Happy Solstice to all you pagans out there who bow to the gods of lower case letters, and to my parents who married on this longest night of the year many, many years ago.
It is humid and sticky here in Punta Uva, something my friends in the northern climes might find a welcome right about now. I see it is white white white in the northeastern United States. And England, too.
I haven’t been in a snowstorm for years now, and, to tell the truth, I miss them a bit. I don’t miss my toes reminding me of when I frost bit them in my early teens, though—running away from home about Christmas time with my older sister.
As I recall, we were fed up with a particular guest our mother asked us to be nice to, so in the snow we saddled our horses and rode off to Camp Sherman, a journey of several miles. I suppose we thought we would find refuge at our cousin’s house, but it was not to be. Our mother found us just before the turn off to their road–– we still had a mile or two to ride––and sent us home with a tongue lashing that should have warmed us straight through. It was still snowing hard and all told we were in the saddle for about three or four hours before we reached home. I failed to wear any socks when we launched ourselves into the storm, and leather cowboy boots, I can vouch, are not an insulated and cozy choice for winter weather.
By the time we got home I had no feeling in my left toes, they were blanched white as the snow we rode through. The right ones were not much better. I soaked them in warm water and can remember the searing pain as blood began to reenter the flesh. Ever since, any time I’m in the cold, my toes remind me of my selfishness, all because we did not wish to be polite to someone who had no choice about being at our house that night. She probably wished she was somewhere else, too; certainly not with two feral sisters who had no time for her.
So again this year I am in a tropical climate for Christmas. Perhaps with global warming the northern climes will be more like it is here in years to come.
I see they couldn’t come to much of an agreement in Copenhagen about the fever the world is running. But, I can’t say I blame India or China for not listening to the United States or Britain on the subject. Why should they have to curb their emissions before they have achieved the same economic success we have? I see their point. And really, we aren’t going to be able to police other countries without some fairly ugly consequences. What do we do, for instance, if some country refuses to quit emitting CO2? Go to war? Also, we can’t ask everyone to cut back. Cutting back for developed countries might be one thing but asking poor countries to cut back might lead to the death of a large segment of their society.
So what to do?
I watched Nathan Myhrvold the other day on TV. This is a man who graduated with a PhD by the age of 23, then made billions, I think, as Microsoft’s technical brain, and now… now he owns something called Intellectual Ventures (IV). He runs the company out of an old Harley Davidson shop in Seattle WA. Essentially, he says, his company provides capital for inventors. Of the thousands of patents the company owns, one is his solution to global warming. As he said in the interview, even if we cut emissions to zero this year (and we have yet to cut any emissions, even by one percent) it would not solve the CO2 problem because the stuff hangs around like my sister and my unwanted guest that Christmas long ago. And, the problem is one that humans don’t deal well with: It involves global cooperation, sacrifice of the many, and the rewards are diffuse with no direct link to money.
So,Myhrvold, studying nature and thinking this over, has discovered that very cold conditions were created historically when one or another volcano erupted sending a cloud of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, blocking out the sun from its normal warming pattern for a year or two. His idea––and don’t scoff at this (it can’t be any crazier than the Large Hadron Collider)––is to create an eighteen-mile long hose, hoist it skyward, and spray sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. He plans is to do this at the North and South Poles thus creating a stop gap measure so we can grapple with the issue over time.
One of the reasons he is set on the poles for the project is because, obviously, they need to be kept colder, but the other is that there is already tons of sulfur dioxide heaped in slag piles, left there by Big Oil.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he intended to hang the hose from up there—Satellite? Space station?––so I did a bit of searching. An article in the Times Online explains it fairly well. He doesn’t hang the hose so much as float it up there using helium balloons and small pump stations along the route to lift the sulfur dioxide. Genius. Or, madman. We’ll either have a solution or we’ll have a sulfur dioxide CO2 cocktail that will bring us to the end of our run here on earth. She seems about ready to be done with us, anyway.
So, perhaps in the future we will have Solstice nights that are a little bit longer and a little bit chillier.
When it snows in Punta Uva I will write to Mr. Nathan Myhrvold and ask him to turn off the hose please.