Insects and the City

A Whitened Winter?
by Amanda Giddon -- January 2nd, 2013

The more things change the more they stay the same. Every winter holiday I come home to a string of check-ups, seasonal décor, a wide-ranging Netflix queue to catch up on, and a New York winter’s cold. Throughout my routine of languor, consisting of eating, watching television, and eating again, I paid an always-unappreciated visit to the dentist.

As I waited uncomfortably in the chair, the sophisticated-looking model on the “teeth whitening” advertisement flashed a toothy grin in my direction.  “Reverse years of discoloration!” she said. Years of discoloration, years of damage, years of negligence.

My stylish self would have appreciated how the whitened teeth stood out against the model’s tan and color-blocked ensemble. However, the poster struck a chord with my pragmatic half. I just recently studied the geoengineering concept of cloud whitening (also known as cloud reflectivity modification.) Cloud whitening is a process of altering clouds to become more reflective by spraying seawater into the atmosphere. This process, if done correctly, can increase cloud albedo and decreases surface warming. Cloud whitening, like teeth whitening, is (at least in theory) a solution to an underlying behavioral problem. We emit too much carbon dioxide, and we are heating our planet.  We intermittently brush and drink too much coffee, and we are rotting our smiles.

Photo by Klearchos Kapoutis

But what about brushing longer and actually flossing? What about curtailing emissions and actually modifying human behavior? Is it justified to allow a problem to persist if we know we can fix it?

Do we even know if we can fix it?

Though on two tremendously dissimilar scales, whitening comes at a cost at the dentist’s office and in the atmosphere. The procedures’ success is undependable, and the consequences are variable.

We may accept the expenses and unpredictability and try to repair the injuries of past performance. Or, we can brush up on our knowledge of behavioral change and prevent the problem at its root (canal).


See you in the new year!




Featured image by explainthatstuff via Flickr Creative Commons


  1. Tawnee Milko
    Tawnee Milko
    Jan 4, 2013

    Humanity constantly amazes me. I can’t believe that people have gone so far as to come up with a way to alter the reflectivity of clouds (think about the time, energy, resources and funding put into THAT research) rather than make (sometimes simple) changes to their own behavior to help solve a global problem.

    Great analogy to dentistry, by the way.

  2. Elaine
    Jan 30, 2013


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