The Coming Ice Age?

I stumbled upon a new website this morning. The site, iceagenow, tries to argue that, rather then global warming being the threat, it is an upcoming ice age that threatens mankind and the world.

Now, there is some of the "over the top", rather childish and unthoughtful trumpeting of when mother nature throws a cold snap at us at this site. More on this later. However it does contain some rather thoughtful pieces that I consider to be of value.

As an example of this, I will point to (this piece) which appears on the site, which was written by Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist magazine. Nigel starts off his piece by addressing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued Summary for Policymakers that declared that most of the rise in temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to man-made greenhouse gases. Nigel makes a valid point when he states:

The small print explains "very likely" as meaning that the experts who made the judgment felt 90% sure about it. ... a 10% uncertainty in any theory is a wide open breach for any latter day Galileo or Einstein to storm through with a better idea. That is how science really works.
Now it is my understanding that one of the points being made at this site is that scientific evidence would seem to point towards the history of our planet's climate being long periods of ice ages along with rather short periods of temperate climate. I think most "experts" agree on this being true, at least during the rather recent time period of the last few hundred thousand years for which we can actually accumulate evidence. Which then is apt to be more likely? That we are headed towards a period of climatic upheaval where mankind is destroyed by a heat wave caused by human activity or that what we are witnessing is something quite different driven by more natural forces?

If you sample what is presented, you do have to wade through through some rather poorly written pieces such as (this one) written by Phil Brennan. Phil makes a rather poor argument that it is volcanic activity at the bottom of the oceans that is responsible for the noted rise of temperatures of the oceans. However just because the way the idea is presented is rather poor does not mean the idea behind the presentation is not without merit. What is my criticism of this article? Let me quote one aspect of it:
The befuddled Gore keeps blathering about how the oceans are being heated by global warming, instead of the warming being created by the oceans, as the facts clearly show.
Did you catch the last few words? "...as the facts clearly show." What facts? I think Phil is a little bit confused. There is at least a little bit of mileage that needs to be covered before an "observation" can lead us to the "facts".

First off, I will present how Phil starts off with the childish chortling about the recent cold snap and heavy snowfall North America has experienced. He forgets to mention how just prior to this cold snap, the continent was experiencing a mild winter. He forgets to explain how the "record snow falls" in the "lake effect" snowbelt in upstate New York can actually be partially explained by the previously abnormally warm period we had. Lake Ontario did not experience the gradual cooling brought about during a "normal" winter so that when the Arctic cold fronts finally did move in, they swept across the warm lake, picked up the moisture laden air above the warm lake, and dumped it as snow in the snow belt. Who in their right mind is going to think there are not going to be blizzards and some periods of extreme cold in the United States if what the proponents of global warming are claiming is happening turns out to be true? We're talking about a gradual warming over decades of only a few degrees. The probable result is not going to be an uninterrupted trend ever upwards. It probably would look something more like a jagged graph of trends of the stock market with some years warmer and some years colder. It is not going to result in Oswego, NY replacing Miami Beach, FL as a haven for snow birds overnight.

Another criticism I have is how Phil has reached the conclusion that newly discovered volcanic activity along the ocean floor means that these new discoveries point towards something unusual happening down in the depths. He has evidently jumped to the conclusion that the reason these volcanoes were not previously discovered is because they are something new. There is no evidence of this. His conclusion might be correct, or it might be that mankind is becoming more knowledgeable about what goes on down in the depths as technology enables further exploration and understanding of what goes on down there. I have read of where one oceanographer claimed we know less about what goes on in our ocean's depths then we know about what goes on in space.

One question I have is whether there is evidence of more volcanic activity on the dry surfaces of the planet as well? If increased volcanic activity is responsible for the warming trend, then one would think there would be evidence on the surface of the planet as well as the depths of the oceans. We have a better understanding of the history of our planet's surface then we do of the history of the ocean's depths, so does this "volcanic activity" theory match what we know of the history of volcanic activity activity on dry land?

However I am rather intrigued by one aspect of the observations. Thus far, the discovered activity has been towards the center areas or Arctic areas of our planet. Arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate while the Antarctic does not seem to be experiencing the same degree of warming. Is it possible that observations of volcanic activity along the tectonic plates might help to explain why this is happening? Why the Arctic seems to be experiencing a higher degree of warming then is the Antarctic?

Just because proponents of a theory are rather childish in how they present their theory, does that mean the underlying theory is unworthy of consideration? I for one am still willing to give consideration to the argument, although I too will profess that is difficult to not be dismissive of what is presented due to the manner by which it is presented.

