Tuesday, January 17, 2012

We Just Don't Know

We've spoken on occasion here at VP about the fact that we don't really know that global warming, if indeed it eventuates, will be the disaster the climate change alarmists predict. For all we really know it could be a boon to humanity to have more land in currently inaccessible regions like Siberia, Greenland and northern Canada open up to habitation, mining, and agriculture. Slightly rising temperatures could result in more rainfall in arid regions and reverse the desertification process of northern Africa and elsewhere, making agriculture around the globe more productive. Who knows?

Now science writer Matt Ridley raises another possible benefit of global warming - it could be saving us from an incipient ice age:
The entire 10,000-year history of civilization has happened in an unusually warm interlude in the Earth's recent history. Over the past million years, it has been as warm as this or warmer for less than 10% of the time, during 11 brief episodes known as interglacial periods. One theory holds that agriculture and dense settlement were impossible in the volatile, generally dry and carbon-dioxide-starved climates of the ice age, when crop plants would have grown more slowly and unpredictably even in warmer regions.

This warm spell is already 11,600 years old, and it must surely, in the normal course of things, come to an end. In the early 1970s, after two decades of slight cooling, many scientists were convinced that the moment was at hand. They were "increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age," said Time in 1974. The "almost unanimous" view of meteorologists was that the cooling trend would "reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century," and "the resulting famines could be catastrophic," said Newsweek in 1975.

Since then, of course, warmth has returned, probably driven at least partly by man-made carbon-dioxide emissions. A new paper, from universities in Cambridge, London and Florida, drew headlines last week for arguing that these emissions may avert the return of the ice age.
Ridley elaborates on all this at the linked article.

The fact is that we don't know whether the global mean temperature is really rising, or, if it is, what's causing it. Nor do we know what the effects of a modest rise in temperature will be. Nevertheless, we're being told that we must spend billions of dollars and change the entire way of life of modern societies and do it now because if we don't we'll all die. But as Ridley points out, for all we know reversing greenhouse gas emissions may be the worst thing we could do for the planet and humanity.