Reuters: Bright Side of Economic Downturn Is Planet Gets a 'Breather'

screencap of Reuters Web site from 10/6/2008 | NewsBusters.orgThe Dow may be tanking and we could be heading into a global recession in the near future, but there's a green lining to it all, according to Reuters. Mother Earth might get a breather from those dastardly carbon emissions, what with shuttered factories and all.

Here's how the financial news wire teased a story on the afternoon of October 7, a day after the Dow closed below 10,000 for the first time since October 2004:

Economic silver lining? The slowdown in the world economy may give the planet a breather from high carbon dioxide emissions, a leading scientist says.

The October 7 story by Reuters staffer Michele Kambas focused on the recent remarks by Nobel winner Paul Crutzen:

NICOSIA (Reuters) - A slowdown in the world economy may give the planet a breather from the excessively high carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions responsible for climate change, a Nobel Prize winning scientist said on Tuesday.

Atmospheric scientist Paul J Crutzen, who has in the past floated the possibility of blitzing the stratosphere with sulfur particles to cool the earth, said clouds gathering over the world economy could ease the earth's environmental burden.

Slower economic growth worldwide could help slow growth of carbon dioxide emissions and trigger more careful use of energy resources, though the global economic turmoil may also divert focus from efforts to counter climate change, said Crutzen, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the depletion of the ozone layer.

"It's a cruel thing to say ... but if we are looking at a slowdown in the economy, there will be less fossil fuels burning, so for the climate it could be an advantage," Crutzen told Reuters in an interview.

Yes, it is a cruel thing to say, particularly since a global economic slowdown would doubtless harm the world's poorest hardest, what with lost jobs and wages and a lower standard of living. So Kambas was sure to find an economist or business leader to say Crutzen is all wet, right?

Wrong.

Kambas continued by noting Crutzen's nutty idea for fixing global warming: spewing sulfur into the atmosphere. Yes, sulfur:

He caused a stir with the publication of a paper in 2006 suggesting that injecting the common pollutant sulfur into the stratosphere some 10 miles above the earth could snuff out the greenhouse effect.

He believes that dispersing 1 million tons of sulfur into the stratosphere each year, either on balloons or in rockets, would deflect sunlight and cool the planet.

[...]

It would be an extreme endeavor, but for extreme circumstances, he said.

In a 2007 report, the U.N. climate change panel said such geo-engineering options were largely speculative and unproven, with the risk of unknown side effects. Reliable cost estimates had not been published, it said.

"The price is not a major factor... it's peanuts," said Crutzen. "The cost has been estimated by some at 10, 20 million U.S. dollars a year."

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters