Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” –  is a contributor to WRAL TechWire.  He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.” Brain has written several posts recently about the threat of climate change. His exclusive columns written for TechWire are published on Fridays. 

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RALEIGH – Anyone who has been paying attention to the climate news feed this summer knows that humanity has a big problem. These headlines are typical, and they clearly show how bad things are getting:

  1. Antarctica warming much faster than models predicted in ‘deeply concerning’ sign for sea levels – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/08/antarctica-warming-much-faster-than-models-predicted-in-deeply-concerning-sign-for-sea-levels
  2. Earth just had its hottest summer on record, U.N. says, warning “climate breakdown has begun” – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hottest-summer-on-record-2023-un-says-climate-change-global-warming-data/
  3. The Climate Crisis Could Mean the Twilight of the American West – https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/historic-draught-colorado-river-california-nevada-arizona-water-crisis-1234816087/
  4. Disney World is hell – https://www.fastcompany.com/90934522/disney-world-is-hell
  5. Exxon says world set to fail 2°C global warming cap by 2050 – https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/exxon-projects-oil-gas-be-54-worlds-energy-needs-2050-2023-08-28/?utm_source=reddit.com
  6. Mapping the scale of Canada’s record wildfires – https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/23/mapping-the-scale-of-canadas-record-wildfires
  7. China’s summer of climate destruction – https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-66616699
  8. The North Atlantic is experiencing a ‘totally unprecedented’ marine heat wave – https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/20/europe/marine-heatwave-north-atlantic-climate-scn-intl/index.html
  9. ‘Off-the-charts records’: has humanity finally broken the climate? – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/aug/28/crazy-off-the-charts-records-has-humanity-finally-broken-the-climate
  10. Gulf Coast temperatures surge to highest levels ever observed – https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/gulf-coast-temperatures-surge-to-highest-levels-ever-observed/ar-AA1fTCtr

When looking at this big picture, and by understanding all the disasters happening in the United States, Canada, Europe, China, the oceans and so on, there is no denying that the planet has a massive heat problem. The planet has warmed to the point that people all over the world are facing significant, disastrous side effects. See this video for one example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqBrL8BokSk

It appears that humanity has painted itself into a corner. Decades of burning fossil fuels have now come home to roost, and it is only going to get worse from here. If you thought this summer was bad, just wait until next summer.

Is there any way out of this mess?

Time for prayer

Americans are remarkably religious for a modern, developed, scientific nation. So much so that we see national proclamations like this one:

A Proclamation on National Days of Prayer and Remembrance, 2023 – https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2023/09/07/a-proclamation-on-national-days-of-prayer-and-remembrance-2023/

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 8, 2023, through September 10, 2023, as National Days of Prayer and Remembrance.  I ask that the people of the United States honor the victims of September 11, 2001, and their loved ones with prayer, contemplation, memorial services and visits, bells, candlelight vigils, and other activities.  I invite people around the world to join.”

This article points out that more than half of Americans say prayers daily:

5 facts about prayer: https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2016/05/04/5-facts-about-prayer

“For many Americans, every day is a day of prayer. More than half (55%) of Americans say they pray every day, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, while 21% say they pray weekly or monthly and 23% say they seldom or never pray. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 20% say they pray daily.”

It is time to put all this prayer to good use. It is time to pray for a proper volcanic eruption to cool the Earth.

What humanity and planet Earth need right now is for an eruption like Mount Pinatubo in 1991 to occur. This eruption injected significant quantities of dust and aerosols into the upper layers of the atmosphere, where they lingered for more than a year. These particles either reflected the sun’s incoming rays away from the planet, or absorbed some of them so they did not reach the surface. Therefore, the planet cooled significantly.

Mount Pinatubo is located in the Philippines, and it had significant effects on the global climate:

1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_eruption_of_Mount_Pinatubo

“The powerful eruption of such an enormous volume of lava and ash injected significant quantities of aerosols and dust into the stratosphere. Sulfur dioxide oxidized in the atmosphere to produce a haze of sulfuric acid droplets, which gradually spread throughout the stratosphere over the year following the eruption. The injection of aerosols into the stratosphere is thought to have been the largest since the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, with a total mass of SO2 of about 17,000,000 t (19,000,000 short tons) being injected – the largest volume ever recorded by modern instruments (see chart and figure). Satellite measurements of ash and aerosol emissions from Mount Pinatubo. This very large stratospheric injection resulted in a volcanic winter, a reduction in the normal amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface by roughly 10% (see figure). This led to a decrease in Northern Hemisphere average temperatures of 0.5–0.6 °C (0.9–1.1 °F) and a global decrease of about 0.4 °C (0.7 °F). The 1991 eruption also caused the “Summer that Wasn’t” in 1992.”

This volcanic winter effect in the range of 0.5 degrees C is what we are looking for. The reason why we want to pray for a proper volcanic eruption is because we do not want the eruption to be too big. Too much volcanic winter can cool the planet so much that there are crop failures. See this video on the volcanic eruption of 536 CE, which led to catastrophic problems: https://youtu.be/X7ab0D36x4U?si=GJ_7pfXIHAg1uX34&t=132

If a proper volcanic eruption could occur right now, it would have two positive effects. First, it would cool the planet down for a year or two without any human action required. Humanity could benefit from this respite. Otherwise, the heat waves we experienced this summer will continue getting worse. Second, it would show humanity that planetary cooling through stratospheric injection of aerosols can work. Humanity might be far more likely to start artificially injecting aerosols itself, rather than experience the temperature rebound that occurs once the effects of the eruption clear out. The eruption would show humanity what is possible in terms of global cooling through aerosol injection.

So please, if you are religious and praying anyway, please pray for a proper volcanic eruption to occur. The sooner the better. Otherwise, global heating will continue to get worse and worse in the years to come. The only alternative is for world leaders to get their collective acts together and start an organized, well-funded, globally-supported aerosol injection program. But what is the chance of this happening anytime soon?