blogging about ice ages
Today we have blogging about ice ages, which is not because I went and saw the movie last night (it was cute!) but because I was just reading an article about global warming and that always kind of gets my panties in a bunch.
The thing is that we only have a couple hundred years of records at best, and while I expect that it’s wholly possible that humans are contributing to some degree to global warming, the thing that nobody ever mentions is that the earth is STILL IN AN ICE AGE. Okay, let me modify that statement a little: we are in the tail end of an ice age; this is by no means one of the warm periods of Earth’s history. We’re warming up, yes, but this is not a warm period.
Now, a question of great debate to scientists is, are we in fact at the end of an ice age, or are we in an inter-glacial period, meaning that any moment, glaciers are going to come thundering back down on us like they did twenty thousand years ago? Well, who the hell knows? We don’t have the ability to predict that. No doubt many people would point to the greenhouse effect we’re currently seeing, and the rising temperatures, and say, “By George, it’s all over! No more ice!” And perhaps they’d be right.
There’s certainly geologic evidence for the greenhouse effect having happened in the past, and I don’t dispute that humanity’s (relatively) newfound ability to dump massive amounts of crap into the air is probably a factor in the greenhouse effect we’re seeing today. But nobody (when I say nobody, I mean the media) ever seems to bear in mind that we’ve only got a couple hundred years of weather records at best. Nobody (that’s a more inclusive nobody) has any idea at all what the ozone layer’s typical status is, for heaven’s sake. It’s four billion years old (ok, I don’t actually know when Earth developed an atmosphere). Humans are (if you reaaaaallllly stretch the definition of human) three million years old. Homo sapiens are a three or four hundred thousand years old. And we’ve been looking at the atmosphere in a scientific and recordable fashion for what, five decades?
This article is rather more scientifically backed up than my frothings, not that I know anything about the author. The whole topic is just a pet peeve of mine, mostly because of the way it’s presented in the media, I guess. I’m not saying we shouldn’t replace aerosol cans and styrofoam with something better, if it’s available. Using fossil fuels that dirty up the atmosphere is not a good idea because if nothing else, we have to BREATHE that air. But at the same time, some perspective, people, perspective!
It’s not strictly true that we have climate data for only a couple of hundred years: geological and geochemical sampling can tell us the average temperature and atmospheric composition at various points on the Earth for thousands to hundreds of thousands of years in the past. The resolution isn’t fine, but then for this sort of thing you want to average anyway; that today in LA is “way too hot” doesn’t actually tell you anything useful on a global scale.
So when people who have a clue (by which I mean “not the media”) say that the climate or the atmosphere has unprecedented levels of X, they do actually have some perspective.
This comment probably counts as “evangelism” and will be deleted.
Perspective is always good. Perspective, however, also includes quotes from the anti-global warming folks about how they have to minimize the potential dangers of climate change to avoid changing how they do business. Cynical perspective also takes note of the fact that *both* sides focus the debate on the causes of climate change, rather than on how the world economy and ecology will cope with, say, the Southwestern desert expanding into the agricultural areas of California.