Glacial delusions

I’m a regular listener to the C-Realm Podcast, run by KMO, and I was intrigued to hear KMO read out the following post which appeared on the “Friends of the C-Realm” discussion group, posted by someone called Morris:

“No buts about ‘can’t’. Because I’ve been shown what people can do when they choose. Still another friend in a group in Nepal on a successful project to re-grow a completely melted glacier in the Himalayas. That’s a real accomplishment. And how much of it did you see in the news?”

So Morris is clearly a can-do optimist about what can be done in the face of climate change and the other converging crises of the 21st century. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But the story about re-growing a melted glacier intrigued me because it sounded so improbable. How would you try to re-grow a glacier, and could there possibly be any truth in this? So by doing multiple Google searches for combinations of words like “Nepal”, “glacier” and “re-grow” I was able to piece together the facts of this story, which are as follows:

In 2010, Peruvian inventor Eduardo Gold devised a bizarre experiment in the Western Peruvian Andes (not Nepal): paint rocks white in an area where a glacier had melted to see if it could be persuaded to re-grow. The theory was that the black rocks exposed by the retreating glacier absorbed sunlight and warmed up. If they were painted white, they might reflect sunlight, cool down and allow ice to re-form over them. Gold obtained $200,000 in funding from the World Bank for this and set to work with four men from the neighboring village of Licapa to paint the rocks white using a mixture of locally sourced lime, egg whites and water. This was extensively reported in the mainstream media at the time by Maclean’s, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Colors Magazine, the Daily Mail and Pique News Magazine, among others.

Since then, there has been silence. Despite the initial surge of interest, there was apparently no attempt by the mainstream media or anyone else to followup on the project, find out if it worked or not, take before-and-after photographs of the newly formed glacier, or anything else of that sort. The story appears to have died without a trace. I can find no evidence of anyone trying a similar experiment in Nepal or anywhere else.

There are so many things wrong with this picture that it’s difficult to know where to start, but I will give it a try. Where, for example, are you going to get enough eggs to cover the Andes (or the Himalayas, or both) in egg white? Where are you going to get all the chickens from to lay the eggs? What about all the children in the Andes (or the Himalayas, or both) who are suffering from malnutrition? Wouldn’t it be better to feed the eggs to them? And so on. You can see where I’m coming from so I’ll leave it there.

Both on the basis of common sense, and on the basis of the media silence over the last six years, this is a story about a crackpot scheme which never had any chance of success and in fact, didn’t succeed. Why Morris chose to re-tell it as a project carried out by “a friend in Nepal” is unclear. Maybe he got wasted in the bar that night and posted it while firing on two neurons. Maybe the pharmacy was closed that day and his meds ran out. Whatever – it doesn’t matter. I want you to pay attention, not to the delusional Morris, but to the wider picture, because this is a scenario which we are going to see playing out with increasing frequency over the next few years.

This is an example of extreme wishful thinking. We really, really want to believe that we can fix the problems facing us, that “someone will think of something”, so we tell ourselves stories to try to prove to ourselves that this will happen. These stories may be about fracking, nuclear fusion, an infinitely growing economy, desalination, cloud seeding, relocating to Mars or painting the Andes (or Himalayas, or both) with egg white. The things they all have in common are: they are greeted with great fanfare by the media and True Believers as the Next Big Thing, there is little critical examination of their plausibility, and when they fail, they are quietly discarded and replaced by the Next But One Big Thing.

Did I tell you about my idea to solve all the world’s problems by having the entire human race cryogenically frozen while Google figures out a solution to climate change? Just give me $200,000 and I can prove it.



One thought on “Glacial delusions

  1. I’ll try sprinkling pennies on the mountainsides and see if I can make a few bucks out of it.

    On Tue, Jan 19, 2016 at 5:21 PM, postpeakmedicine wrote:

    > peakdoc posted: “I’m a regular listener to the C-Realm Podcast, run by > KMO, and I was intrigued to hear KMO read out the following post which > appeared on the “Friends of the C-Realm” discussion group, posted by > someone called Morris: “No buts about ‘can’t’. Because I’ve ” >

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