On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the coldest and 10 being the warmest, where is our global climate today? The following essay attempts to (a) answer this question and (b) address the implications of the answer.
The Hue and Cry Today
Much hue and cry exists nowadays — and some of it borders on hysteria — regarding man-made global warming. Warnings throughout the media and political discourse seem to suggest we are on the verge of a self-created climatic apocalypse. As a result many people have come to accept as an article of faith that the carbon emissions which are the by-product of the energy that drives our civilization, will before long consign that very civilization, and the rest of the globe along with it, into self-created oblivion.
But before we over-react and legislate and regulate ourselves into another great global economic depression, perhaps it would be best to step back and assess global climate from an appropriately broad perspective. Most of the heated dialogue about global warming seems to focus on extremely narrow time frames such as the past year, past decade, past century or even the past 1,000 or 2,000 years. These narrow time frames are too short, they are like trying to understand the configuration of the entire forest by studying only the leaves and roots. They are too short to isolate and measure man’s contribution (if any) to climate change from naturally occurring climate changes, of which there have been many far more extreme than we can barely conceive, let alone cause. In terms of the geologic processes that ultimately drive earth’s climate, such timeframes are less than an eye-blink.
In order to buttress their credibility, these short timeframe studies are coupled by global warming enthusiasts with sophisticated computer model projections. It’s primarily these projections that lend the greatest apocalyptic fervor to the man-made global warming belief system. These computer model projections of future climate are impressive in their mathematical detail but ultimately are quite inadequate as proof, since they are wholly dependent on the assumptions fed into them. One can obtain pretty much whatever answer one wants by “fiddling with the knobs,” as skeptics have noted. Furthermore the equally impressive analogues to these computer models in the financial world are well known for repeated massive failure (LTCM and the current sub-prime mortgage crises being two excellent examples).
Asking the Right Questions
Computer models and projections are one thing, but what do we actually know of global climate long before man? And more important, where do we stand now in comparison? Are we hotter than average, or cooler than average? Do in fact we need to get a lot warmer to catch up to the norm? And most important, since climatic apocalypse is the threat that global warming enthusiasts assert is hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, how does our current global temperature compare with the climatic extremes of apocalyptic proportion that the earth has actually experienced in the past?
So, Where to Start?
The earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Should we start our comparison that far back? Probably not, since for much of this period life was primitive (albeit plentiful, with bacteria, blue-green algae Stromatolites in abundance, etc). Also, long ago the inner solar system was a lot more crowded than now, and sometimes there were truly extreme conditions caused by much more asteroid bombardment than exists today. This would distort the comparison with today’s climate since at times in Earth’s distant past it was literally all on fire, with surface temperatures temporarily approaching that of the sun after particularly large strikes.
So, where to start? Perhaps the most meaningful period for comparison with today begins with the last several hundred million years, when life on earth exploded during the Cambrian about 500 million years ago, and especially as it emerged from the oceans and came to engulf the land roughly 100 to 150 million years later. The resulting period to compare with today’s climate is less than 10% of earth’s history, and well less than one third of the time that life has existed here. But it does capture most of the time that life on earth has abounded on its lands and waters, and as such is an appropriate perspective to start from since ultimately the concern here is the presumably adverse impact of man-made global warming on our planet’s ability to continue to sustain life, human and otherwise.
Where Are We Now?
We are now at around “2.” Roughly were the “t” is in coldest on the above scale.
What?!?! This is certainly not what’s implied by the “Inconvenient Truth.” Yet, that’s actually where we are today, more-or-less, since the time life began to really explode over the earth.
Where’s the evidence for this Heresy?
All around, as a matter of fact. Here are a few of the more conspicuous examples:
1. All the hydro-carbons are fossil fuels which means they came from living things. Lots and lots of them. Oil is pumped in the North Sea, Canada and Russia have abundant oil and coal deposits at latitudes near or above the arctic circle. Abundant oil has been discovered in northern Alaskan waters. Coal has been found in Antarctica (even as they were literally dying on their feet the Scott party continued to haul the heavy coal deposits they discovered, realizing their extraordinary scientific significance). Huge amounts of plant and animal life were required to leave these massive volumes of fossils (the fossil fuels are basically that, fossils from prior life). We don’t get a lot of thick swamps, forests and other life like this in the polar regions nowadays — it was much, much warmer on the planet for these latitudes to support such abundant life, than it is nowadays when life barely exists on the land in these regions. Most of these fossil fuel deposits took place in the Carboniferous ages, perhaps 350 million years ago.
2. While the movement of the tectonic plates may account for some of this abundant evidence for massive vegetation and other life in high latitudes much too cold today to support such lushness, there is little question among scientists that the Carboniferous ages had to have been extremely warm, indeed jungle-like and swampy all over the earth’s land masses, to produce such exceptionally heavy carbon deposits. Indeed the very name of these ages (“carboniferous”) attests to this.
3. Abundant dinosaur fossils have been found in Northern Canada and even Antarctica. Indeed, the fossil evidence suggests that the polar latitudes continued to be much warmer than today, with thick temperate forests and an abundance of different species thriving. Fossil evidence of large herds of Hadrosaurs, Ceratopsians and other dinosaurs has been found in the far north of Canada. Stephen Gatesby of Brown University has found Therapod dinosaur footprints in Greenland, in what was a muddy swamp 200 million years ago. And even though we can readily access only a tiny fraction of its surface, significant dinosaur and other fossils have been found even in Antarctica! In the Antarctic fossils in particular, Hypsolophodant and other species have conspicuously large eyes, suggestive of a widespread adaptation to see at night, which in turn suggests these creatures had to cope with prolonged periods of darkness. Indeed, there’s even fossil evidence that one group of these Hypsolophodont dinosaurs — the Leaellynasaura — actually hibernated! In other words, the Antarctic plate was clearly far, far south at this time, as the land experienced prolonged months of cold and darkness as now. But, it was obviously much, much warmer back then than it is now. The dinosaur fossils found in Antarctica generally date from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, perhaps 150 million to 70 million years ago. Today, virtually all of Antarctica is shrouded in a mile of ice and is not much more conducive to life than Mars.
