Sunday, October 29, 2006

Global Warming and Global Cooling

There is a great linguistic irony in the fact that we are being warned repeatedly by various sorts of alarmists that the emissions of our cars and factories, as well as the farting of our cows, is contributing to global warming but the danger of global warming is not that the earth will become too warm per se but that it will actually cool down and we northern North Americans and Europeans will be living in ice houses if we live at all.

Just for fun, I Googled "greenhouse gases are causing global warming" searching for an alarmist page and the first entry was from the University of Michigan. To its credit, it noted that no one can prove that human causes of greenhouse gasses are accelerating global warming to any significant degree. To its discredit, it neglected to mention that the worst consequence of global warming is global cooling and that is a linguistic conundrum if ever I wrote one. How can warming cause cooling? Easy, it seems. As the planet warms, glaciers and ice packs melt and the runoff of ice cold water both cools the waters of the polar regions and causes desalination and both of these things can disrupt or even stop the ocean current "conveyor belt" that moves shallow warm water north where it is cooled and sent south and deep cold water south where it is warmed and sent back north. This conveyor belt is responsible for keeping Britain relatively warm in comparison with parts of Canada that are at the same latitude. This may be why when I have Googled on this topic of global warming BBC web pages inevitably pop up. They are rightly scared about the warming of the Earth.

We have here an extremely difficult scientific question: to what degree are humans contributing to global warming? As I have noted, responsible sources say that no answer to this question can be proved. There is no surprise in that since scientists are rarely able to prove anything about complex phenomena like the climate. My wife and I checked weather predictions for yesterday so that we could prepare for the weather at the University of Minnesota at Ohio State football game. The prediction was cold, very windy, and a good chance of rain. They got the first two right I checked the local weather radar map before we left and predicted cold with no great likelihood of rain. I was right. In short even local weather events can't be predicted with any great accuracy. Why should it be different for long term, including very long term predictions?

Let me tell you some things I bet you didn't know. There was a Little Ice Age in Europe that Wikipedia dates as follows :
* 1250 for when Atlantic pack ice began to grow
* 1300 for when warm summers stopped being dependable in Northern Europe
* 1315 for the rains and Great Famine of 1315-1317
* 1550 for theorized beginning of worldwide glacial expansion
* 1650 for the first climatic minimum
In contrast to its vague beginning, there is an almost undisputed consensus that the end of the Little Ice Age was in the mid-19th century.
Guess what? We didn't drive our autos about madly or pump substantial amounts of greenhouse gasses or keep large numbers of farting cows back in 1250. Or 1315. Or 1550. Another interesting site concerning the Little European Ice Age provides this chronology replete with the consequences::
1595: Gietroz (Switzerland) glacier advances, dammed Dranse River, and caused flooding of Bagne with 70 deaths.
1600-10: Advances by Chamonix (France) glaciers cause massive floods which destroyed three villages and severely damaged a fourth. One village had stood since the 1200's.
1670-80's: Maximum historical advances by glaciers in eastern Alps. Noticeable decline of human population by this time in areas close to glaciers, whereas population elsewhere in Europe had risen.
1695-1709: Iceland glaciers advance dramatically, destroying farms.
1710-1735: A glacier in Norway was advancing at a rate of 100 m per year for 25 years.
1748-50: Norwegian glaciers achieved their historical maximum LIA positions.
This is scary stuff to be sure. Here is a nice web site concerning rapid climate changes.

I am a linguist and dishonestly used the above cited linguistic conundrum just to make this topic relevant to my blog but I felt a debt to say what I have learned since writing my blog, The Danger of Metaphors. What I have learned since then is that the global warming alarmists have been at least as dishonest as those who sell us oil and sell us products that use it. The fact is that we are headed for another Little Ice Age or a Big Ice Age whether we do anything or not.

There are several natural causes of global cooling. Check out this very interesting site, which suggests as possible cause sun spot variation and volcanic eruptions sending debris and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, both of which block sun rays from hitting Earth. A television show on the National Geographic channel mentioned that any volcano expelling sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere even if it isn't erupting can contribute to global cooling since this gas reflects sunlight. And for years and years I have read and heard about meteor impacts shooting debris into the atmosphere, blocking the sun's rays. This has often been cited as a cause for the extinction of dinosaurs. In fact large mammals and other large creatures with long gestation periods are quite vulnerable to rapid climate changes since they cannot adapt quickly to new circumstances. We would be large animals with large gestations periods in case you wondered.

