Let’s Distinguish Between Climate Hype, Hysteria, and History

by | Jan 11, 2021 |

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Democrats have proclaimed that climate change is the “number one issue facing humanity.” Left unchecked, he said, “it is going actually to bake this planet. This is not hyperbole. It’s real. And we have a moral obligation.”

As Joe Biden described an impending climate apocalypse: “The past 10 years were the hottest decade ever recorded. The Arctic is literally melting. Parts are actually on fire. What we see in America – in our communities – is connected to that. With every bout with nature’s fury, caused by our own inaction on climate change, more Americans see and feel the devastation, whether in big cities, small towns, on coastlines, or in farmlands. It is happening everywhere. It is happening now.”

But let’s take a deep-breath moment to distinguish between climate hype, hysteria, and history.

While global warming has been trumpeted as an epic climate change crisis with human-produced CO2, a trace “greenhouse gas” that comprises four one-hundredths of one percent of the atmosphere, an essential plant food branded as a “pollutant,” throughout earlier parts of Earth’s history those levels have been many times higher than today with temperature changes reliably preceding, not following CO2 changes.

Fossil records reveal that atmospheric CO2 levels around 600 million years ago were about 7,000 parts per million compared with 400 ppm today.

Atmospheric CO2 levels were about five times higher than now during the Jurassic period about 250 million years ago when dinosaurs including T. Rex roamed the planet.

Over the past 400,000 years, much of the Northern Hemisphere has been covered by ice up to miles thick multiple times at regular intervals lasting about 100,000 years with mercifully warm 12,000-18,000 interglacial periods like our current one.

Sea levels have risen 400 feet since that last Pleistocene Epoch Ice Age ended about 12,000 years ago, leaving Cosquer Cave’s entrance in France and its Paleolithic paintings of that time 115 feet beneath the Mediterranean.

Fast forward to a period from about 750 B.C. to 200 B.C., before the founding of Rome, temperatures dropped, and European glaciers advanced. Then the climate warmed again, and by 150 B.C., grapes were first recorded to be cultivated in northern Italy. By the late 4th century, the climate was likely warmer than now.

As recently as 1,000 years ago (during the “Medieval Warm Period”), Icelandic Vikings were raising cattle, sheep, and goats in grasslands of Greenland’s southeastern coast and fishing for codfish in ice-free seas.

The warm period, also referred to for valid reasons as the “Medieval Climate Optimum,” was a good time. Year-round food crops were abundant; mountain passes stayed open longer to open up trade routes for spices from Oriental caravans, sugar from Cyprus, and Venetian glass in exchange for English wools and Scandinavian furs.

Then, around 1200, temperatures began to drop, and Norse settlements were abandoned by about 1350. Atlantic pack ice began to grow around 1250, and shortened growing seasons and unreliable weather patterns, including torrential rains in Northern Europe, led to the “Great Famine” of 1315-1317.

Temperatures dropped dramatically in the middle of the 16th century, and although there were notable year-to-year fluctuations, the coldest regime since the last Ice Age (a period termed the “Little Ice Age”) dominated the next 150 or more. Priests performed exorcisms, asking God to keep glaciers from inundating villages in the Alps of Europe, where food shortages killed millions.

The Thames River and New York Harbor froze over by 1780, and sea ice closed shipping harbors in Iceland, where an estimated one-third of the population perished.

The end of that period witnessed brutal winter temperatures suffered by Washington’s troops at Valley Forge in 1777 and Napoleon’s bitterly cold retreat from Russia in 1812.

Although temperatures have been generally mild over the past 500 years, the past century has witnessed two distinct warming periods. The first occurred between 1900 and 1945. The second, following a slight cool-down, began quite abruptly in 1975 after many leading scientific organizations had predicted the coming of the next Ice Age.

In March of that year, the respected Science News magazine depicted New York being swallowed by an approaching glacier and announced, “The Ice Age Cometh.” The New York Times followed suit with a headline story: “Scientists Ponder Why World’s Climate Is Changing: A Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable.”

About half of all estimated warming since 1900 (which was then about the same as today) occurred before the mid-1940s despite continuously rising CO2 levels. Those “highest ever” temperatures that Joe Biden refers to are a mere few tenths or even hundredths of a degree above previous records set many decades ago when atmospheric CO2 levels were lower.

Extreme weather has not increased in frequency or intensity over the past century. The U.S. recently enjoyed a century-long record 12-year respite from category 3-5 hurricanes, ended finally by Harvey and Irma in 2017. There were also far fewer violent U.S. tornadoes during the last 35 years than the same period before, with a remarkable total absence in 2018.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said, “it is premature to conclude that human activities – and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming – have already had a detectable impact upon Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.”

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agrees that it too lacks evidence showing that global warming is making storms and flooding worse. Modern-day floods and droughts are certainly no worse than past floods or the multi-decadal droughts that devastated Anasazi, Mayan, and other civilizations.

Incidentally, seas have, in fact, not been rising at an accelerated rate … just the same 7 inches per century that have been occurring ever since the Northern Hemisphere has been warming out of the Little Ice Age.

So perhaps Joe Biden might join us to ponder how very fortunate we are that Earth’s climate not only changes but, in recent times, has done so much for the better. Temperatures are truly “optimum,” and weather has actually been less, not more, severe.

And don’t worry too much about CO2 baking the planet.

Let’s remember that atmospheric CO2 levels have been between five and 18 times higher than now over much of Earth’s climate history – throughout many times when life not only survived but also flourished as it does now.

Yes, cyclical, sometimes dramatic climate changes are indeed real. They began to occur long before humans invented smokestacks and internal combustion engines. And they won’t end by shutting them down.

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Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the space architecture graduate program. He is the author of several books, including "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful” (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), and "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles."

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