I admit it; I’m a global warming skeptic (rotten tomatoes can be thrown at the end of the article, thank you!) It’s not that I find the arguments for current global warming unpersuasive; it’s that I have a problem with the stifling of debate debunking global warming that seems to be growing more widespread.
At any rate, if global warming exists, how do we know that it’s caused by human carbon dioxide production? When we didn’t have human pollution dumped into the atmosphere, there were still very significant variations in our climate. At one point, dinosaurs roamed the earth. At others, vast sheets of ice drained the ocean and covered our most fertile lands. Even looking at just the last thousand or so years, when we have reasonably good records, we see that the current global climate is neither as hot nor as volatile as at other periods.
Global Cooling: The Cause Du Jour of the Seventies
In 1972, a startling new study came forward. Using some of the first accurate global temperature readings from weather balloons and satellites, the National Science Board stated that the Earth’s mean temperature was dropping quickly and alarmingly. Could this be the start of a new ice age? Time magazine (and other prominent magazines) thought so; they published a cover article titled “The Cooling World” on April 28, 1975.
This remained cause for alarm for several years, until about 1979, when the World Meteorological Organization stated that the cooling trend had actually stopped about the time meteorologists had first become aware of it in 1970. This fear was replaced by the fear of nuclear winter, possibly because nuclear winter was not terribly far from the global cooling theories.
At last, sometime in the mid-1990s the idea of global warming as climate change became the primary worry of many climateologists.
Historic Temperature Changes
If you read through history, you’ll find a number of interesting blips. These data are accepted, although truly accurate methods for measuring global temperature vary. The two most significant recent changes are the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period.
The Medieval Warm Period: Between 800 AD and 1300 AD, there was a significantly warmer period that likely affected the whole world, and certainly affected the entire Atlantic region. The best documentation for this period exists in Europe, where wine grapes were grown in south Britain. This is why the frozen island of Greenland was named Greenland – when the Vikings discovered it in the middle of this period, it was a green and fertile place amenable to settlement very unlike today. After 1300, a cooling period led up to the Little Ice Age.
The Little Ice Age lasted from about 1300 AD to about 1900 AD. Many historians and epidemiologists think that this period triggered the terrible bubonic plagues that swept through Asia and then Europe, as rats ventured further into human territory to find food. If the plague had not taken so many people, they would likely have died of famine when crops started failing in the suddenly-shorter summers. The Viking colonies on Greenland and Vinland died out, and mountain glaciers throughout Europe began creeping downward.
One excellent significator of the Little Ice Age was the Thames River Frost Fair. The Thames River rarely freezes over, so it was a matter of some historical note when it did. During those days when the river froze solid, enterprising vendors would move stalls out onto the river and the area took on a festival atmosphere. Between the early 1400s and the early 1800s, the river froze over 23 times. The last time it froze was 1814, nearly 200 years ago, indicating that the climate near London has changed somewhat since these years.
What initiates climate change? No one knows. Many climatologists think that the large cooling cycles correspond with decreased solar activity, and there is good evidence of a high period of activity approximately in the middle of the Medieval Warm Period. There is also evidence today of increasing solar activity, and that some of the climate change we’re seeing today is mirrored on Mars and Venus. I suspect that the real answer, however, is that we simply don’t know enough about how our atmosphere and world work to predict global changes.
Beyond the anomalies of the last millennium, we have also had cyclic ice ages, both glacial (the last of which was 10,000 years ago) and major (which scientists believe we are still in, 14 million years after it began). Another reason it’s difficult to predict climate change is that we are dealing with cycles within cycles within cycles. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where we are in any of them, particularly with the tiny grain of history we really have to work with.
The Human Element: What If They’re Wrong?
Something few look at is the question of why scientists on both sides are so interested in disproving the other side. Scientists are human beings. They make mistakes. If I (and many scientists) am right, the careers of the strongest proponents of global warming are built on a house of cards. Ask yourself: what if you’d built up a career on a single theory, and you found out it was wrong?
In cases like this, normal humans and geniuses (who, despite their huge brains and advanced degrees, have emotions like panic and fear, just like everyone else) might be forgiven if they downplay evidence that disproves their theories and emphasize evidence that supports their theories. This sort of scientific back-and-forth has existed since the time of the Greek philosophers, probably since before written history.
This means that a thinking human can’t accept either side in the dispute as fact – especially when scientists are insisting that their theory is fact (a much-forgotten fact is that a theory is NEVER a fact). Instead, we must look at the original evidence and determine for ourselves what we think.
If you can’t decide who’s right, the best thing to do may be to not believe anyone. Instead, use your common sense. If you pollute a lot, stop it. Don’t leave the lights on. Buy a car that uses less gas if it’s practical. Don’t invest in unproven solutions, like carbon offsets. Instead, look to what you can do, personally, to improve things right where you are.
For some, that’s just not enough. You can’t stop worrying about what you’re doing to the world when you drive the two-mile trip to the grocery story. In this case, you might want to look into ecotherapy, a new area of therapy described in this great article by Kimberly West.
There is no doubt that climate change exists. There is also no doubt that the fluctuations cause major upsets throughout the world in general, and in human civilization in particular. There is little that we can really do, individually, other than be prepared for these changes. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, we need to do the things we can do that are right. The next time you see an alarming report about global warming, do the little things you can and stop letting the news scare you to death.