Update: Apologies to the George Constanzas of the world: This was an April Fools’ Day post. Your baldness isn’t fighting climate change. 

Walter White may have been a sociopathic drug kingpin, but he knew how to lower his carbon footprint, according to a leaked U.N. report. Preliminary handwaving analysis suggests that if every adult male in the world shaved his head, it would entirely offset the enhanced warming from Arctic sea ice loss.

This week, the media has been focused on the official release of the second of four planned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, on Impacts and Adaptation.

But Grist has obtained a draft of the third report, on “Mitigation” or how to reduce the amount of warming humanity experiences. Sure there is the usual boring stuff about how solar and wind power have reached grid parity, how energy efficiency is the cheapest carbon-free power available, and how we could harness an infinite supply of free zero-point energy through cold fusion if the fossil fuel companies weren’t keeping the technology bottled up in their labs. Zzzzzz.

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As usual, the real nuggets are buried in the text, loaded with euphemisms and nerd speak, like this classic:

Depilating one’s cranium will directly reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the quantity of water that must be heated for cleansing purposes (high confidence) and will indirectly reduce planetary heating by increasing one’s albedo, thus partially offsetting the polar amplification caused by the loss of Arctic ice (medium confidence).

First off, yes, a shaved head is faster to wash. Duh! The second point is perhaps less obvious so allow me to elaborate.

Albedo is the “fraction of incident light or radiation reflected by a surface or body, commonly expressed as a percentage.” Albedo means “whiteness” and comes from the same Latin root as albino.

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As the planet warms and arctic sea ice cover vanishes, the highly reflective ice is replaced by the dark absorbing ocean, and that leads to more of the sun’s energy being absorbed in the Arctic, which accelerates planetary warming in a process  known as polar amplification.


At least from an albedo perspective, the Arctic is growing hair, and the IPCC is saying humans can counteract that warming effect by shaving their heads. In fact, one of the most impressive handwaving analyses I’ve ever seen —  funded independently by Gillette and Schick — found that if every adult male in the world shaved his head regularly (or at least the ones who aren’t blond did), it would entirely offset the enhanced warming from Arctic sea ice loss.

Personally, as a result of reviewing the literature, I have shaved my head. Now you may say the actions of one person don’t matter. And I’d respond that that’s also true of voting and watching reality TV — and look at everything those have given us.

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