Right now the North Atlantic waters are cooling down due to glacier and ice pack melting and we can expect disruptions in the ocean conveyor belt in the who knows how distant future. I will be dead. Possibly every human alive right now will not experience it but I wouldn't bet on it. I know I wall be flamed for writing about a subject I do not have the relevant expertise for. However, if I have failed it would be in my selection of web sites to show you. I have no personal opinion as to whether or not we should worry about what we might be doing to the atmosphere except that there is no sense to our doing anything that would hurry up Doomsday. My natural political disposition runs with the alarmists but the bad guys aren't always wrong.

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Blogger Le vent fripon said...

"the worst consequence of global warming is global cooling"

The supposed consequence is regional cooling, especially in Northern Europe, I think, not global cooling.

Also, calling people who would like to reduce pollution "alarmists" is not fair. The idea that human activites are causing the temeperature of the earth to rise is currently the most accepted hypothesis among the scientific community (at least according to wiki). Maybe we don't know exactly what this will do...but that doesn't mean we should be alarmed.

1:16 PM

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

Oops, last words should have been:

"but that doesn't mean we shouln't be alarmed."

1:18 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I didn't mean to say everyone who wishes to reduce air pollution is an alarmist. There are other reasons to do so. I'm just saying that what our contribution to global warming is is, in fact, unknown though I have read guesses. Wouldn't it be stupid to spend multi billions of dollars to reduce greenhouse gases when an little or general ice age is inevitable? I would rather seen it spent on research as to how humans might deal with an ice age when it comes. Or poverty. However, I know it won't be spent on those things so it is an idle wish. In fact, almost all claims that we should spend such-and-such dollars spent on a bad thing (SUVs, armaments, etc.) on noble things like poverty are equally idle. The very forces that lead us to spend money on bad rather than good things would keep us from spending money on good things anyway. Humans really don't deserve to survive as a species in my opinion. I am with the Cylons on this question.

2:55 PM

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

I see your point about greed, although the economy is something as complicated as the climate and is pretty much impossible to predict.

I suppose it is easier to convince people in LA that global warming is a problem, because of the yellow skies there, even though the two issues are only very indirectly related.

4:16 AM

Blogger Mr K said...

A little ice age is not inevitable... at least not necessarily any time soon.

First of all, the reason we can't predict the weather to the end of week is because weather is a chaotic prediction, that amplifies small errors in prediction models very quickly. How quickly depends on the system- for example, the motion of planets is apparently chaotic, but we can be confident in our predictions for centuries. However, I think (and this is very much think) that in the case of systems we are more able to predict trends, in this case a rise in global temperature.

Certainly the earth has suffered various change in temperature, but the evidence suggests that the current one is caused, at least in part, by human influence.

The globe is not cooling, and as far as I know, the theory that it would cool as a result of warming is a theory from about two decades ago that is now discredited.

2:01 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

If not a Little Ice Age, then certainly a Big one. The fact is that the orbit of the earth changes over time from the more or less circular one now to an elliptical one. I need hardly tell you the effect on our climate when we are furtherest from the sun.

The BBC we site reliably is urging immediate action at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6096084.stm.
Presumably they think disaster is imminent.

3:11 PM

Blogger s tsui said...

I usually agree with your opinions, Mr. Language Guy, but I have to disagree with you on this one, perhaps because I do not grow up in the US and has not been exposed to the "tainted" science advertised by the fossil fuel companies.

The science of global warming, particularly on the effect that human activities have on the atmosphere, are solid. It is not a controversy. What is a controversy, is the extent to which we are poisoning the earth and how soon the world will come to an end. Lobbyists or "scientists" who were bought by the oil companies deliberately spread the idea that there are "debates", "controversies", "uncertainties" surrounding global warming - just like they do with natural selection .

