Tuesday, October 18, 2005

No Harm No Fool

We Are Living In an Ice Age - Seriously!

Harm de Blij
the noted geographer and a professor at a Michigan university is a fascinating and passionate man. Seeing him talk at a World Affairs conference which aired recently on CSPAN's Book TV was a real eye opener.

De Blij (pronounced duh blay) is a Dutch born immigrant who came to this country as a young man after WWII. Harm speaks eloquently on a number of subjects not the least of which is one of our favorite topics here - global warming. In his book "Why Geography Matters" Harm delves deep into the cause and effect of climate change on geo-politics and human development. Toward the end of his talk at the World Affairs conference he paused briefly, lowered his voice and decalred that he couldn't leave without a few words about the current global warming hysteria. It is, in a word - HYSTERIA!

De Blij points out that we are currently living in an Ice Age. We happen to be in a inter-glacial period where global temperatures rise as part of a natural cycle that repeats itself many times during each Ice Age. The current ice age started some 35 million years ago. De Blij goes over the numbers in an interview with The Pittsburgh Tribune's Bill Steigerwald:

Q: We're being told over and over by the mainstream media and scientists as well that global warming is a real problem for earthlings. Yet you say we need to prepare for a quick climate change that will be a precipitous cooling. What's that all about?

A: We are living in an Ice Age -- which consists of long cold spells interrupted by short warm spells. This is something that every student in introductory geography learns all over the world. It started about 30 or 35 million years ago. It's been going on. It's been getting colder. Approximately, 30 million years ago, the Antarctic ice sheet began to form; 20 million years ago glaciers began to form in high mountains even in the tropical areas; 10 million years ago the Arctic Ocean froze over. About 1.8 million years ago, we began a sequence of events that is still going on, which is as follows: It is very cold for 100,000 years in a row -- never, of course, continuously cold, but up and down. Then it gets very warm, very quickly, and for about an average of 10,000 to 12,000 years it is about as warm as it is today. Then that ends with a precipitous cooling, and it is cold for another 100,000 years.

Just 18,000 years ago, ice sheets hundreds of feet high covered all of North America down to the Ohio River. All that melted when global warming started. It melted in a matter of a few thousand years. It was some dramatic event: Huge slabs of ice the size of the Canadian province of Quebec would slide into the ocean, raise the sea level, cool the water, change local climate. The coastal plains, along which we humans had been migrating, got inundated. It must have been an incredibly dramatic time.

Then about 7,000 years ago, it was warm like it is now and it has been that warm ever since. We are now at the point that the period of global warming like the one that got rid of the glaciers the last time has been going on for about 15,000 years. We are already well into the autumn of our warm spell. So even though we worry about global warming, I am saying that what we are likely to experience is an increasing number of extremes and then a collapse of the system and a return to glacial conditions. It's happened for 2 million years and it's going to happen again, whether or not we do to the atmosphere what we are doing. Nature will overpower our pollution of the atmosphere.

Q: What's your official position on global warming?

A: That it is existing, that it is happening, but that it will not go on indefinitely.

Harm believes we should have endorsed the Kyoto Protocol not as a substantiative effort to stop global warming but rather as an international gesture of cooperation. I don't necessarily agree that a gesture is worth even the short term problems Kyoto would cause to the economy while China and India get off scott free, but I trust that his reading of geologic history is accurate.

Furiously drawing graphs on the overhead projector he shows that this current period of warming has happened in a blink of geologic time in which all of recorded human history has occured. He goes on to state that this inter-glacial period could come crashing down in a very short period of time. He is not talking about thousands of years or even hundreds of years, but rather mere decades. The impact on humanity and world politics would be all encompassing. Canada, northern Europe and most of Russia would cease to exist. The industrial heart of the United States would be under miles of ice forcing our entire population south. He decalres that China will be the big winner because of it's geography and proximity to southeast Asia and Indonesia. A scary thought in and of itself.

The picture de Blij paints is illustrated in a fascinating Sci-Fi novel by Larry Niven called "Fallen Angels" in which the Greens have taken over the political structure of the world by using global warming as a pretext to stop technological progress. When the burning of fossil fuels is banned the atmosphere is robbed of the particulate matter needed for water droplets to form and therefore clouds become more and more scarce. Without clouds the warmth of the planet escapes into the night sky and a glacial age ensues. Harm de Blij and the author Larry Niven both refer to the "mini ice age" that plagued Britain an few centuries ago. Niven speculates that the increased burning of coal for heat by the large population on the island nation had a part in the warming period that followed allowing Britain to become the preeminent power in the world.

In the end, however, Niven, de Blij and you and I will come to realize that we are powerless against the forces of nature and if we endure the next glacial period it will have to be by our wits AND our technology. Until then, my advice, make hay while the sun shines!



TJ Willms said...

"we are powerless against the forces of nature"

Truer words were never spoken.
I recently re-read "Fallen Angels"
and the parallels in that novel to our current global warming media hysteria were both hillarious and eerie. FWOL