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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Climate Change

(yes, it has already been used: here, here, here, here, here)

Will human civilization survive the giant climate shifts that will be caused by our SUVs (or by any other cardinal sin brought about by the comforts of modern life)? And what about humanity?

Who knows?

But one thing I am now more sure of. The biosphere will do just fine. Plenty of animals and plants and bacteria and archeas and viruses will prosper if the world will get warmer, if it will get cooler, or if it will continue as before (whatever the meaning of “continue as before” is).

And it’s all written loud and clear in scientific, peer-reviewed literature. For example:

Jeffrey P. Severinghaus and Edward J. Brook, “Abrupt Climate Change at the End of the Last Glacial Period Inferred from Trapped Air in Polar Ice“, Science, 29 October 1999: Vol. 286. no. 5441, pp. 930 – 934 DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5441.930 (Abstract)

The last glacial period was terminated by an abrupt warming event in the North Atlantic ~15,000 years before the present, and warming events of similar age have been reported from low latitudes […] the Greenland Summit warmed 9 ± 3°C over a period of several decades, beginning 14,672 years ago […]

Jørgen Peder Steffensen et al., “High-Resolution Greenland Ice Core Data Show Abrupt Climate Change Happens in Few Years“, originally published in Science Express on 19 June 2008, Science 1 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5889, pp. 680 – 684 DOI: 10.1126/science.1157707 (Abstract, free Full Text)

The last two abrupt warmings at the onset of our present warm interglacial period, interrupted by the Younger Dryas cooling event, were investigated at high temporal resolution from the North Greenland Ice Core Project ice core […] A northern shift of the Intertropical Convergence Zone could be the trigger of these abrupt shifts of Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation, resulting in changes of 2 to 4 kelvin in Greenland moisture source temperature from one year to the next.

Let’s also keep in mind that 8 ice ages and 8 warm ages have happened during the last 800,000 years.

What can we conclude?

  1. Abrupt climatic changes happen quite often
  2. There is a sizable amount of evidence of climate changes more abrupt than anything experienced in recorded human history. In other words, present-day temperature changes are neither special nor unprecedented
  3. All existing species have gone through several rounds of those abrupt climatic changes. ADDENDUM: And since there is no evidence for periodic widespread extinction episodes linked in any way to the changes in climate, we can rest assured that the overwhelming majority of species adapt to cooler and warmer environments
  4. With or without humanity, another climate change is bound to happen. And another. And another. (etc etc)

Hence, there is very little sense in all the cries about global warming being the destroyer of life on Earth, or of any species in particular.

Note that Humanity itself has survived everything that has been thrown at it. If anybody is seriously worried, rather than overcomplicated and resultless negotiations on carbon emissions, they should dedicate all their efforts to mantaining civilization (=adaptation).

And if we take the LIA into account: who can seriously think that present-day humanity has feebler defences than 1650’s?

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  1. CityBus
    2008/11/27 at 12:31

    Paraphasing Dawkins’s slogans for city’s buses?
    “There’s probably no CC. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

  2. geoff chambers
    2008/11/23 at 19:47

    Much as I admire the sanity of your “stop worrying” attitude, I don’t agree that worrying about the future is simply a fashionable idea, soon to replaced by another. You say: “…worrying about the grandchildren is mostly futile. We have no idea of what they will have to deal with, and if such a thought would have been around, who knows what kind of silly things my grandparents would have been told to do ‘for my sake’”. But such utopian thoughts about the future are frequently around in stressful times. They were around when Hitler offered the Germans a thousand-year Reich; they were around again in 1945 when my grandparents threw out the war hero Churchill and voted for free education and health care.

    It sees to me that a certain morbid tendency to worry – about faraway people or future generations – is at the base of any, if not all, radical movements. A certain loopiness (obsessive anxiety, or whatever) is probably a necessary condition for taking unpopular positions, particularly against what would normally be seen as one’s own camp (I speak as a lefty who normally wouldn’t be seen dead in the company of Peter Lilley MP or Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail). Of course its important to stay sane, and I agree entirely with Alexjc’s suggested tactics in the pub brawls of the media blogs. One of the problems of wading through these swamps of egotistical ignorance is identifying your allies among the nutters on both sides. In future I think I’ll start my comments with “As a Climate Denialist…” Not an organised group, just a kind of badge. There’s a long tradition, from Quakers to Tories, of assuming the insults of your adversaries.

    It would be nice to see more disussion, here or elsewhere, of practical tactics for spreading the word outside the tiny world of us true non-believers.

  3. 2008/11/23 at 17:13

    I like the “12 Angry Men” analogy; it’s a very good film and should be required viewing for all those engaged in the climate debate. Also I agree that this “slowly-building collection of people” is what is happening. In the UK at least, there appears to be no specific political grouping opposed to AGW-driven policy-making – yet. The most we have at the moment in Parliament is a handful of dissenters, mostly Conservative back-benchers. But this will start to change (I hope!) as the tide slowly turns against AGW, especially if we have some more years of “non-warming”.

    It’s fun to take part in online debates (such as those that occur in forums such as The Guardian’s “Comment is free”) even though they sometimes resemble pub brawls. I suppose the trick, if it can be called one, is to try to appear less of a nutter than one’s opponent. Also not to resort too much to sarcasm or exaggeration (although it’s difficult to resist!) – ideally, the aim would be to avoid alienating undecided readers and to persuade them that the current CO2 dogma has some serious holes in it. Or at the very least to encourage them to think for themselves, rather than accept the received truth.

  4. 2008/11/21 at 23:33

    In general, my “stop worrying” is indeed linked to the many indications that much of the “worrying” signals are tightly linked to current fashionable thoughts (eg “aesthetic feelings”). And if they’ve come to dominate discourses the world over in 40 years, chances are they will be replaced by something else, 40 years in the future.

