MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXI No. 1
September / October 2008
Silence of the Lions
MIT's New Supercomputing Network
Problems in Evaluating
Four-Year Colleges
Agenda Items: New and Old
An Update on the Educational Commons Subcommittee
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Moving From Two Degrees to
Double Majors
MIT 4th Best College,
Top Engineering School
Darwin Bicentenntial Events
Planned at MIT
What is the Global Education and Career Development Center?
The First Step Toward Solving Global Warming: Getting MIT to Listen
MISTI Announces the
MISTI Global Seed Funds
Workplace 2.0: Improving Generativity, Creativity, and Faculty Quality of Life
Why So Few Faculty
are Involved in Service
Research Expenditures by Primary Sponsor (1999-2008)
Printable Version

The First Step Toward Solving Global Warming:
Getting MIT to Listen

William Schreiber

Global warming, which threatens the ability of our Earth to sustain human life, has become perhaps the preeminent environmental concern worldwide. There is a rapidly growing consensus – almost universal among a majority of scientists and even among the public when they learn of the real danger to their descendants – that seriously confronting this issue should be our major priority. The awarding of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to former Vice-President Al Gore, (sharing the award with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), clearly illustrates this consensus.

In response to these concerns, I developed what I believe to be a practical method of attacking this problem. An article describing my idea was published in the May/June 2007 issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter and put into the public domain. (See “Solving the Energy Problem. ”) Briefly, I suggested that since global warming is caused primarily by the gases produced by using “fossil fuels,” mainly derived from petroleum, a straightforward solution would be to switch to a nonpolluting fuel.

In my proposal I chose sunlight, collecting it on large mirrors in outer space, where it is available 24/7 and is significantly more intense than on Earth. The sunlight then is redirected to Earth where it is collected on smaller mirrors and used by solar-powered pumps to drive water up behind dams in existing hydroelectric plants.

This method would also provide the energy storage needed accounting for the fact that the radiation to Earth is greatly affected by weather. In the September/October 2007 issue of the Newsletter [Volume XX, No. 1] I followed this up with a proposal to use a “Manhattan” style management scheme that was used so successfully in WWII to develop the atom bomb. and was used after the war for large dams for the TVA and other big dam projects. (See “Is it Time for a New Manhattan Project?”)

My proposal was validated by its enthusiastic endorsement by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), a large Australian laboratory working on global warming, which had previously expressed the need to “de-carbonize” the fuel supply, but had not yet found a practical way to do it. The Organization concluded that my proposal fit the bill.

Yet despite this significant independent validation of my proposal, I have been unable to get a hearing at my own institution – MIT! I have never even been invited to a meeting to discuss my views. The Institute currently is sponsoring a large project, the MIT Energy Initiative, and I did have some preliminary discussions with several leading MIT people; but the contacts rapidly frittered away.

Having spent a professional lifetime at MIT, I have devoted a great deal of time and energy to its concerns. Even non-scientist Al Gore, although criticized for his time scale of 10 years, has not been labeled as crazy or not worth listening to. What I believe is the problem, although I cannot be certain, is that many of those working on energy issues everywhere, not only at MIT, have preconceived ideas of what approaches to take, and prefer to pursue those ideas rather than anyone else’s. I certainly did not expect to find this at MIT, with its science-based curriculum. Presumably scientists are always open to new ideas.

I would be happy to discuss my proposal with interested parties. Any such party is encouraged to read my articles in the Faculty Newsletter, which can be found by using the links above.

I have written this piece with great regret. I did not expect to find what appears to me to be a kind of narrow-mindedness at an institution that I had come to respect for many reasons. The fact that the editorial staff of the FNL allowed me to publish this piece is greatly appreciated.

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