I still am unwilling to abandon my desire to attempt to lessen greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat global warming. If "the ice age cometh" and it is due to volcanic activity, or if the global warming we are experiencing is due to increased solar output and not human activity, there is not much we can do about it. However if it IS due to human activity, then we CAN do something about it.

What the heck. Most aspects of combating greenhouse gasses also will lessen our dependence on fossil fuels for our energy needs. Even if global warming is due to something other then human activity, we still need to get over our addiction to oil because we seem to be approaching (or have already reached) "peak oil". We're going to have to do something about that anyway, so if part of the reason we are motivated to do something about it turns out to be wrong, the results we obtain are still going to be a good thing.

By the way, while the above site and people like Phil will point out the "typical" climate experience of our planet has been long periods of ice age followed by brief periods of temperate weather, sometimes the "untypical" occurs. Scientists have discovered evidence that at least at one point in our planets history, Arctic regions were experiencing weather that might be described as being downright balmy. Perhaps the explanation for this is not yet (and may never be) known, but what is known is that it did happen. I have not yet seen any proof that we are not headed towards another such "exceptional" occurrence.


Blogger Michael said...

The evidence that global warming is occuring is not a hypothesis but a measurable fact. No mainstream scientist disputes this any more.

The question of WHY it is occuring has for many years been subject to debate. The CO2 hypothesis had the most evidence but there were some strong dissenters (and when I say strong, I mean scientists with credible alternative hypotheses rather than the "loud").

In the past decade, especially the last five years, there is increasingly consensus that CO2 is in fact related to the warming AND that the current rise in atmospheric CO2 and temperature is directly related to human activities since the industrial revolution.

It is not an exaggeration that many scientists consider this to be the most serious threat facing human society in the near future. Even temperature rises on the conservative end would result in significant climatic changes in the food growing areas of the world. Small rises in sea levels (a few metres) would innundate vast parts of present day inhabited land (we humans like to live near the coast).


2/22/2007 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...


I do not find anything really disagreeable with anything you said. I will accentuate your own point that even dissenting voices should still be listened to, they might actually turn out to be correct.

2/27/2007 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Dissenting voices need only be listened to if they supply credible evidence for their point of view. There are not always "two sides" to every story. There is often just one side and a lunatic fringe (e.g., the historical factuality of the Holocaust and the deniers).


2/28/2007 03:44:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

I again largely agree with you. However on the topic of global warming, even the IPCC is only 90% certain about the causes of it.

Even within the "CO2 causes global warming" crowd there are large numbers of experts who think increased solar emmissions at least contribute to the warming.

One thing I would point to that there is evidence that increased solar emmissions might be somewhat to blame is that the polar ice caps on Mars are melting at the same time as our own ice caps are melting. Now this does not immediately prove the point, it only proves the point is worthy of consideration.

2/28/2007 06:54:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

If I told you that you had a 90% chance of dying in the next year unless you did a number of achievable tasks (e.g., quit smoking), you would be foolish not to do it.

Ditto with the planet. Unless something changes in a science fiction kind of way, we only have one Earth. The best scientific evidence tells us that unless we drastically reduce CO2 emissions, we have a 90% chance of being somewhere being mildly screwed (conservative estimates) to really badly screwed (severe estimates) on a planetary level.

Logic seems to suggest an obvious course of action.


3/03/2007 04:54:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

My own good Doctor has told me to quit smoking but I continue to smoke because I enjoy it. There are other reasons for why I still smoke, such as my watching my Daddy expire from Alzheimers. I think it would be preferable to quickly die of lung cancer or heart disease then to experience what my Daddy did with Alzheimers. Call this foolish if you wish, I think it is wisdom. Alzheimers is genetic and I have inheritted many of my Daddy's traits.

As for the 90% claim, I am willing to bow to the assembled body of experts that think there is hope for humanity if humanity decreases greenhouse gas emmissions. However, I am still left wondering just how wise these assembled experts are. For example, the polar caps on Mars are melting as well. This is not happening due to human activity!

However, if global warming is due to increased solar output and not due to greenhouse gas emmissions (some "experts" agree increased solar output is at least partially to blame) and only due to solar output, then there is no hope and we can only pray to God. My own viewpoint is that God is not going to be very receptive to our prayers until we have attempted everything within OUR power to prevent the catastrophy. If we have exhausted all the steps we can ourselves attempt, including those steps calling for sacrifice, then God might be receptive to our pleas for mercy.

3/15/2007 11:07:00 PM  

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