    Recorded history after all suggests that worrying about the grandchildren is mostly futile. We have no idea of what they will have to deal with, and if such a thought would have been around who knows what kind of silly things my grandparents would have been told to do “for my sake”, all things perfectly irrelevant as nobody cared, say, about peak oil in 1938?

    As for the psychological bit, I keep promising an overdue blog with some interesting thoughts written by a “warmer”. yes I am aware that in the USA it is almost strictly a party-line division, for local reasons.

    Sometimes I just feel like Henry Fonda in “12 Angry Men”…there is no “the boy is innocent” group, it’s just the slowly-building collection of people NOT believing “the boy is guilty”.

    ps Ice cores are not boring as much as being bored, of course. Their interpretation, however, may be an example of AGW-extremists boring themselves into an even deeper hole.

  5. geoff chambers
    2008/11/21 at 22:58

    1) Agree, but the warmers play sometimes on the subject of long-term species survival (noble, selfless) but more often on the selfish subject of “what about your grandchildren?”
    2) Agree, but today in the S of France I saw a red squirrel, the first time in 50 years, because they’re almost extinct in England (aaaaah). Species sympathy, desire to preserve what we have on this fragile planet, is a legitimate aesthetic feeling, even if it’s shared with a load of idiots in woolly hats
    3) “Not all of us would survive…” (No-one reading this blog (if anyone is) will live to see the doubling of CO2. A sobering thought).
    “It is impossible for 30k people to die in France because of a heatwave because, were that to happen, it would be criminal”. It happened, and it wasn’t criminal. The combination of a 35-hour week; the French habit of going away in August, leaving old folks’ homes seriously understaffed; plus a rigid bureacracy which prevented the whistle blower from being able to alert the population via a simple publicity campaign, meant that a lot of oldies popped their clogs a few months early. But you’re right, in a civilized country like France, problems get fixed. The incident was used by alarmists as a wake up call (no pun intended this time) but the conclusion to be drawn is positive. Mistakes can be corrected.
    4) “Couple of word plays?” What’s the second? For the second part – agree entirely
    5) “Fascination with impending doom and all that” – so do you agree with me (and maybe Luke Warmer, and Philip Stott on Climate Politics, and the late Michael Crichton) that the analysis should be, at least in part, psychological?
    Finally) “Not a group, but a collection of individuals”. I’m sure you’re right, especially in England, where a group is never anything else but a collection of individuals. But to have an effect, you have to form a group, however disparate. In America and Australia sceptics seem to share a libertarian conservative philosophy, something inexistant here in Europe. “The point is not to understand the world, but to change it” I think Marx said that, (or was it Margaret Thatcher?)

  6. 2008/11/21 at 22:00

    (1) Human extinction…I have made very briefly the point of humans perfectly capable of surviving warmers, and colder environments, when they had much less to survive on

    (2) Extinct species…I have put an addendum. There is no evidence for recurring climate-related widespread extinction events. Species adapt, after all, and sometimes that means they evolve into new species. The biosphere lives with its life, it’s not a zoo or a museum

    (3) Not all of us would survive…There are many things that kill us already. Not all 7 billion of us will survive until tomorrow. And again: every year that passes, more experience is accumulated. It is impossible for 30k people to die in France because of a heatwave because, were that to happen, it would be criminal. If an airplane crashes because of C, it doesn’t mean airplanes will keep crashing forever because of C. Once C is fixed, airplanes will not crash any longer because of it.

    (4) Ice cores are boring (couple of wordplays about that spring to mind) but they are the answer when people talk of “unprecedented changes happening now”, and “massive extinctions ahead”.

    (5) Can’t they hear the message…well, AGW is for many too much of a temptation to pass. End of capitalism and all that. Fascination with impending doom and all that.

    Finally, I do not believe there is a “global warming sceptic group” but rather a collection of individuals. We all have our reasons not to believe. It doesn’t mean we have to believe collectively into something else.

    It’s a bit like the Amnesty International of old, always hoping the day will come when we can disband and think about different issues 😎

  7. geoff chambers
    2008/11/21 at 20:58

    However interesting scientifically, I’m not sure that proof of abrupt climate change over hundreds of thousands of years is very relevant to Global Warming Alarmism. They’re threatening us with extinction within the century. The moral argument on the green, carbon footsy blogs always comes down to “think of your grandchildren”.

    And then, “All existing species have gone through several rounds of those abrupt climatic changes…” Well, yes, but what about the non-existing ones? Your statement will still be true, even when there’s no-one left but us ants (see Flanders, Swann; 1961 for seriously peerless review)

    And again: “Humanity itself has survived everything that has been thrown at it..” OK. As a species, no doubt we could survive anything. But not all 7 billion of us, not all at once. (Here in France, 30,000 old folk failed to survive a heat wave a few years ago, and it was blamed on global warming; while an official enquiry revealed that the real culprit was government inefficiency).
    If we sceptics are going to engage public opinion, rather than simply amuse ourselves, it’s important to concentrate on the present; the ascertainable, historical past; and the influenceable future. Ice cores are boring.

    Your point about “dedicat[ing] all .. efforts to maintaining civilization (= adaptation)” is quite right of course. It’s a policy endorsed by the AGW believer Lomborg, as well as sceptics from the left like Climate Resistance and from the right like the Conservative ex-minister Nigel Lawson. It means investment in education, research, infrastructure, support for fragile third world economies – all things which could win the support of most left / green alarmists – if only they could hear the message above the noise.

  1. 2012/03/21 at 00:30
  2. 2008/12/01 at 19:52

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