Dear Editor,

[My claim about the numbers in this post is wrong; please see the correction above.]

Felicity Barringer’s recent article ‘White roofs catch on as energy cutters’ appears to contain a serious error. It implies that the annual emissions of CO2 equivalent is 24 billion tons, when in fact, for 2005, it was more than 44 trillion tons. That’s like pretending 50 cents is equivalent to a thousand dollars.

shamu(Photo from – thanks lizzie!)

Given the popularity of the article [and NY Times readers’ propensity toward quick fixes!], I suppose the bigger question, assuming the figure comes from Art Rosenfeld, whom it’s attributed to, is what happened to your fact checkers, and why is a reputable scientist talking up a figure that’s wrong by three orders of magnitude?

[I love that what’s at stake here is the seriousness of quantification practices! Does anyone remember the Modern Love article on Shamu from a couple years ago? It was the most emailed for like 10 weeks. The idea that global warming could be stopped if we just paint our roofs white is sort of like in the Shamu article, in which we can all get along with our mates if we train them like wet and cuddly captive creatures.]


Jerome Whitington