4. There are few paleontologists or climatologists who question that the earth during the Carboniferous ages, the Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaur ages and most of the age of mammals (beginning shortly thereafter around 60 million years ago) was much warmer than it is today. Indeed, according to scientists such as Larry Martin (Curator, Natural History Museum, University of Kansas) and Kenneth Lacovaria (Professor, Department of Biosciences and Biotech at Drexel University) that very warmth is why there was so much oil and coal laid down in the Carboniferous ages, why the dinosaurs were able to grow so huge and probably why the early mammals such as the Indricotheres, Titanotheres, and others grew almost as huge.
5. If you Google “global temperature and atmospheric CO2 over geologic time”
you will immediately see graphic depiction that we are now effectively at the coldest point in global temperature and the lowest level of atmospheric CO2 in the last 250 million years. Indeed, during most of the past 250 million years average global CO2 PPM (Parts Per Million) ranged from a high of around 2,800 to a low of over 1,000 with an average of almost 2,000. CO2 PPM dropped from around 1,000 to below 300 during the ice ages of the past 2 million years. Today it’s a bit below 400, somewhat more than during the ice ages but way, way less than the norm for most of the past several hundred million years. Likewise, average global temperature ranged from a low of 17 degrees Celsius to a high of around 27 degrees Celsius for most of the past 250 million years, with an average of well over 20 degrees. Starting around 40 million years ago global temperature began dropping from 22 degrees Celsius to below 17, then dropped further until the ice ages that began 2 million years ago, where it averaged around 12 degrees Celsius. Today average global temperature is somewhat higher than during the ice ages, naturally, but it’s still way, way below it’s average for the past 250 million years, just as with today’s CO2, perhaps by as much as 10 degrees Celsius.
When and Why did it start getting colder?
The earth began to cool off about 40 million years ago. Two things happened to cool the earth down.
First, the Antarctic continent had been gradually moving to its current spot actually at the pole, and as such had gradually begun to get colder and colder. A bit later, perhaps around 25 million years or so ago, perhaps the most significant Antarctic event climate-wise occurred when it broke away from South America to occupy its current configuration. As such, it really began to act as a global refrigeration unit, because (a) the Antarctic land mass could get much colder at the pole than near the pole, and (b) the Antarctic ocean could now circulate freely around the southern hemisphere, sending currents of cold water north along the South American and African continents. Nowadays Antarctica radiates cold throughout the southern hemisphere, and therefore indirectly throughout the rest of the world. It’s because of one of these currents (the Humboldt current up the western coast of South America) that the waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands, which are pretty much at the equator, are very cold. The cold currents which travel up the coastline of southern Africa are similar, as are others. These currents emanating from the Antarctic confluence are like frigid fingers reaching northward to cool the world.
Second, and probably much more important, the great Himalaya Mountains began to rise about 40 million years ago. This basically thrust megatons of naked rock far up into the atmosphere, where it could interact freely with wind and water. When rain falls on raw rock, it combines with carbon dioxide to form a weak acid. This is called chemical erosion, and it functions like a giant suction pump sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And when there’s less carbon dioxide, there’s more cold.
The Strontium Ratio
The hard evidence of this effect from the Himalaya can be found in the Strontium Ratio. Strontium isotope 86 designates in the geologic record the carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere from geologic processes (volcanoes, especially sea-floor spreading in the Atlantic, etc). Strontium isotope 87 designates in the geologic record carbon dioxide being sucked out of the atmosphere from chemical erosion. The ratio of strontium isotope 86 to strontium isotope 87 measures the relative amount of carbon dioxide pumping into the air versus the amount being sucked out.
It indicates, in other word, over a broad time-frame whether we are getting more, or less, net carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared with the past.
A graph of the Strontium Ratio over time moves along horizontally with no major net change, until roughly 40 million years ago, at which point it shoots up like a rocket. It has kept going up ever since. It shows that starting around 40 million years ago the atmosphere began to lose net carbon dioxide in a big way. In the words of Boston University’s renowned climatologist Maureen Raymo, it’s “the smoking gun” evidence as to why the earth began to get colder around 40 million years ago.
And, the Strontium Ratio suggests that looking forward over time the earth is much more likely to get a lot colder than warmer, since the Himalaya are still rising as the Indian plate continues its collision with the Asian plate, thrusting it ever higher and increasing the rate of chemical erosion and the resultant further depletion of our warming blanket of CO2.
Recent Ice Ages
So, compared with the global temperature for most of terrestrial life’s history on earth, it’s a lot colder now than for most of this time. We don’t get much abundant terrestrial life at extremely high latitudes nowadays — it’s way, way too cold. But for most of the history of extensive life on earth, these polar areas, as well as the rest of the earth, were much warmer and supported abundant biomass, far more than today. It was not until the Himalaya rose, coupled with the Antarctic continent occupying its current global position, that the earth began to cool starting around 40 million years ago.
And, it’s been cooling more and more. Within this 40 million year period, it’s primarily been in the past few million years that we’ve seen the polar ice sheets move south, all the way to southern Indiana in North America. There have been multiple times during the last several million years that such ice age conditions have occurred, with periods of massive freezing and worldwide glacial advance punctuated with relatively brief, rapid warming periods lasting roughly 20,000 years or so. We are now about 20,000 years since our current warming period began.
Specifically, we have had about 20 ice ages in the past two million or so years, and from this perspective we are clearly only in between the last ice age and the next.
Giant Glacier Droppings
In fact, the author has personally seen and driven about on the bizarre terminal moraines these glaciers left when they melted, in southern Indiana. They look from an aerial topographer’s perspective like humungous dung droppings from an herbivore whose shoulders would scrape the clouds, the size of an elephant times 10N, huge mounds on an otherwise flat plain.
