Perhaps you noticed a recent chill in the air. So did some numb Green Bay Packer fans who watched their team get frozen out of the NFL playoffs by the San Francisco 49ers in near-zero temperatures, Israeli residents confined to homes by three feet of snow that fell in Jerusalem as the worst winter storm in decades swept through the Middle East, and a group of Australian climate scientists hell-bent upon documenting global warming aboard a Russian ship that got dangerously trapped in Antarctic sea ice.
And sure, while climate really does change, none of such incidents really mean much in the context of longer-term trends. After all, the term “climate” generally refers to patterns extending over periods of at least three decades (depending a whole lot on when you begin measuring). Like for example, there was a period from about 1940 to the early 1970s when records showed a cooling trend. Some scientists at that time even predicted that the Earth was heading for the next in a regular series of Ice Ages.
The popular press, including Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times, featured these claims in a number of alarming headline articles. Within only about half of a 30-year-long climate period later media attention shifted to a new and opposite threat…one that set Al Gore’s pants on fire during his 1988 Senate hearings on the matter.
By that time the United Nations had already determined that global warming was a crisis and that human fossil fuel CO2 emissions were the cause. To avoid any doubt of just how bad conditions were and who was most responsible the UN convened an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which rapidly fixed blame on rich nations.
From there the UN was less than a frenetic hop, skip and jump away from prescribing solutions. In short order they established a cap and trade program (the Kyoto Protocol) to tax carbon emissions, plus demanded additional economic penance from developed countries for all that climate damage their prosperity is causing.
Then everything ran into an unanticipated snag…that “best laid plans of mice and men going awry” conundrum thing. Just when those random noise data IPCC hockey stick chart-producing computer programs predicted carbon dioxide-driven temperatures going orbital and sea levels flooding Capitol Hill, something went terribly wrong.
Yup, in case you noticed, global temperatures went flat, and have stayed that way now since the time most of today’s high school students were born. Incidentally, we’re at that time now Al predicted in his December 10, 2007, “Earth has a Fever” Nobel Prize acceptance speech that Arctic summer sea ice could “completely disappear.”
Instead, the Arctic actually gained 920,000 square miles of ice during 2013 over 2012, the largest year-to-year increase since satellite records began. But if you thought global warming was scary, here’s an alternative to consider. Some really smart scientists predict that Planet Earth is now entering a very deep and prolonged cooling period attributable to 100-year record low numbers of sunspots. Periods of reduced sunspot activity correlate with increased cloud-forming influences of cosmic rays. More clouds tend to make conditions cooler, while fewer often cause warming.
Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov, who heads Russia’s prestigious Pulkovo Observatory in St. Petersburg, predicts that: “after the maximum of solar Cycle-24, from approximately 2014, we can expect the start of the next bicentennial cycle of deep cooling with a Little Ice Age in 2055 plus or minus 11 years” (the 19th to occur in the past 7,500 years).
Dr. Abdussamatov points out that Earth has experienced such occurrences five times over the last 1,000 years, and that: “A global freeze will come about regardless of whether or not industrialized countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions. The common view of Man’s industrial activity is a deciding factor in global warming has emerged from a misinterpretation of cause and effect.”
While solar output typically goes through 11-year cycles with high numbers of sunspots seen at their peak, we are currently approaching the peak of “Cycle-24” with numbers running at less than half of those observed during other 20th century peaks.
Are scientists such as Dr. Abdussamatov right? Darned if I know! After all, I’ve never claimed to be a real climate scientist like Al Gore or the people who got paid to make those expensive computer program charts. I’m just a space guy.
But just on the chance that they are, harsh winter temperatures and shorter growing seasons like those that occurred during the “Little Ice Age” between about 1300-1850 are nothing to wish for. Shortened, less reliable growing seasons in Europe brought on the Great Famine of 1315-1317. Norse colonies which had settled in a formerly warmer Greenland starved and vanished by the early fifteenth century as crops failed and livestock froze.
During the mid-seventeenth century encroaching glaciers destroyed farms and villages in the Swiss Alps. Sea ice surrounding Iceland closed harbors to shipping. Boxed in and experiencing cereal crop farming failures, Iceland’s population fell by half. In the late seventeenth century agriculture dropped off so dramatically that Alpine villagers lived on breads made from ground nutshells mixed with barley and oat flour.
Famines claimed about ten percent of the people in France, Norway and Sweden, about one-fifth of those in Estonia, and one-third in Finland during the late 1600s. Near the end of that Little Ice Age Washington’s troops endured brutally cold conditions at Valley Forge during the winter of 1776-77, and Napoleon’s suffered a frigid retreat from Moscow in 1812. New York Harbor froze in 1780, allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island.
Gregory Willits, an avowed global warming worrier, recently wrote in a December Orlando Sentinel piece that “We are not capable of addressing climate change” (meaning we can’t stop it), so “Let’s accept climate change and deal with it in a big way.”
Since the climate has been warming little-by-little in fits-and-starts since the end of that Little Ice Age (before the Industrial Revolution brought with it those CO2-belching smoke stacks and SUVs), are we to assume that Willits is referring here to natural climate change after 1850? I doubt it.
Still, there have been a couple of climate changes since then. In fact the past century has witnessed two distinct periods of warming and cooling. The first warming period occurred between 1900 and 1945. Since CO2 levels were relatively low then compared with now, and didn’t change much, they couldn’t have been the cause before 1950.
The second, following a slight cool-down, began in 1975 and rose at quite a constant rate until 1998, a strong Pacific Ocean El Niño year…although this later warming is reported only by surface thermometers, not satellites, and is legitimately disputed by some. (There’s some background on this in my June 18 column.)
No, Gregory Willits is apparently referring only to that half-cycle period or so of warming that occurred about a half cycle of flat temperatures ago. But even then, he does offer some constructive ideas. One is to conserve energy. Sure, although his proposal to put windmills atop buildings might fall several knots short of breezy progress in that direction.
The other is to construct sea walls to hold back the rising tides. Although fluctuating sea level rises over the past several centuries have averaged about 7 inches, and continue to rise at that rate with no evidence of acceleration, land subsidence and hurricane risks are ever-present issues that must be taken into account.
Incidentally, the East Antarctic ice sheet which contains about 90% of the Earth’s fresh water is not melting… it is expanding, as is Antarctic shelf ice. Only the West Antarctic Peninsula which contains less than 10% of Antarctic ice has lost mass. The South Pole has shown no warming since records began in 1957.
But let’s all agree that practical preparation for all reasonable contingencies, including climate change, makes sense. And while we’re at it, let’s include planning for global cooling: times when long winter nights, snow-covered solar panels and intermittently operating iced-over wind turbines can’t recharge those plug-in cars we are being urged to purchase.
After all, where are we going to get all the power we need after EPA shuts down coal-fired plants that provide about 40% of our electricity? And where’s that non-fossil heat going to come from to keep the kids and grandma safe from hypothermia? Finally, how about a little gratitude for the climate conditions we presently have?
Although no one really knows how long global temperatures will remain flat as they have now for well more than a decade, maybe we’ll get lucky. Let’s truly hope that those scientists predicting we’re in opening rounds of another chiller-diller are wrong.