land masses are 0.29, but the actual number’s less

important than the spirit of the thing.

Where to start? It’s kinda rambling, but here’s some things you might

want to noodle.

James Lovelock, the Gaia dude, prophesied that Mother Gaia will start to

cover her surface with dark poppies or suchlike to counteract the coming

ice age (yeah, I read the Gaia Hypothesis way back when we were doomed

to a frozen, wintery, snowball-like future). If Mother Gaia can

manipulate global climate by engineering darker plants, by golly we can

make ‘em whiter. Indeed, every percent of increased albedo can do some

good. We don’t need to engineer plants that will grow and create a mat

of 0.10 albedo. Just a few percent below 0.39, over larger areas is


The laws of unintended outcomes could easily come into play with

painting roofs though – large concrete metropoli actually affect local

weather somewhat, since they’re huge storage radiators. If you reflect

radiation (hopefully, if successful, it’ll ne a LOT of radiation),

you’ll reduce the storage effect, although I think you’d have to go

quite some way before you made the city less of a radiator than the

countryside. The microclimatologists would have to look carefully at

places like California where onshore breezes are vital to inland

agriculture, and the idea of passing more sunlight back up thru’ the

pollution could cause problems. Although the further degradation of air

quality in SoCal would be a small price to pay to save the planet, IMHO.

In overall terms, changing the albedo progressively over the course of a

decade or so sounds like the kind of process that would be relatively

straightforward to control, and at least as easy to monitor as watching

polar bears drown. And, if it doesn’t work, all we’re out is a couple

million tons of whitewash. The only question is whether whitewashing

roofs is work Americans Will Not Do (TM).

From the article, I’d link the libertarian method of adoption to a

modest tax-credit system that put money, even if only a few dollars, in

people’s pockets to thank them for saving the planet. I think Milton

would approve.

The odd thing about the ‘darker ice’ issue is that it’s not really news

to geologists. They’ve been using some of these deposits to correlate

volcanic events. What they haven’t been doing is going out socializing

with the environmental guys who see *other* strata of ‘darker ice’ as an

indicator of increasing pollution. I’m sure there’s some kind of message


Lastly, more a geeky fantasy fiction/counterculture thing. Be careful

bandying ‘Gorean’ around, although I suspect Tigerhawk is well aware of

the subplot here. There’s a whole community of people who love the ‘Gor’

Fantasy Fiction series by a guy named John Norman. Cutting to the chase,

it’s a sort of Barbaric Lake Wobegone where all the men are heavily

muscled, beloinclothed and coated in baby oil, and all the women are

chained, subservient sex-toys.

The problem now is that I *have* now merged the Gorean/Al Gore think in

my mind.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sleep again.