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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stop Global Warming: Quit Pitching Virgins into Volcanoes

Remember the ruckus in October when SuperFreakonomics authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt argued that launching a whole lot of sulfur into the stratosphere might be the quickest way to fight global warming?

A South Dakota State University scientist finds more evidence that they may be right. An eager reader points out a Science Daily article featuring SDSU chemistry professor Jihong Cole-Dai's work (with SDSU post-doc David Ferris, SDSU grad student Alison Lanciki, and some other smart folks) determining the cause of the big global cold snap back in the 1810's. Their findings: an undocumented volcanic eruption in 1809 set the stage for the coldest decade of the last half-millennium. Dr. Cole-Dai and his colleagues found high amounts of volcanic sulfuric acid in ice samples in 1809 and 1810 snow layers in Antarctica and Greenland. Their argument is that those volcanic emissions reflected sunligh and chilled the earth through mid-decade, just in time for the big Tambora eruption of 1815, which produced the "year without summer" and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

So, we could counteract global warming by pumping a hundred million more tons of sulfur into the atmosphere every year. But remember, sulfur makes acid rain. In the 1970s, when we got worried about acid rain, U.S. annual emissions of sulfur dioxide were 25–30 million tons a year. In 2005, we emitted 15 million tons of SO2. Current global sulfur emissions are 55–68 million tons a year. And it's not just a matter of firing up more smokestacks and smoking up the neighborhood: the science says that sulfur emissions will only affect the global climate if you give them a volcano-sized blast into the stratosphere. So we might need to anger the volcano gods—whoever's throwing virgins into the volcanoes, knock it off!

Or we could just use less oil and coal. Hmm... could be a tough vote for the damsels in distress....


  1. Cory,

    We no longer need to worry about Global Warming. Climategate has exposed it as a fraud.

  2. Cory,

    As a proud South Dakotan and graduate from South Dakota State University, I appreciate the article and your commentary very much. I think you and your readers will be very interested in this article in today’s New York Times regarding new findings on climate change, indicating that it is advancing faster than previously thought by virtually all qualified, peer-reviewed scientific research. Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/science/earth/09climate.html?hp

    Thanks very much for your interest in this issue and in the research done in South Dakota on climate change and renewable energy alternatives. I really think that South Dakota’s transition to a clean energy economy, accelerated by passage of climate change legislation, will make South Dakota the leader and a very big economic winner in this new frontier we call America’s new clean energy economy.

  3. Mark O'Loughlen12/08/2009 6:14 PM

    As a person who lives 90 miles from the largest active volcano in North America, I would appreciate if you watch your tone :)

  4. Mark, maybe you need to throw some buffalo burgers into the Yellowstone caldera to keep it from blowing its stack! Of course, if it keeps the planet from overheating, isn't Wyoming a small price to pay? ;-)


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