Human civilization arose during this last interlude in a series of ice ages, and based on the length of past intervals of warming we are probably nearing the end of the one we have been enjoying. In fact, our current warming interval has itself been punctuated by at least two unusual global cooling events, the “mini ice age” of late medieval times and the colder “Younger Dryas” about 10,000 years ago (some scientists ascribe the extinction of the mammoths, mastodons, saber-tooth tigers, etc to the onset of the Younger Dryas).
Indeed, it’s because of the ice-age conditions that have generally prevailed over the past few million years — punctuated with relatively brief warming spells like the one we are enjoying now — that we are “2” on the global temperature scale and not a “1.” Interestingly, the more recent advances of the ice sheets may have also been the ones where they reached furthest south — not a good sign for the relative severity of the next advance.
Snow Ball Earth
But, cold as the recent ice ages have been, and cold as we may be now compared with earth’s climate since terrestrial life engulfed the land around 350 million years ago, before the Cambrian explosion there were two periods where it appears the globe was completely encased in ice, 1,000 feet thick at the equator!!! This occurred once roughly two billion years ago, and again roughly 650 million years ago. (The Snow Ball earth conditions have been ascertained by geologists such as Joseph Kirschvink at Cal Tech and Paul Hoffman at Harvard, based on [a] geologic evidence of heavy glaciation actually at the equator at this time, with [b] this latitudinal location verified by the magnetic field orientation of crystals embedded in that same geologic material when it formed at that time). For millions and millions of years, these Snow Ball events encased the earth in life-extinguishing cold and ice, the whole world was like the heart of Antarctica today. (And, never forget, Antarctica was once warm enough to support abundant dinosaur and other life).
We do not know what caused these Snow Ball conditions, but one of the stronger theories involves the same chemical erosion as the Himalaya have caused, and are still causing. Scientists theorize that if enough CO2 was leached out of the atmosphere, it could have triggered the gradual encasing of the entire earth in ice. Given the cooling off of the globe that began 40 million years ago, and the near-vertical slope of the Strontium Ratio since then, this could suggest that long term we have far more to fear from more global cooling than global warming. After all, the earth would have to get much hotter than it is today to even reach the average temperature it has enjoyed since life exploded. Moreover, life was generally more lush and abundant when it was warmer. In dire contrast life was nearly extinguished during the last Ice Ball 650 million years ago, and we are only in between less severe ice ages now.
End of the Snow Ball
But once the Snow Ball conditions occurred, how did the earth warm up? The global Ice Ball would have reflected sunlight (and hence the sun’s heat) like a mirror. The earth should have stayed an Ice Ball permanently, once it froze completely over in the first place, because of this reflective effect. What happened to warm things up?
Answer: volcanic and other geologic activity would have continued to occur, unaffected by the frozen surface. Like always, the furnace deep in the bowels of the earth would be pumping out continuous mega-tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But, the oceans were frozen so none of this was dissipated as normal, via dissolving into the oceans. And of course there was no chemical erosion sucking out the carbon dioxide, since the land was covered in ice too. So, per Joseph Kirschvink the CO2 would build and build until after millions of years its insulating effect grew enough to overcome the refraction of light and heat by the Ice Ball. Harvard Professors Paul Hoffman and Daniel Schrag verified this last piece of the “Snow Ball Earth” theory, by identifying the significant geological evidence of Calcium Carbonate which immediately followed the melting of the global ice ball, which is exactly what would be expected as the result of such a massive CO2 build-up followed by rapid warming and melting.
How much more carbon dioxide would be required? About 300 times today’s levels, according to scientists. From the standpoint of man-made global warming, we could not hope to come close to pumping out this much CO2 even if we wanted to. After all, the mount St. Helen’s eruption is estimated by some scientists to have pumped more carbon dioxide and other green house gasses into the atmosphere than mankind may have generated in our entire history*, and this eruption was minor in comparison with really large volcanoes, which in turn pump out only a fraction of the total CO2 and other green house gases produced by the earth’s internal furnace. (The majority of these emissions into the atmosphere comes from sea-floor spreading along the great Atlantic Rift, a continuously — albeit slowly — spreading fracture between the plates running the length of the floor of the Atlantic ocean).
*Please see the upcoming “Disclaimer” and “Disclaimer Commentary and Analysis” paragraphs before succumbing to Green Shrieking palpitations.
I repeat, 300 times today’s levels. Yet, the early Cambrian oceans and newly-freed naked land managed to absorb and dissolve this massive level of greenhouse gas with no problem, and indeed life on earth exploded at this time as never before or since (the diversity of life during the Cambrian exceeded anything before or since from the standpoint of sheer numbers and variety of wild phyla, as evidenced by the magnificent Burgess Shale fossils and as Stephen Jay Gould has written of extensively).
Many Hot Greens have opined vociferously that our activities are different in that they are heating things up a lot faster than the manifest naturally occurring wild climate swings described herein. However, the author hastens to point out that there have been many most rapid changes recently, geology-time-wise. The evidence of the geologic record – pollen distribution, ice core evidence, the sheer abruptness and utterly non-gradual configuration of the massive terminal moraines themselves, copious evidence of massive flooding from ice-age glaciers rapidly melting behind (i.e. north of) an ice dam, etc – argues for extremely rapid warming at the onset of the interglacial cycles (there have been around 20 in the past couple million years). In the words of scientists G. Russell Coope and A. S. Wilkins in their article entitled “The response of Insect Fauna to Glacial-Interglacial Climatic Fluctuations” published by The Royal Society in “Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences” in 1994: “During the past two million years there have been numerous and intense climatic oscillations that were widespread and as severe as any recorded in the earliest phases of our geologic history.”
In other words, there’s substantial geologic evidence of many wild fluctuations in global temperature taking place over the past two million years, with this fluctuation occurring within mere decades or maybe even less. For example, one of the reasons many scientists think the Younger Dryas caused the extinction of the mammalian mega-fauna like saber-tooth tigers, mammoths, mastodons, etc is because the deep cold of that climatic event descended so swiftly.
