A hill to dye on

Eduardo Gold is attempting to reform a glacier on the Chalon Sombrero mountain in western Peru

Getty Images Eduardo Gold's non-governmental organization "Glaciares de Peru"

Splashing white paint on mountains to lower temperatures and regrow glaciers: it sounds like mad science. But one Peruvian inventor is fighting climate change by toiling against Mother Nature’s evolving colour palette. Eduardo Gold is attempting to reform a glacier on the Chalon Sombrero mountain in western Peru, which melted away because of rising temperatures.

He and four men from Licapa, a nearby village that relies on glacial runoff for farming, mix lime, egg whites and water to make an environmentally friendly paint that they dump from buckets onto rocks, turning them from brown and grey to a white reminiscent of the peak’s snow-covered days. The idea is that the paint reflects the sun’s radiation, cooling temperatures in a geological equivalent of changing from a black T-shirt into a white one on a hot summer day.

“I am hopeful that we could regrow a glacier here because we would be recreating all the climatic conditions necessary for a glacier to form,” he told the BBC. “Cold generates more cold, just as heat generates more heat.”

The plan may sound too simple to work, but it has the financial backing of the World Bank, which has invested US $200,000 through its “100 ideas to save the planet” competition. Gold and his team have already started, and hope to paint 70 hectares of rock within 70 weeks. If glaciers stop shrinking or start to regrow, the inventor, who has no actual scientific background, says he’ll move on to paint the rest of the Andes.

But whether it will work is a big question. “Just because the World Bank is funding it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” says University of Toronto geologist Danny Harvey. “I’m highly, highly skeptical.” He says glaciers are melted in two ways: direct solar radiation and more indirect warming from the temperature of surrounding air. Gold’s plan could cool the air that blows over glaciers, but it can’t do anything to reduce solar radiation. Harvey says the plan could potentially be helpful but, even in the best-case scenario, will only slightly slow down the ice’s retreat.

“At most it’s going to delay the inevitable,” he says. And, besides, he figures, “the next heavy rain is going to wash the paint away.”

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