Saturday, August 26, 2006

Global cooling?

Would be a lot more devastating than global warming. The indefatigable Al Fin, who has multiple blogs and apparently has overcome the soporific mortal's daily need for sleep, points to a report out of the Russian Academy of Sciences astronomical observatory that predicts global cooling by mid-century:
Global cooling could develop on Earth in 50 years and have serious consequences before it is replaced by a period of warming in the early 22nd century, a Russian Academy of Sciences’ astronomical observatory’s report says, the RIA Novosti news agency reported Friday. Environmentalists and scientists warn not about the dangers of global warming provoked by man’s detrimental effect on the planet’s climate, but global cooling. Though never widely supported, it is a theory postulating an overwhelming cooling of the Earth which could involve glaciation.
The most recent ice age came near the end of the Pleistocene around 11,000 years ago. The last Wurm glaciation was the grand finale in a turbulent period of harsh cold spells that covered most of Europe and Asia in glaciers, pushing homo sapiens along with several other large mammalian species into southern of Europe and back toward the Meditteranean area. It is possible, however, that our current interglacial period could come to an end, or that we might enter a relatively short period of cooling, as the Russian Academy predicts.

There's a lot of smoke being blown up around climatic change, and I'm certainly not erudite enough to cut through it. Interglacial periods historically have lasted longer than 10,000 years. Nonetheless, global cooling appears exponentially more threatening to humanity than global warming does.

I see plenty of potential upsides to warming. One-fourth of the world's oil reserves are believed to be in the Arctic, and the melting of the Arctic ice sheets will make them (and largescale commercial fishing) more accessible. Northern Canada and the enormous land expanse east of the Ural mountains in Russia that is home to somewhere around 8 million people (an area roughly twice the size of the continental US, if memory serves) is brimming with stuff like timber, oil, natural gas, ore, and other natural resources. Further, much of it isn't far above sea level, so it's potentially inhabitable. The moderation of extreme climates in areas like the upper midwest would plausibly lead to more family formation in these areas, and, coupled with the corresponding harshening of conditions in places nearer the equator, might have a globalized eugenic effect. Some places would become less suitable for agriculture while others would become more so (with temperate areas benefitting and tropical areas suffering), but the time between sowing and harvesting would decrease worldwide, and increased carbon dioxide would stimulate faster crop growth. Moreover, moderate winters lead to more economic activity.

Cooling, on the other hand, would be certifiably disastrous, especially for the developed world (as more advanced societies tend to be further from the equator, in cooler regions). Imagine the chaos if the upper half of the US was covered in a perennial snow sheet. What of Scandanavia, Britain, Japan? Natural gas prices would skyrocket. Good for Russia (frozen though its inhabitants might be), not so good for Ukraine, or Europe for that matter. Food production would suffer. Natural resources would become harder to come by in temperate regions. Where's the upside? Lower sea levels perhaps would open up more land for settlement in coastal regions.
The head of the observatory's space research sector feels that the Kyoto protocols, will be especially damaging to northern countries:
Khabibullo Abdusamatov said he and his colleagues had concluded that a period of global cooling similar to one seen in the late 17th century — when canals froze in the Netherlands and people had to leave their dwellings in Greenland — could start in 2012-2015 and reach its peak in 2055-2060. He said he believed the future climate change would have very serious consequences and that authorities should start preparing for them today because “climate cooling is connected with changing temperatures, especially for northern countries.”

“The Kyoto initiatives to save the planet from the greenhouse effect should be put off until better times,” he said, referring to an international treaty on climate change targeting greenhouse gas emissions.
I don't profess to know enough to speculate one way or another on what will happen with regard to global climatic shifts in the future, but the putatively 'consensus' view that anthropogenic global warming is occuring and that humanity must do whatever it takes to stop it from occuring is anything but.

(Future)

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