When the glaciers melted at the end of most of the 20 or more Ice Ages of the past 2 million years, there’s abundant geologic evidence that they did so very quickly and caused massive flooding. The glaciers produced such flooding because they melted quickly due to very rapid global temperature increase, which man had nothing whatsoever to do with. (Indeed, the most recent instance of this could well be the source of the ubiquitous Noah-type myths and legends that appear throughout so many of the world’s civilizations).
No such evidence of comparable global temperature fluctuation caused by man exists, since any increase we’ve actually seen — if any — is most modest in comparison with the multiplicity of severe fluctuations that have occurred naturally during the past two million years. The wild “Climate Change” fluctuations that occurred 20 times or more in the past two million years with no contribution from man at all, make any climate change man may (or man not) have caused seem laughably inconsequential. This geological precedent, coupled with the fact that it now appears that the hottest years within the last 100 were actually in the 1930s, suggests our panic over self-created climatic apocalypse may be just a bit hubristic and off the mark by, say, 180 degrees.
Polar Bears and Arctic Ice
Per Al Gore, the arctic is melting away and the polar bears are drowning as a result. Although it is likely that parts of the arctic may be experiencing some unusual melting, it’s also apparently the case that ice in the waters surrounding Antarctica, and the huge Antarctic ice sheet itself, may well be increasing to an equal or greater extent. Likewise, while some polar bears may experience difficulties from melting, there actually appears to be an overall polar bear population increase occurring when the entire northern realm is considered. Global conditions are never static anywhere, and to use isolated examples of this innate flux is simplistic sophistry, as well as intellectually dishonest.
And, in a most interesting example of Life’s adapting to this innate flux, the polar bears –which evolved quite recently from grizzly bears — now appear to be interbreeding with them, perhaps beginning the creation of a new hybrid species more optimally adapted to changing conditions in the far north. (Inuit tracker Roger Kuptana suspected the bear his client had shot was such a hybrid, and DNA testing confirmed this).
So, what does all the above tell us about man-made global warming today?
1. The global climate was, for most of the time that life has thrived on earth, much, much warmer than now.
2. We probably have far more to fear from another ice age — which we are basically enjoying a brief interlude in now — than we do from an increase in global temperature, which would have to get a lot warmer merely to reach the median. During the time life has thrived on earth we are far, far closer to the coldest point than the warmest point.
3. Although mankind has accomplished much, we can leave horrible local scars on the earth, and devastate the rain forest for example. But if our total greenhouse emissions in all of man’s existence add up to less than the emissions from the mount St. Helen’s eruption, which was a single and small contributor to the overall global geologic greenhouse gas emissions produced by the earth’s internal heat, then it is unlikely that our comparatively minute contribution at the margin will much impact on global climate, hypothetical computer models to the contrary notwithstanding. Natural fluctuations in the geologic carbon cycle here on earth, (such as more or less volcanic activity and/or chemical erosion, for example) and/or natural fluctuations in the energy output of the sun, will likely have far, far more significant an impact on global climate.
4. Even if we could pump out multiples more of the greenhouse gasses than we do, greenhouse gas volume would not approach 300 times today’s. But, this is the level that existed at the end of the last Ice Ball event and which was absorbed without calamity by the earth’s natural processes in the carbon cycle (i.e. diffusion into the oceans and chemical erosion).
Much dispute and doubt exists among scientists as to whether natural emissions resulting from Mt. St. Helen’s eruption and even Earth’s other natural geological processes dwarf what we emit, or the reverse. The opinions of the “experts” go all over the map, which might just compromise the dialectic a bit. Perhaps we should take a peek elsewhere and think before the more pleasant exercise of Green Shrieking.
Disclaimer Commentary and Analysis
A survey of the numerous articles on this particular topic (Mt St. Helen’s versus Man’s Carbon Contribution) quickly reveals, admittedly, that roughly 90% or more contend that Man’s “unnatural” Carbon Emissions dwarf Nature’s “natural” ones. Amazingly, this ratio is congruent with the allocation of the funding and grants for both sides of this question, which is of course what pays for the research. The funding allocation is also roughly consistent with the voting patterns of professors and the main stream press, all of which works together to encourage Orthodoxy.
Moreover, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, one notes upon a perusal of these studies a subtle but near-universal “apples-and-oranges” comparison that seems to be afoot, Watson. Specifically, the Global Carbon Cycle has always consisted of the following equation:
X minus Y = NC
with “X” equaling gross carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere from geologic processes, “Y” equaling carbon dioxide being sucked out of the atmosphere from chemical weathering and dissipation into the oceans, and “NC” equaling the Net Carbon dioxide which results. Ice core samples and other measures of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere generally capture NC, the net effect of the Carbon Cycle.
But to the best of my knowledge, the various models, projections and other measurements of Man’s Carbon Contribution (MCC) simply add MCC to NC, whereas in reality MCC is subject to the overall carbon cycle’s dynamics just like “X.” Being liberal and open-minded, the Himalaya sucks out our carbon emissions just like it sucks out those generated from the earth’s furnace. Oceanic Dissipation is likewise open-minded, absorbing both our CO2 emissions and the earth’s with equality and without prejudice.
In other words, Man’s Net Carbon Contribution is clearly a much lower number than his gross emissions (pardon the pun) — and may even be negative, due to the still-rising Himalaya. In this event, our carbon emissions would simply be slowing the depletion of our atmosphere’s warming blanket of CO2 that’s been taking place for the last 40 million years.
Of course, any evidence of increase in NC in ice cores, etc is automatically attributed to MCC, never to an increase in “X” or a temporary abatement of “Y” or one of the innumerable other variables besides Man (such as, for example, a temporary increase in the sun’s energy output, which seems to have occurred in the 20th century and which seems to have incrementally increased the temperature on most of the other planets to roughly the same extent as on earth). Perhaps the fact that we really have little knowledge of how to measure “X” or “Y” independently of their offsetting qualities (i.e. we can roughly measure only the net) explains some of this absence of consideration. But regardless, given Mankind’s consistent and pronounced tendency to hubris, my bet is that “X” or “Y” by themselves are so vastly larger than MCC that Man’s Carbon Contribution should best be termed MMCC (for Man’s Marginal Carbon Contribution).