If you'd like to read first hand what scientists say about global warming, here is an excerpt from a report by an arm of the UN, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

In conclusion, anthropogenic CO2 emissions are virtually certain to be the dominant factor determining CO2 concentrations throughout the 21st century. The importance of anthropogenic emissions is underlined by the expectation that the proportion of emissions taken up by both ocean and land will decline at high atmospheric CO2 concentrations (even if absolute uptake by the ocean continues to rise). There is considerable uncertainty in projections of future CO2 concentration, because of uncertainty about the effects of climate change on the processes determining ocean and land uptake of CO2. These uncertainties do not negate the main finding that anthropogenic emissions will be the main control.

Lastly, I suggest a fun exercise for those of you out there who consider yourself a critical readers of news: Trace the background of pundits or lobbyists or "scientists" who publicly declare global warming a controversy, and you'll invariably find an oil company. I did that out of curiosity a while ago and it has always been Exxon Mobil so far. Center for Media and Democracy or Exxon Secrets may help.

5:31 AM

Blogger s tsui said...

I forgot the link for the above excerpt:


5:32 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

First, I haven't paid any attention to what the oil industry says since around 1961 so I am not "tainted" in any way by their rhetoric. I am only "tainted" by taking an objective view of what I have been able to read about Global Warming, Global Cooling, and the causes of both. I think much of the alarm about our contribution to Global Warming -- how much is definitely controversial -- reflects an arrogance about our influence on events that began back in the day when it was thought that the Sun orbited Earth.

We may be hurrying it up a bit but since we don't know what all of the factors are that affect global warming, it is difficult to exert the political will to do anything, partly because opponents of greenhouse gas emissions can always be countered by the argument that global macroweather systems are cyclic. There has been global warming in the past. Last night I watched a bit on public TV noting that after the period of the dinosaurs, there was a very warm period in which quite large mammals emerged. We didn't have anything to do with that since we had not autos or factoriess.

One of the real problems is that those who advocate taking strong measures have little credibility since so many of their dire predictions have turned out to be false, especially in the area of claiming that this or that body of water is polluted beyond saving such as the Thames, Lake Erie, etc. Yet all have come back. However, global warming is not one of the things we can fix after the damage is done even assuming we are causing it.

One problem is that the tree huggers have poisoned the debate over nuclear power. I am for going almost entirely to nuclear power. It is dangerous to be sure, but technology is improved. The nice thing is that it emits no greenhouse gases. But the very forces that piss and moan about greenhouse gas emissions are the ones who have killed off nuclear power. It would definitely be better to risk another localized nuclear accident than to risk a premature ice age.

8:08 AM

Blogger temporalmix91 said...

The link you so highly tout from the University of Michigan is a link to a paper presented by two students for the GS265 class taught in 1998 by a Professor Ben A. van der Pluijm ( http://www.umich.edu/~gs265/ ). Its a Geological Sciences division class titled "How to Build a Habitable Planet".

Why assume that a paper written by students provides good evidence of doubt? We don't even know how they were being graded on the subject matter. Maybe they received an F for poor fact checking? And what's changed, from the scientist point of view, in the last 7 to 8 years?

So to quote you: "As I have noted, responsible sources say that no answer to this question can be proved."

What responsible sources did you note? All I can see you using as a reference is what appears to be two students taking a 200-level geology course.

Your idea of finding credibility here is very poor. Your thinking goes something like this: "I enter a search term into Google and the top paper supports my assumptions on the Global Warming alarmist?"

Do you think Wikipedia is a "responsible source" of information say on topics of say history or politics?

You are obviously looking for items to support your conclusion and are clearly showing your bias with some of your language in describing those who worry about global warming. "Tree huggers". The "very forces that piss and moan".

5:10 PM

Blogger temporalmix91 said...

language guy,

I did a google search on "is the bible true?" and this was the first link that popped up:


According to this there are lots of fulfilled prophecies. And apparently from Job 26:7 we know that the Bible expounds the scientific fact of a gravitational field because it says:

"He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing."

I'm sold. Its sounds a bit off too me but it came back first on google so it must be right. My faith is justified.

As is your science.

5:17 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

temporalmix91, I did not highly tout the paper you say I "highly tout." I was looking for an alarmist site, as I said. I found one.

I didn't occur to me to go back up the URL which is what one must do to find out that this was a course paper. In the future, I will try to remember to do so.

I must have gored your ox. I hope it survived.

