By Randy Evans –
SUBSCRIBER CONTENT: From the Atlanta Business Chronicle, November 20, 2015
From November 30, 2015 through December 11, 2015, the world will gather in Paris, France for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. How the Paris terrorist attacks affect all of this remains to be seen.
President Barack Obama has made climate change one of his highest priorities and, with many other world leaders, will attend the conference and make a big push for action. When listening to the climate change debates certain to emerge, consider the actualities of climate change, i.e., what is real and what is not. Here are some common mistakes made by those on both sides of the climate change debate.
Mistake #1: Climate Change Does Not Exist. The fact is that the climate has continuously changed over the history of planet Earth. The planet was at one time Snowball Earth with ice sheets everywhere and an average temperature of 40 degrees below zero. Indeed, entire civilizations over the entire planet have ebbed and flowed in response to the changes in climate. Although it is hard to believe now, Greenland was actually once green.
Mistake #2: Climate Change Is Not Happening Now. The climate is always changing – even now. It changes by the hour, day, week, year, decade, century, and millennium. Ice ages have frozen the planet and cooling periods have chilled it.
The last cooling period is called the Little Ice Age. NASA says this period extended from roughly 1550 AD until about 1850 AD – ending roughly 160 years ago. Leading up to and during the Little Ice Age, glaciers grew, rains came (with the Great Famine), and summers stopped being predictable.
In fact, some scientists believe that there have been as many as five ice ages. Interestingly, according to scientists, the Earth is still in the most recent ice age that began around 2.5 million years ago (evidenced apparently by the fact that the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets still exist).
On the other hand, there have been warming periods like the Medieval Warm Period which lasted from about 950 until 1250. There have been others. Of course, it is no secret that most scientists believe the planet is currently in a warming period.
Yet, while the temperature changes, the Earth itself is cooling as the radioactivity that produces its heat declines and its molten mass core cools. Fortunately, if scientists are correct, this cooling process will take millions of years.
Although this cooling will take place after today’s inhabitants are long gone, when placed within the context of planet’s entire history, the next ice age does not appear to be so far away. Some estimate that the next ice age could occur within 80,000 years, although its onset could actually be delayed by the current global warming cycle which is generating so much activity.
Mistake #3: Man can control the climate. Many factors contribute to climate change, one of the most notable being the movement of the continents. North America, for example, moves away from Europe about as fast as a person’s fingernail grows – about an inch per year. A generation is 25-30 years, but never 72 except in the Bible when people lived much longer. – Moira. Other causes range from volcanic activity to the Earth’s orbit to meteorites hitting the planet to the simple aging of the planet.
No one suggests (credibly) that man can actually control any of these mega-factors, but this has not dampened the enthusiasm to try.
For a period, many scientists focused on the risk of global cooling and looked for ways to stop or slow it. More recently, as evidenced by the upcoming United Nations Conference, the shift has been to focus on global warming with strategies for controlling the emission of various greenhouse gases. Interestingly, according to many reports, cows are some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases – hence, the push for a vegetarian diet as part of a global climate change effort.
Mistake #4: Man should try to control the climate. Putting aside the question of whether man could actually control the climate, everyone should worry if man does try to control the climate. Here, the rule of unintended consequences has serious implications.
Just when scientists figure out one thing, they inevitably discover new phenomena that they never understood. Questions of advancing or postponing the next ice age in the context of drifting continents are definitely a few levels above any mortal’s pay grade. And, the risks of getting it wrong – well, they are bone-chilling.
Throughout history, climate change has really always been about adaptation. Indian civilizations moved and adapted to their changing climate on the Asian continent by building new cities. In Greenland, some folks stayed; others left.
The bottom line is that the climate will change and no one can stop that. Certainly, most folks prefer things to stay exactly the way they are. Yet, the reality is that no credible scientist suggests that the climate can be controlled. After all, just predicting the weather accurately is hard enough.
Mistake #5: Man should just give up. There are many good reasons other than climate change for taking good care of the environment. Man has a moral obligation to be a good steward of the planet. This means we should work hard to conserve natural resources and prevent pollution.
It is actually not that complicated – like most things. Our duty to unborn generations is simply to try to leave the earth in better shape than we found it.
Randy Evans is an attorney and columnist.