Since the importance of the Strontium Ratio is a relatively recent discovery which in turn suggests there may be more we don’t know about the Carbon Cycle (and Global Climate in general) than we do know, and because Man’s Net Carbon Contribution is so much harder to quantify than his gross contribution, this “MMCC” line of reasoning seems never to be addressed.
That may be because PFF (Probability of Future Funding) is maximized in direct proportion to the size of MCC. Clearly, applying the dynamics of the entire carbon cycle to MCC would reduce both values, and hence must be avoided at all costs.
CO2 Yesterday and Today
In point of fact, there actually may be some evidence of actual net MCC, i.e. evidence that accumulated CO2 has increased somewhat since Man began to dominate the earth. For example, according to the science writers at The Economist, CO2 PPM (Parts Per Million) has risen to 387 as of 2009, compared with 280 prior to the Industrial Age.
However, one might note that the period before the industrial age with which the above CO2 increase is being compared begins with the very cold Younger Dryas and ends with the “Mini Ice Age.” In other words, the increase in CO2 cited by The Economist science writers is in comparison with a period bracketed by unusually very cold recent climatic events. Thus, one might expect somewhat higher readings today, if one’s comparison period is bracketed by the two most conspicuously cold periods in the recent history of Man (i.e. since man entered the New World).
Moreover, if one reviews geologically historic CO2 levels over, say, the last 5% of earth’s history, you will see (a) that CO2 PPM has ranged from between 1,500 to almost 3,000 for most of this period, (b) that it began dropping seriously below 1,000 only during the last 1% or so of earth’s history and (c) that it’s now quite low indeed, relative to CO2 PPM for most of the past 250 million years. Compared with the violent natural fluctuations in earth’s CO2 PPM (as depicted for example in the graph cited previously (“global temperature and atmospheric CO2 over geologic time”) at www.geocraft.com, our carbon contribution is not much greater than a rounding error.
In short, compared with the average atmospheric CO2 PPM of almost 2,000 that’s prevailed for most of the time that life has thrived on earth, today’s CO2 PPM of below 400 seems most un-alarming. We are still way below average atmospheric CO2 PPM, regardless of our current CO2 PPM having been somewhat lower than this a few hundred years ago.
One thing is however completely for sure, and that’s (a) the earth is a lot colder now than for most of its recent history since life exploded forth, (b) mankind throughout its history has always attributed climate and other natural phenomenon to man-made cause — usually via our behavior having angered the gods, and hence requiring Green Fixing via Red Sacrifice — and (c) perhaps as a result, mankind seems to perceive a weird, quasi-religious distinction between natural and humanly caused events. Many committed environmentalists, deep down, consistently seem to manifest a perception that man-made pollution from human causes is somehow qualitatively different — and hence far more evil and baleful — than the far worse “pollution” from natural events occurring without any human cause at all.
The Beast Below Old Faithful
For example, if that geological monster lurking below Yellowstone goes off anytime soon, it will put St. Helen’s to utter shame, and could well end civilization. Millions, possibly billions, would die of starvation in the resultant climatic debacle. And, this beast has gone off many times before every 600,000 years or so, and we are due soon, or already, or maybe overdue. The last time one of these super-volcanic eruptions occurred, at Toba near Indonesia or thereabouts around 70,000 years ago (a couple geologic eye-blinks if not human ones) the nascent proto-humans almost went extinct, perhaps down to only a few thousand individuals according to Stanley H. Ambrose of the University of Chicago.
A graph of the before-and-after genetic distribution looks exactly like an hourglass, with the severe narrowing coinciding with Toba.
But Al Gore and others would get no mileage on this at all, since it is obviously something we have no control over whatsoever. Its results would eclipse any of even the greenest of the greens’ most apocalyptic global warming projections, but it is barely mentioned in political discourse since it cannot be linked to man without resorting too blatantly to obvious superstition, which worked fine before the level of science today but now will not be adequate to convince the commoners. So, we must invent new superstitions laced appropriately with scientific incantations, Inconvenient Truth-wise, and newly configured mass sacrifices, Kyoto-wise, instead of the more traditional kind.
We cannot stop Yellowstone’s civilization-threatening monster lurking unseen below, but we could at least prepare for it. But Preparation just is not as powerful a tug on Man as Control, particularly when nicely coupled with apocalyptic projections and belief systems.
So, while the real beast lurks below, and though we know this and could at least prepare somewhat for it, instead, in what’s basically a geologic break between ice ages, we worry about our emissions maybe making things a bit warmer. Compared with Yellowstone’s Beast Below, our emission efforts are like smoke-signals to our collective stupidity. One could even liken Al Gore and others to today’s Nero, misdirecting us with nice sweet green violin music while the discordant rumblings below go unnoticed, even though Lake Yellowstone heaves about as the great sleeping beast sleeps. Yes, that’s right, folks. Lake Yellowstone actually is rising and falling exactly like the sleeping breathing of a dragon, but one the likes of which we cannot imagine in our worst fears.
True, we can do little about this, but we could surely prepare better for the awful possibility. It is not nearly as statistically remote as an asteroid hit – a massive one would be far, far worse than Yellowstone. It may not go off tomorrow, or next year, or next 100 years or 1,000 or 10,000, or ever. All we know is that it’s happened many times before, on a quasi-regular schedule, and we’re due now or even a bit overdue. But notwithstanding the fact that we cannot stop it any more easily than an asteroid hit, it’s way more likely statistically-wise. The fact that we can’t stop it is no reason to dismiss this more geologically probable disaster equally from mind like an ostrich.
