The Scream and Climate Change

Posted on May 3rd, 2012 by Adam Riedel

By Michael Gerrard
Director, Center for Climate Change Law

Yesterday Edvard Munch’s 1895 painting The Scream sold for a record $119.9 million at auction. The painting is famous — not so its potential link to climate change.

Mount Krakatoa in Indonesia erupted in 1883. It was one of the largest volcanic explosions in recorded history and it reddened the skies around the world. Munch is known to have been struck and been rendered melancholy by the appearance of these skies. The sky in The Scream has been likened to what followed Krakatoa, and some have theorized — and others disputed — that Munch painted the sky that way in recollection of what he had seen after Krakatoa.

The matter that Krakatoa dumped into the atmosphere blocked out so much sunlight that global temperatures dropped more than one degree Celsius for more than a year. Today, as the earth warms because of uncontrolled greenhouse gases, serious thought is being given to intentionally dumping sulfate aerosols into the upper atmosphere — perhaps using a fleet of 747s — to replicate the Krakatoa effect. The skies then would more likely be white than red, but it would still make many people scream.


  1. I have long thought of the scream as climate related.

    We are already using quite a large fleet of 747s and other planes and coal plants. Has anyone compared the effect of our existing geoengineering to the Krakatoa cooling effect? Based on the global dimming story from about 6 years ago, I think the anthropogenic cooling effect “eclipses” the cooling effect of Krakatoa.

  2. The warming has been a boon to plant food growth. We need to weigh the possibly of reducing crop yields and creating food shortages. Solar physicists from the MET climate center in the UK have given a 92% probability that the Sun is about to enter a long term minimum sometime around 2014 that could last for 80 years. The last time that happened was the Little Ice Age.

    As sea level rise is the most immediate threat, a better option has been outlined by polar scientists who suggest that water vapor could be sprayed into the atmosphere over the poles (that is where most of the warming is occurring) to create man made clouds that would block solar rays from melting the ice. This is a more localized approach that can be controlled by tweeking cloud creation on a daily basis if necessary and is less risky than spreading sulfates in the atmosphere. Reducing black carbon would also help stop ice melt by increasing albedo.

  3. I saw this painting in Oslo almost one year ago, after a trip around Svalbard, one week before the horrible massacre by that paranoid, racist fanatic now on trial. The arctic felt pristine, although it is far from it, and has a power of its own in all that locked up water and energy. The painting itself is not worth its sale price as a piece of art. And the bloodbath that occurred the following week after my son and I toured peaceful, rainy Oslo, is an unspeakable tragedy that embodies the emotions behind The Scream.
    Peter G. Joseph, M.D., CC ’70

  4. Nice juxtapostion! I much prefer the random cruelty of nature to the pretentious designs of humankind. (Of course, I say this from the comfort of my Office.)
    Be Well

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