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Stephen Colbert's guest says sulfuric acid could stop global warming

December 10, 2013|By Patrick Kevin Day
  • Harvard scientist David Keith has a temporary solution to combat global warming.
Harvard scientist David Keith has a temporary solution to combat global… (Comedy Central )

Monday night on "The Colbert Report," Stephen Colbert addressed a serious topic: global climate change, with a serious guest, Harvard environmental scientist David Keith.

As the author of the book, "A Case for Climate Engineering," Keith suggested to Colbert a very simple tactic to combat the steadily warming planet. Have a fleet of planes deposit tons of sulfuric acid into the atmosphere.

"Spray pollution into the atmosphere to stop it warming," Keith said.

"So in the end, pollution saved them all," Colbert said.

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"It would be a totally imperfect fix," Keith cautioned. "It would have risks. It wouldn't get us out of the need to stop polluting. But it might actually save people and be useful."

But let's back up a second. Did he actually say sulfuric acid? The stuff that burns the cornea and causes blindness if it comes in contact with your eyes?

Yes, he did. About 20,000 tons of the stuff seeded into the atmosphere, with a little more every year, in an effort to reduce warming by 2020.

"People are terrified of talking about this because they fear that it will prevent us from talking about cutting emissions," Keith said.

"Right, also that it's sulfuric acid," Colbert said. "I think you're burying the lead!"

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Unflustered, Keith calmly pointed out that we're already putting 50 million tons of the stuff into the air every year as day-to-day pollution. As the scientist points out, the additional pollution is just 1% of what's already being pumped up there. And it could help slow warming.

"Killing people is not the objective here," Keith said.

According to Keith, it's a solution to the problem that's been around since President Johnson was in office, but has been quieted by the scientific community.

Sound like a foolproof plan? Maybe. Maybe not. As Colbert pointed out at the top of the interview, "That's how you end up with a Sharknado."

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