The most amazing thing about the Inquisition is the dialogue between Inquisitor and Inquisitee, which I have perused too much of. The Inquisitees rarely (almost never, actually) had an Earthly idea of what the right Green answers were, much like me with my computer. This was because the Inquisitors were trying deeply and with thoroughly awful sincerity to wipe out Vile Heresy and not threaten souls – for the Inquisitors, Heresy was the equivalent of a spiritual disease, in effect the afterlife’s version of The Plague. If you doubt the intensity of their focus, just take a close look at the faces of the medieval paintings discussed in Chapter 6. They’re smiling while they’re burning because now they may have a better chance of Heaven not Hell, and for the Medieval Europeans the pains of Hell made the flames seem as nothing, albeit probably a lot more from the painters’ and Inquisitors’ perspectives if not the Heretics’, who were probably too busy screaming in agony to have time to smile during this horrible end to their earthly life.
But, exactly like in the middle ages, it’s a lot easier for Man to focus his attention on things we can control (like heresy or carbon emissions) than to prepare for what we can’t, like the Plague or Yellowstone.
In short, the current global warming hysteria tells us little of global climate over geologically relevant periods of measurement, but it does tell us a great deal of Man. We are simply convinced of our power, and we seem incapable of believing that we cannot influence climate (and other things) fundamentally beyond our control. The Aztecs believed with high fervor at least equal to that of today’s greenest of the greens, that their great efforts to sacrifice thousands to feed blood to the sun-god was vital to give the sun the strength to rise. As described in some detail by John Keegan in “A History of Warfare” much of Aztec society was oriented around the capture and ritual sacrifice of thousands and thousands of their neighbors, where high priests atop pyramids cut out the living hearts of enough victims to stain the pyramid’s steps crimson, all to feed the sun.
They practiced other numerous Olympic Torture events too, with creative use of flame, hooks, flint knives, obsidian-edged wooden swords inflicting the death of 1,000 cuts in the “Feast of the Flayed Man,” as well as other assorted bric-a-brac which surely qualifies them as favorites for Gold in the Decathlon. For example, according to Austrian historian Inga Clendinnen “…victims destined for the singularly agonizing death required for the celebration of the Fire God were….cast into the fire, to be hooked out, still living but badly burned, and dispatched by the usual heart excision.” But the Aztecs are most well known for their primary expertise, which was (a) warfare for prisoner acquisition not conquest and (b) huge ceremonial heart-plucking festivals, where these other areas of secondary expertise functioned like a side-show at intermission, (but definitely not as funny as our more deeply sincere efforts at Torture Comedy).
Likewise the ancient Moche are thought by archeologists to have sacrificed living victims to prevent drought or flooding (whichever they were experiencing at the time) and similarly the Incas appear to have buried children alive (or interred them alive in caves to die slowly) in order to affect climate. According to H. Turney-High in “Primitive War: It’s Practices and Concepts,” in order to assure favorable agricultural climate the Skidi Pawnee would capture a beautiful maiden, pamper and adore her for a while, and then one night strip her, ritualistically paint her naked body, suspend her from two poles and then transfix her with arrows. Many archeologists believe (and some encyclopaedias state) that the Carthaginians burned children alive in sacrifice to Baal in an effort to achieve similar ends, having them slide off the bronze arms of Baal’s statue into the furnace below. And, the Zulus impaled witches (once the witchdoctor “smelled” them out) when climatic and other conditions were adverse. Indeed virtually every civilization has linked occurrences in the natural world to human cause, where no such linkage existed.
We are little different in perceiving this non-existent linkage, in possessing this collective hubris which cannot admit to our true impotence in the face of global forces that are ultimately beyond our control. Even if we could double or triple our CO2 emissions, we will not likely retard the next advance of the great ice sheets, as the series of ice ages the earth has regularly experienced over the past few million years continues to repeat itself. Belief in man-made global warming has become a veritable article of faith among some, such that to question it is tantamount to heresy. And, while we generally don’t burn people alive anymore for heresy, the basic human instinct to inflict sacrifice on itself in order to affect the natural world is still robust, alive and well.
Despite our achievements, we are still driven by the same human and societal instincts that have driven all civilizations and peoples. We are so, so arrogant to think that we are all that different. Kyoto is essentially a kinder, gentler version of this instinctive (and seemingly universal) societal impulse, as manifested in more horrid but less diffuse fashion by the Aztecs, Carthaginians, Zulus, etc. In effect we have replaced the ancient Gods with ourselves, in due recognition of our actually awesome powers of the nuclear and other kinds. But deep deep down I suspect most strongly (or certainly, actually) that in truth we are not all that different. So now, we have Al Gore and his fellow Green Alarmists serving as the High Priest Intercessors interceding with ourselves, and with their awesome flint knives held on high to plunge into our collective Kyoto heart.
Gold Medal for Historical Irony
The Renaissance-age Spaniards are hands-down favorites. For, the anti-protestant proselytizers who enjoyed Roasted Heretic more than S’mores were the ones who smote the bloody green hero-worshiping Aztecs with smallpox and priests who preached with fire and Stake instead of flint knife.
In another interesting parallel to history, the marketing today of “carbon credit offsets” to the commercial advantage of some of the most vehement of global warming proselytizers such as Al Gore, is fascinatingly reminiscent of Papal Indulgences.
In late medieval Europe the Pope discharged commissioned salesmen (according to William Manchester in “A World Lit Only By Fire,” the best was named Tetzel) to sell for hard cash today, varying degrees of future dispensation in the afterlife for one’s sins. Here too the leaders of the faithful derived great self-interested economic benefit by selling symbolic absolution for equally symbolic sins.
Today, Al Gore’s humongous Carbon Footprint is supposedly nullified by his copious purchases of Carbon Offsets (from his own firm that markets such Offsets, but that’s another story). They are marvelous things, enabling him to fly about in private jets, drive SUV’s, etc. with barely a twinge of guilt and hypocrisy. Likewise, in prior times, others were also anxious to enjoy the benefits of proscribed activity, especially if available on a similarly bargain-priced guilt-free basis. Carbon Offsets did not exist in Medieval Europe (and would have been equally effective as they are nowadays, if they had existed back then). But notwithstanding their lack of Carbon Offsets, Big Al’s predecessors washed away their misdeeds by the equally nifty expedient of buying Indulgences from the Church.
