nturlbruntt asked: I had a client tell me the other day that we're not headed towards a warm climate, but an ice age. The planet has to warm up in order to cool down. (or so he claimed). Is there any truth to this?
Thanks for your note and absolutely not! The earth is at its hottest point in over 11,000 years.
Your client believes a rumor from the 1970s, one that won’t die apparently. It was dismissed, debunked, defrocked, and deblorgged decades ago, but has resurfaced as a rather brilliant right-wing political talking point.
97% of climate scientists agree the earth is warming. This is the highest agreement in any of the sciences in all of history. Second, the vast majority of scientists in the 1970s agreed global warming was occurring, that humans are causing it by emitting greenhouse gases, and that the earth is in big, big trouble.
Back in 2005, climate scientists at Real Climate took the time to discuss the origins of the rumor, show who restarted it, and describe why it’s completely false. You an read their post, here.
In 2008, the American Meteorological Society published a special article on this myth. It’s a great read, very short. It describes the history of the myth (it also gives a glimpse at how scientists suck at PR).
Lastly, Skeptical Science ranks it as the 11th most discussed myth. They published a simplified, easy to read summary of the myth called: “What were climate scientists predicting in the 1970s?”, which shows that scientists back then were very worried about warming.
At the end of the day, your client is acting as proxy for the fossil fuel industry. This may sound crazy, but his/her’s real argument is that oil and gas should not be regulated, that they should be able to pollute without regulations. People who argue that that the world is cooling, instead of warming, are really saying that there is no need to regulate pollution or emissions.
What’s even more bizarre is that they may not even realize this.
Naomi Oreskes discusses how this happened in her book, Merchants of Doubt, which shows that oil and gas industries hired the same public relations experts that defended the tobacco industry in the 80s. Recall that the tobacco industry - and the politicians they donated to - denied that cigarettes caused cancer (seriously), and they successfully perpetuated that myth for decades.
And that, my friend, is how an industry and politicians manipulate public opinion.
The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams replies to a reader about geoengineering. It’s a great read, quiet concise and easy to understand. Geoengineering, basically, is a way to control the earth’s climate. The most popular, and cheapest way, would be to release sulfur dioxide particles into the atmosphere to block the sun, thereby cooling the earth and - viola! - climate change solved!
But, not so fast.
Cecil has a good list of reasons why it’s a bad idea, including sulfur dioxide’s effects on ozone depletion and potentially less sun for solar power. I’d add two objections to the list.
- First, we’d use more oil, gas, and coal. The thinking is that when energy becomes more efficient and cheap the rate of consumption increases. Fossil fuels will get used more, depleting the resource faster. One way of thinking about this is lightbulbs. It’s been found that when people change their lightbulbs to more energy efficient ones, they use the lights more. Ironically, they effectively cancel any savings. This is called the Jevons Paradox, which is well worth looking into. So, by extension, markets would be less incentivized to become more energy efficient when there’s no threat of climate change or other environmental impact. (Click here for the economics of geoengineering).
- The second objection I’d bring to the table is the question of governance. As in, who’d manage the Earth’s climate? Who’d be in charge of the geoengineering projects? Who would decide how cool or hot the planet should be? Should China manage the Earth’s climate? What about Germany, they have a lot of engineers, right?
This gets even more complicated when one factors in the fact that some countries will benefit from slowed climate change. Canada and Russia for example have incentives to slow climate change from the environmental, forestry, and agricultural perspectives.
There’s even the question of war. What happens when one of these countries just goes ahead and starts a geoengineering project on their own? Worse, what if that country goes rogue and moves to create a mass cooling in order to control global agriculture (or some other nefarious purpose)?
In any case, I’m against geonengineering, no matter how cheap and well intentioned.
In your recent column on conspiracy theories about the government injecting chemicals into the atmosphere, you disparaged the idea of geoengineering, or at least using sulfur dioxide to counter global warning. But you don’t defend your position. Is it a good or bad idea, and why?”
“One problem at a time, muchacho. First I had to explain why it was unlikely that aliens had absconded with Earth’s gold using genetically engineered man-monkey slaves. Having dispatched that issue, we now turn to the advisability of shooting crap into the atmosphere to solve the problem of crap in the atmosphere. Call me crazy, but I don’t think this is the world’s best plan.
The basic idea is simple. Our problem is global warming, right? We know when volcanic eruptions blast vast quantities of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, the pollution blocks sunlight and the earth noticeably cools off. Therefore, if we create artificial volcanoes to pump sulfur dioxide or other substances into the air on purpose, the resultant global cooling will cancel out global warming and we can go on happily burning fossil fuels and generally making a mess of the environment just like before….”
Sunspotgatehoaxapacolpyse 2011! IT’S THE EOTW!!!!!!!
Despite semi-hysterical reports you may be hearing in the media, sunspot experts want to make this very clear:
We may see sunspot activity go into a short hibernation (called the Maunder Minimum), but this does not mean we are going into a mini-Ice Age. I want to ram that point home, because as back-asswards as some of our climate policy is these days, I’d half expect there to be calls to pump extra CO2 into the atmosphere to give us some extra warmth. Ahh, the warm wool blanket of fossil fuel exhaust, just what a maybe-frozen Earth needs.
Ok, so if you hear someone mention this, smack them with a knowledge stick and say “Not so fast!”