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The Green Life: Painting Mountains White to Combat Climate Change

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December 07, 2010

Painting Mountains White to Combat Climate Change

Andes For years, the snow-covered peaks of the Andes have been becoming a little less white, what with the area's glaciers gradually retreating.

Eduardo Gold, a Peruvian inventor and glaciology enthusiast, thinks he has a solution to saving the world's longest and tallest (outside of Asia) mountain range: Paint 'em white.

By splashing peaks with eco-friendly paint, made of lime, egg whites, and water, Gold hopes to simulate snow's whiteness, which reflects sun rays back through the atmosphere. The white surface will keep the mountaintops cool, creating a cold microclimate to limit the amount of melting snow. "I am hopeful that we can regrow a glacier here because we would be recreating all the climatic conditions necessary," Gold said.

The project is good news for a region whose large cities depend on glacial runoff for water supply — the tropical Andes are home to more than 30 million people. But, according to a World Bank report, its glaciers have lost 20% of their volume since 1970. Last year, the World Bank warned that Andean glaciers, which account for 70% of the world's tropical glaciers, could disappear in 20 years if nothing changes.

Gold's efforts seem like a small measure to some. Antonio Brack, Peru's environment minister, said "there are much more interesting projects" that would have reduce global warming. But the people at the World Bank think Gold's lofty paint job is brilliant; they named him one of 26 winners in their "100 Ideas to Save the Planet" competition.

Earlier this year, Gold and volunteers from the village of Licapa dressed in boiler suits and began painting Chalon Sombrero, a mountain nearly 15,000 feet high. In two weeks, they painted four acres. If the project proves successful in lowering temperatures, Gold hopes to bring pails of his climate-change solution to the tops of neighboring peaks. "I'd rather try and fail to find a solution than start working out how we are going to survive without the glaciers," he said.

--Molly Oleson

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