And just as most people nowadays fail to perceive the problematic connection between selling carbon offsets with one hand, while the other hand fans the fires of global warming panic which in turn sparks more sales, so too did most people (until Luther) fail to perceive that Papal Indulgences undermined the legitimacy of the Church. In both instances the “search for truth” is sorely compromised, and ultimately invalidated, by the clear conflict of interest of its most vociferous proponents. But, just as the outraged Luther was impelled by Tetzel’s wholesale marketing of Papal Indulgences to eventually lead the Reformation, so too does the sale of carbon offsets today by organizations owned by global warming alarmists lead thinking skeptics to question the motivations of those alarmists, and the tenets of their man-made global warming belief system.
The Carthaginians were extremely excellent crafters of the best ships on the market, hailing as they did from Phoenicia which had a long sea faring tradition. But they were amazing abstract philosophers as well, and derived an exponential extrapolation over Carbon Credits or Papal Indulgences of stunning intellectual creativity. They believed that in order to intercede effectively with Bloody Baal, burnt children were needful. But, when it was over they preferred coming home to dinner with all family members present. So in order to solve this baffling conundrum they used non-traditional moral dialects and formulated a crafty solution. They procured Expendable (i.e. non-Carthaginian, slave, etc) children and were most pleased with the result, except for those who were not hypocrites, and of course the alternative kids themselves.
Despite their technical differences, which are obvious, there are clear underlying commonalities between Papal Indulgences, Carbon Offsets and non-Carthaginian Charred Children. For one thing, all three share a strong, unmistakable odor of hypocrisy. But on a deeper level, all three represent intellectual sleight-of-hand which allows the faithful to seemingly adhere to the tenets of their belief system while at the same time personally benefiting through or despite that belief system, via enhanced income in the case of Papal Indulgences, avoidance of personally difficult requirements in the case of the Carthaginians, or both in the case of Carbon Offsets.
Al Gore and the Borgia Pope
For serial emission offenders who live in huge mansions by the lake and fly about in private jets, Dr. Templeton prescribes Al Gore’s Cure-All Carbon Credits™. The best moral aspirin on the market, these are perfect for dealing with any pesky green conscience-goblins that may still be lurking about.
Inspired by Al Gore, one wonders if the Borgia Pope, Alexander, might have mitigated his problematic reputation in the history books had he but conceived of the excellent expedient of buying Papal Indulgences from himself. If so, then Carbon Offsets are actually structurally superior to their Papal predecessor in that not only do they raise revenue, they have the added benefit of self-medication.
Alexander enjoyed the distinction of achieving a record-shattering moral trifecta, when he managed to simultaneously juggle the roles of Pope, father of the fair Lucrezia (of poison fame) and both father and grandfather with respect to Lucrezia’s child. This legendary effort earns him a permanent spot in the Moral Hall of Fame. But with an A+ for effort it is matched in the Culinary Hall of Fame by Alexander’s love of roast chestnuts, especially when expertly garnished via his favorite game of handless pelvic chestnut pick-up with the comeliest courtesans the Papacy could afford.
It is unfortunate indeed that the good Alexander, despite his manifest creativity in many other endeavors, was a poor philosopher for not having even attempted Indulgent self-medication reputation-wise. Al Gore clearly demonstrates superior dialectics, to his great Credit (Carbon-wise).
A Deep Common Theme
The Greens today are deeply, deeply committed. So were the Aztecs, who believed that their sacrificial victims were actually heroes for saving the world, albeit not voluntarily. The Carthaginians who were not hypocrites burning easily expendable children but who burned their own were certainly deeply committed as well, the author strongly suspects. The Soviets, if you study them closely enough were exactly the same way, even though theirs was ostensibly a state officially with no religion. Exactly as with Medieval Europe, people were sentenced to awfully awful fates for extremely Vile Offences like Misinterpretation of Marx. That was, of course, because for the soviets the State was the god and it would brook no competition, much like the Church had a deep religious need to monopolize and would silence with flame any dissenting inquiry. Calling Al Gore the Green, Debate? No Way, says he. Don’t Poison Me With Your Global Warming Denial Heresy!! Sound familiar??? The Inquisitors were deeply deeply religious, and were just as anxiously concerned over the spiritual health of the body politic as the Aztecs felt a need to save the world, for as Astronomers (of sorts) as well as Decathletes they knew the earth needed a strong, healthy sun, and they had the will to see that the needful was done.
So now, we endeavor to save the world for ourselves, following in this long tradition. We have powerful new Incantations and Projections, and less conspicuously horrid modes of appeasing the Gods, now, thank God. They are actuarially modified via dispersal to all, rather than concentrated unfairly on a few. Yes, just a few, like countless thousands of Aztec neighbors, maybe 25 million Soviets, 2 million Cambodians, perhaps 30-40 million Chinese if one adds together the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and we haven’t even gotten to the Nazis who were basically somewhat capitalistic and extremely racist versions of the Soviets; they marched to the same drummer but used a somewhat different key.
None of this is unrelated. A sad Procrustean tune is shared commonly by all, and its beat seems to run deep indeed in the fabric of human make-up because we see it over and over again, just with different iterations. Do we really think that we are so so different, just because we have airplanes and cars and the like? I suspect not. Let’s not follow these Olympic Luminaries with our own updated iteration, hopefully far more fair due to diversification, but possibly not less baleful when it’s all added up.
