Is global warming our best friend? And could Fallen Angels, the dystopian novel about the consequences of a new Ice Age by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn be more science than fiction?
That’s the inference from a study on climate variation being covered by the BBC this morning. According to the Beeb (not normally a source of comfort on the subject of climate change), an international team of scientists headed by Cambridge University researcher Luke Skinner projects that sometime in the next 1500 years a devastating new Ice Age will descend on Planet Earth. As in past Ice Ages, glaciers would cover much of the northern hemisphere, many species would face extinction and the productivity of the biosphere would diminish as fertile farmlands went under the ice.
But, the scientists say, that won’t happen now, thanks to man’s new best friend: greenhouse gasses. Rising levels of CO2 will offset the natural forces leading to a new Ice Age, saving civilization from its greatest test yet.
Via Meadia has no idea whether this is true. The study was published in Nature Geoscience, for what that is worth. Here at Via Meadia we would not be surprised if another team of very prestigious scientists from another group of leading universities produced an equally logical and interesting paper tomorrow saying just the opposite. Other scientists will warn us that we will cook before we freeze: that global warming will have such extreme effects that civilization may not last long enough to see the next Ice Age because global warming will have wrecked the ecosystem and led to mass warfare and starvation long before the cooling sets in.
That seems to be Luke Skinner’s view. The Beeb quotes him as saying:
“It’s an interesting philosophical discussion – ‘would we better off in a warm [interglacial-type] world rather than a glaciation?’ and probably we would,” he said.
“But it’s missing the point, because where we’re going is not maintaining our currently warm climate but heating it much further, and adding CO2 to a warm climate is very different from adding it to a cold climate.
“The rate of change with CO2 is basically unprecedented, and there are huge consequences if we can’t cope with that.”
Via Meadia merely notes that all this underscores our lack of knowledge about the basic climate system of our planet, and how man made changes interact with natural cycles to produce the climate we live in. We will understand it better by and by, but in the meantime, there is a lesson for greens: the world is not going to consent to the radical changes the global greens want anytime soon.
Greens need to shift their focus. Instead of maintaining — in a shrill and futile way — that concern over carbon emissions should become the number one priority of domestic and international policy everywhere, greens need to look for ways at integrating the kinds of energy policies they want with the priorities that other people have. And by other people, I don’t mean investment bankers and politicians who want governments to create artificial markets (as in carbon emission permits) off which they can make billions of dollars in speculative profits. I also don’t mean large agribusiness interests who want to make out like bandits from the ethanol scam.
Shifting the US tax burden from labor to energy, for example, makes sense from an economic development point of view as well as from an environmental one. Swapping payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare for a revenue neutral carbon tax would support employment and accelerate the existing trend in the US economy away from energy intensive activities and technologies toward information intensive ones. That would be a good thing, even if we weren’t worried about global warming.
And if the glaciers start to push south, we can always change direction. As they say in Fallen Angels, if it gets too cold we can always throw another log on the fire.