Good news on global climate change???

I’ve long been horrified by the apparently bleak prospects for a sustainable Earth. Even without climate change, humanity (and the planet we’re so rapidly despoiling) is hitting up harder against resource constraints as our population continues to rise, our planet’s endowment of natural resources (fish, oil, fresh water, trees, etc.) get used up, and our ability to extract resources to satisfy our our “needs” (i.e., appetite for “stuff”) expands with our technology and economic growth.

We’ve known for decades that global climate change threatens to exacerbate all our resource constraints (and empower the insects and viruses eager to feast on billions of delicious humans… Do we taste like chicken?). Yet, thanks to our species' greed and myopia, humanity’s response to this potentially cataclysmic threat has been pathetically slow.

In recent years, almost every piece of global climate change news has been bad. The crisis appears to be getting worse faster than even the most pessimistic Cassandras feared just a few years ago.

One exception is new thinking and new data calling into question the previous conclusion that global climate change has been increasing hurricane intensity. That research finding is now in doubt.

But today I read a piece (admittedly in The Daily Mail, so perhaps it’s just corporate talking points) that, if true, suggests not all the warming we’ve observed in recent decades is man-made and that the Earth’s natural cycles are beginning to cool the planet and will continue for the next two or three decades:

According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007…

Prof [Mojib] Latif, who leads a research team at the renowned Leibniz Institute at Germany’s Kiel University, has developed new methods for measuring ocean temperatures 3,000ft beneath the surface, where the cooling and warming cycles start.

He and his colleagues predicted the new cooling trend in a paper published in 2008 and warned of it again at an IPCC conference in Geneva last September.

Last night he told The Mail on Sunday: ‘A significant share of the warming we saw from 1980 to 2000 and at earlier periods in the 20th Century was due to these cycles – perhaps as much as 50 per cent.

‘They have now gone into reverse, so winters like this one will become much more likely. Summers will also probably be cooler, and all this may well last two decades or longer.

‘The extreme retreats that we have seen in glaciers and sea ice will come to a halt. For the time being, global warming has paused, and there may well be some cooling.’

Not even the experts pushing this natural weather cycles story say global climate change is untrue. The expert above seems to think it accounts for at least half of the warming we’ve experienced in recent decades.

I’m no climatologist, so I can’t judge this research on its merits, but I hope to heck it’s true.

On the other hand, although this would provide decades of welcome weather, I fear the following recipe for disaster:

  1. Natural global cooling discredits the concept of man-made global warming in the minds of non-scientists
  2. After 25 years of cooling, humanity has pumped incredible quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, has done little to limit population or resource over-exploitation, and is more addicted to fossil fuels than ever before
  3. A natural global warming period kicks in
  4. The combination of natural warming and the long-hidden impacts of man-made warming ratchet up temperatures far faster than humans and the Earth can cope with
  5. Rapid warming plus 25 more years of weakening our planet’s environmental immune system combine to produce billions of deaths and perhaps even a planet uninhabitable by people

Hopefully, this news is true and humanity will use our grace period to better understand our planet’s climate and finally act to moderate our impact on it. Our poor understanding of Earth’s climate means humanity is flying blind as our behavior continues to pump astonishing quantitites of carbon, methane and other gases into the atmosphere. How much more can Mother Earth tolerate? No one seems to know.

Posted by James on Monday, January 11, 2010