5:24 PM

Blogger Ramaswami Ashok Kumar said...

To ease the global warming crisis never think nucular!
See http://nucleargulfstreamconnect.blogspot.com/

1:19 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Thanks to the reference. I must say that when I see a web site like this one, I get immediately suspicious as I am of all advocacy groups/sites/whatever. The positions taken are never balanced. I have checked out the problem of the Windscale/Sellafield release and it is real enough. We are also talking about one of the oldest nuclear plants around. Technology has improved.

There are dangers with most forms of energy but Global Warming, I am increasingly coming to believe, presents the largest potential danger and it is being escalated by the burning of fossil fuels. This is going to be greatly exacerbated as India and China increasingly burn such fuels in transportation. They are already close to where the US is and given their greater populations are likely to contribute even more to Global Warming than the US is eventually. When you can come up with an alternative to both burning fossil fuels and nuclear power, then there will be something to talk about. Until then, not.

9:04 AM

Blogger Ramaswami Ashok Kumar said...

I tried to be clear! You may wish to read the URLs cited in the URL I have cited! Energy audit has clearly revealed that in any nuclear programme of practically fast significance(to reduce fossil use), the programme guzzles so much fossils to have nuclear fuel cycle in place, that it exacerbates the greenhouse warming problem! See my audit table for USA and for India. After thirty years, the nuclear programme gives or has given to society energy much much lower than it has guzzled. So use the fossils with energy efficiency in the first place! The Indian problem is slightly different: We have only two percent nucular! So changing our life styles slightly will work wonders.

7:30 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

The "Catch 22" for many alternative sources of energy is the one you mention -- fossil fuels are expended to obtain the alternative fuels. Bush and others want us to move more to ethanol, which is a big step for him, but farm equipment burns fossil fuel as do the refineries that make ethanol out of corn.

The real problem seems to be emissions from transportation, rather than factories. We have the hybrid autos now but it seems that as the gasoline price drops in the USA, people are less interested in paying the premium required to get a hybrid auto. There is a tax break for cars up to a certain number for each vehicle type or manufacturer (not sure which) so now, I think, an American would need to buy a Ford or other American hybrid. However, getting an extremely high efficiency small auto is more cost effective for many consumers. One gets better gasoline mileage out of some of them than with a hybrid for the kind of driving my wife and I do, which involves highways more than regular city streets which is, as you know, where the hybrid shines.

The most recent auto show (didn't see all of the TV coverage) seems to have featured some hydrogen cell autos. That technology seems to be too futuristic to be helpful in the short term and if the "tipping point" people are right it could come too late to stop a certain level of disasters.

I am hoping that Al Gore's documentary wins an Oscar. That would turn him from being boring Al Gore into the rock star version. He was way ahead of the curve on global warning to the point that people made fun of him. They don't any more. And, he was against the war from the beginning. That was easy to do since he didn't have to cast a vote anywhere but this will work for him too. I would love to write copy for him. Interestingly, though Gore didn't invent the internet, he did invest in Google early and now has gobs of his own money. So the last laugh may be on those who made fun of him for his outlandish claims as to the origin of this instrument you and I are using.

Meanwhile, moveon.org is trying to sabotage McCain's candidacy in its infancy by running commercials already in Iowa and New Hampshire about is favoring an increase in troop strength. I suspect you know they are the first states to speak.

It would be an interesting strategy of the Democrats to try to discredit all of the strong Republican candidates as they emerge. Unfortunately, I have more hope for improvement in how we use energy than I do for India, China, Russia, and other countries. It is hypocritical for an America under Gore which is getting its act together on the environment to tell poorer countries like India and China they must slow development to improve their impact on the environment.

10:00 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

erm... i think i believe you. if global warming canceled out global coooling then wouldnt we have normal tempreture???

11:42 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Global warming results in Global cooling, but not just cooling -- ice ages. The problem is that as ice melts at the poles, the ocean is filled at those places with fresh water which dilutes the salinity of the Oceans this less dense water stays at the surface upsetting the shallow and deep ocean currents that carry cold water south and bring warm water north (maps of this current are fascinating). Without this flow of warmer water north, the UK becomes an ice berg, so to speak. Oversimple but that is what I understand will happen.

8:36 AM


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