New Crafty Carthaginians
Of course, alternatively, what’s probably more likely to occur is that we will repeat as the New Crafty Carthaginians, since we in the rich world can afford some thinner stomachs and such from self-inflicted self-sacrifice, but we will not likely see starvation blossom here in the West. It is after all just so much nicer if we can hold our Green Heads High but have the “on the edge” people with barely functioning economies as it is, bear most of the actual Birdlets’ pain (see Chapter 8, i.e. mass starvation from needlessly cinctured economies barely holding on already). We will be like Baal’s Crafty Believers, feeling spiritually fulfilled by the Righteous Sacrificial Restrictions but then going home to our families, all members present and full of deep wholesome deep verdant green feelings because we are doing our part to save the world, but passing the real pain onto others at the same time.
The author fears greatly, in other words, that the mighty US is now stepping up to take its turn at saving the world, led by Mighty Green High Priest of Gaia-Baal IndirectlyGoryAlGore atop our pyramid, screaming Inconvenient Truths, Incantations and Projections as we afflict ourselves with needless Emission Restriction hardships, and certain third world peoples with mass starvation.
Good News at Last
And this is good news because unlike our current Comedy Relief efforts, in this entry in the Torture Olympics, we will be a strong, strong bet for the Gold, Indirect But Massive classification, because our economy, like Antarctica and the mighty Himalaya, influences the entire world like no other. We will be able to hold our Green Heads up proudly with the other serious competitors at last, possibly even topping the Soviets, the Inquisitors and others, and for future scriveners to intellectually dissect with amazement and horror.
Over the broad history of life’s thriving on earth, the climate has changed. It’s gotten colder and colder. This began during the past forty million years or so, and has reached its most severe manifestation so far during the last one or two million years. We are far, far closer to the coldest it’s been since life exploded, than we are to the warmest. Indeed we are currently in between ice ages. We are enjoying the likely later stages of a warming interlude. Yet our concern is that we will cause the planet to heat up, right when we are in between ice ages. Unfortunately man’s inherent tendency to endow himself with illusory god-like power to influence things actually way beyond our control, such as global climate or the rising of the sun, seems immune to a more reasoned and humbler perspective.
Or on the other hand, maybe the global warming alarmists are right, and likewise maybe we would all be shrouded in perpetual cold and dark if the Aztecs had not provided sustenance to the sun with the blood of thousands……..*
June, 2008 – September, 2010
*An alternative explanation for the Aztec sacrifices argued by some historians is that instead of feeding the sun, the Aztecs were striving to appease the sun’s inimical nature so it wouldn’t scorch the earth. If this explanation is the correct one, then perhaps the recent global warming we are said to be experiencing derives from the insufficiency of sacrificial appeasement that resulted from the demise of the Aztec civilization.
PS — On Computers (and Starvation)
It occurs to me that computers and their Projections and our other vast scientific skills are unto our U.S. society what the Carthaginians’ fantastically wonderful ships were to them and what the Aztecs’ mighty and lofty sacrificial pyramids were to them too. Or the Colosseum to Rome or the Carthaginian’s incredible harbor, engine of that mighty trade empire. They are our bright green torches and flint knife held high, so religiously anxious to bury itself in the heart of another.
No, the author is not deranged, he does not think the computer is evil or satanic. It’s simply one of many most wondrous tools man has so craftily crafted to so successfully integrate himself with this world and all its wonderful living things. Indeed, sadly one suspects that Hell and the devil may very likely not actually exist, such that earth’s most manifestly horrid and unfair events may likely go unrectified and unpunished, though there are many many horrid things that happen that man has nothing to do with but feel the pain.
But, if that’s correct then it’s proof that man is so sadly so capable of filling in so well in the devil’s stead, usually with the best of Procrustean intentions, which is what always seems to happen when our greatness is so great that we link or liken ourselves to the Gods. At least, the poor masses living on the edge already will certainly experience their version of man-made hell on earth, as they watch their children and themselves slowly starve due to our Mighty Green emission restrictions and their global impact. Indeed, the increase in corn and other food prices which our market-distorting ethanol policy has caused, is already triggering in certain third world countries the food shortages and riots which are probably only a harbinger of this grim process.
PPS — The Great Chain of [Economic] Being
When man first began to populate the earth, most if not all human societies were hunter-gatherer in structure. The land could only support a limited population with such a simple economic system. The rise of cities and especially agriculture represented a great step forward in terms of unit of food production per unit of land, and the population boomed. The rise of industrial manufacturing represented another paradigm-shift in this respect, as has the computer age too. The more complex (and politically and economically free) Man’s productive infrastructure (i.e. the economy) is, the more people the land can feed. This is a clear, broad pattern in the history of Man.
Cap and Trade and other similarly problematic aspects of global warming alarmists’ efforts to “Save the World” are effectively the equivalent of throwing sand in the great economic machine, impairing its smooth and efficient operation. The number of people the globe can support will therefore diminish. We in the West who effectively run most of the great economic engine that enables the world to support the people it has, will likely not suffer in a truly dire manner, even though we’ll be the ones throwing the sand. Rather, it’s the people in third world countries barely holding on already, who are on the margin as it is, that will likely be most adversely impacted by the Mighty Green emission restriction sacrifices called for by the global warming alarmist belief system.
Notes to “Frontispiece”
The following graphic picture by Hermione Anonymous – Some of Mankind’s Previous Efforts at Climate Control – is reminiscent of Goya’s famous (and grisly) sketches of Napoleon’s invasion of Spain.
However, her illustration works perfectly to convey the full horror of what happens when a society’s belief system goes wildly awry in an extra-passionate effort to Save the World. We see much evidence of the Aztecs, a strong hint of Chaco Canyon, perhaps some of the butchery of the Albigensian Inquisition in the 1200’s, a combination of the Skidi Pawnee and the Medieval Europeans’ penchant for quartering, and finally the Zulus’ treatment of witches in the background.
The volcano is Yellowstone, with the hour-glass representing the facts that (a) we’re a bit overdue and (b) the land of Yellowstone is, as you read this, literally swelling upward from the pressure of the magma build-up. It also reflects the severe genetic contraction – i.e. near-extinction of Early Man – the last time one of these super-volcanoes went off 70,000 years ago at Toba.
Yellowstone would make these scenes seem like a walk in the park.