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The Robot Smiley
Think the global-warming debate is relatively modern? Nope — in fact, back in the 19th century, major thinkers speculated wildly about global warming, with one major difference: They thought it was a totally awesome idea. In a hilarious essay in the current issue of the Village Voice, author Paul Collins tracks the history of people who actively proposed schemes to melt the polar ice caps. One read as follows:
“A jetty … extending eastward from Newfoundland across the water on the Great Banks” could divert the warm Gulf Stream upward toward the Arctic, noted The New York Times of one proposal in 1912. The man behind climate change this time was Carroll Livingston Riker, an engineering wunderkind who had already designed both the world’s first refrigerated warehouse and a dredging system that successfully cleared the Potomac River at half the cost of government estimate. Building a 200-mile-long jetty would cost $190 million—less than the cost of the Panama Canal, the Times pointed out—and it was, Riker insisted, not visionary at all. “It is exceedingly practical,” he said flatly.
Imaginations ran wild, and The Washington Post envisioned Manhattan becoming a tropical paradise: “People would be gathering oranges off the trees in Central Park, or picking cocoanuts from palms along the Battery, [and] hunting crocodiles off the Statue of Liberty.” The prospect sounded so splendid to New Yorkers that Senator William Calder tried to get $100,000 appropriated for a study of the idea.
After World War II, one big idea was to simply nuke the polar regions, as per the poster above.
I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).
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