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Whitewashing the World

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The Peruvian Andes.

In 2009, the World Bank held an international competition to find “100 ideas to save the planet.” Traditional, cutting edge, unique and crazy; the competition featured breathtaking theories to thwart environmental degradation worldwide. One of the twenty-six winners was Peruvian Eduardo Gold. Mr Gold, an inventor and self-taught glaciologist, had a crazy idea: why don’t Peruvians use natural materials to proactively combat the rapid glacier loss in the Andes? How could they go about doing that? Well Mr. Gold came up with the simplest of solutions: homemade, Peruvian whitewash.

Using only lime, egg white and water, Mr. Gold’s theory on glacial reinstatement relies on the simple fact that white objects are naturally cooler than those that are dark colored. Whitewashing the peaks that are now devoid of their former glacial brilliance will hopefully lead to a continuously incremental temperature drop. The thought is that this will eventually promote the return of the Andes’ glaciers. Simplistic? Maybe. Without merit? Absolutely not. First, the World Bank, out of over 1,500 submissions found enough empirical evidence to award the idea a $200,000 grant. Second, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu endorsed an idea based on the same principle that white produces cold. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s so simple, it might work.

Worldwide glacial recession is nothing to scoff at. Every continent, from Asia to Antarctica have seen unimpeded and epic glacial loss in the past four decades. An in depth World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report is a cohesive study on the subject. Since the 1980s, Europe’s Alpine glaciers have lost an estimated 10-20%. A remarkable statistic when you think about the magnitude of the geological formations. The highland glaciers of Central Asia – the water source of millions in Western China, Nepal, Tibet – are declining at the astronomical rate of almost 1% annually since the 1970s. This is clearly a ecological disaster waiting to happen. South America, especially Peru, has been specifically hard hit. Of the three major tropical glaciers, almost half of their masses have been lost in the past fifty years; a truly staggering thought.

This is all very controversial. It all just seems too simple. Maybe we should just sit back, see the results of Eduardo Gold’s experiment and hope for the best. A wise and ingenious professor once told me, “The flashpoint of conflict in the coming century will be clean water and clean water sources.” Glacial loss will inevitably contribute to this fact. So think on it, come up with your own solution or tell your friends to brainstorm. In the meantime, whitewash your local peak; you might be saving the earth for future generations.