Saturday, January 23, 2010

Author Interview with Dr. Inayatullah Ibrahim Lalani

Today we're sitting down to talk with Dr. Inayatullah Ibrahim Lalani, author of Al-Battani Shield: Counteracting Global Warming: A New Approach.



FQ: In the preface of Al-Battani Shield you say that you hope your message will reach scientists and politicians who will be able to further pursue your ideas. There will also be many readers, like myself, who can not contribute in that way. What are you hoping that readers outside of the scientific community will do with the information we learn from the book book?


The marketplace of ideas is intensely competitive, with thousands of ideas of varying merit vying for the attention of those who matter the most. I learned early on that even a flawless diamond has to be marketed and so I am doing all I can to bring the book to the attention of the academics and the policymakers. One has to move on several fronts, soliciting reviews, writing to influential personalities and asking those friends and acquaintances who have interest in such matters to spread the word. And the response has, so far, been gratifying, partly because the central message of the book, the need for and practical feasibility of a physical barrier in a 'cum sole' trajectory (which I christened "Al-Battani trajectory" for the reasons expounded on in the book) is fresh and appealing to those who grasp the points made.


FQ: Readers may be surprised to learn that you're a surgeon, not a physicist or mathematician. How did your intense interest in global warming develop?


A surgeon is a physician who also operates. A physician is (or should be) a biologist with special interest in human physiology and pathology. And a biologist is, after all, a scientist. And so scientific method comes as naturally to a surgeon as it does to the proverbial 'rocket scientist.' The value of science education is, chiefly, that it imparts an ability to analyze and think through a problem - any problem - applying the tools of the scientific method.


Several articles in New Yorker, Scientific American and The Atlantic Monthly in the eighties and nineties had drawn public attention to the problem of global warming. Having been an avid amateur astronomer, I first played witht the idea of doing things that would increase earth's 'albedo' (i.e., the reflectivity) in order to shed excess solar radiation back into space. Placing mirrors on rooftops, reflective films on desert and ocean surfaces and such approaches immediately ran into difficulties when considered further. Willaim Calvin's 1998 article in The Atlantic was an eye-opener and really scary. It was at that time that I realized that a beach-goer's umbrella creates a solar eclipse on a minimal scale and that principle had to be at the heart of any technology to protect the earth from overheating.


FQ: Have you had a chance to present the idea of the Al-Battani Shield to physicists or astronomers? If so, how did they receive your proposal?


The gentleman who wrote the forward to the book proposed showing the idea to a NASA physicist and to a physics professor at his university and so I gave him two copies of the book to give to those two friends of his. I am awaiting feedback. Another relative, an engineer, has a friend high up in IPCC who might be looking at the book. That is all, so far.


FQ: You tend to steer clear of politics in your book, making it possible, I would think, for people on either side of the debate to read and appreciate it. Do you think that people from different countries and different ends of the political spectrum would be able to work together on this idea, assuming that all acknowledge the threat of global warming to be real?


I am a left winger on most issues but not a climate change ideologue. The reason is that the 'global warming' scenario is based on so many assumptions that may not all have merit. The likelihood that at least some of the assumptions may be contrary can result in them being cancelled out. But if we decide to embark on broad measures based on reality of global warming, then each proposal to counteract the climate change should be tested for cost-benefit analysis. Cutting carbon dioxide emissions as the essential first step is too well known for me to belabor the issue but if we decide to go beyond that, then let us consider some other proposals put forward in recent years. Most of them rely on placing particle barriers in orbit around the earth (creating Saturn-like rings). One of them would make the night skies glow like twilight, eliminating the beautiful night-time darkness, killing astronomy - at least amateur astronomy - as we know it. And it will be horrendously expensive, far more expensive than placing an Al-Battani Shield.


Putting this kind of space-engineering solution in practice would not require America to surrender its sovereignty to any international control regime (such as the hated 'cap and trade' gimmick) and will not ask any nation to put brakes on its industrial development in order that the affluent nations can maintain their high living standards. Expecting international cooperation for such a project is much more realistic than reducing the big polluting nations' carbon footprint, I think.


FQ: How long have you been thinking about the idea of the Al-Battani shield? How did you first decide to write a book about it?


As I said, I first put forward the idea of a solar barrier in a cum sole trajectory in my letter to the Editor of The Atlantic Monthly in response to William H Calvin's landmark 1998 article "The Great Climate Flip Flop." The idea did receive some brief notice in scientific circles but no traction subsequently. Meanwhile, the debate about climate change kept getting more intense and I thought someone had to push the idea of a solar barrier. Since nothing of the sort was forthcoming I concluded that a full length book alone would serve the purpose. Whether this effort suffices remains to be seen.


FQ: Isn't the idea of holding fast an object on a circumsolar trajectory this close (approximately 0.01% AU) to the earth's barocenter a physical impossibility? And how about perturbation caused by the moon's gravity?


As an 'inertial' orbit, yes. I am quite explicit about devising a 'powered' trajectory for maintaining its cum sole character. In fact I deliberately discarded the appellation "orbit" to underscore this point.
During the late 40s and early 50s, after the Truman Administration had publicly committed itself to the development of a thermonuclear weapon, Edward Teller (the 'father' of the hydrogen bomb) nearly lost his reputation and faced ruin of his career because fully 3 years were consumed as the scientists at Columbia University struggled to perfect ENIAC, the first computer. During that anxious time, the whole team of physicists could do nothing but twiddle their thumbs.


We are fortunate in that we now have supercomputers of incredible power. The mathematicians can quickly cut the "Gordian Knot" of perfecting the cum sole trajectory with the help of the latest in Sperry machines once they grasp - and embrace - the concept. Even if I were a physicist of great stature, this challenge would be beyond me without close collaboration with the mathematicians fully capable of putting the supercomputers to use.


One last thought. A general reader will have no trouble with going through the first eight chapters of the book and I hope their experience is enjoyable. However, many may not bother to go beyond those chapters because they may feel surfeited with the information about the climate. The 'beef' is to be found in the last chapters which are directed to the more serious experts. For them, my advice would be to skip chapters 2-8 if they are pressed for time and reflect on the second half of the book.


To learn more about Al-Battani Shield: Counteracting Global Warming: A New Approachplease visit our website and read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.