Climate and the Fate of Humanity
L: [Phone rings. It’s Doug Casey, whose gravelly, “Lobo, let’s talk!” always makes me smile.] Hi Doug! What’s on your mind?
Doug: Global warming. People like my fanatical neighbors here in Aspen seem perfectly willing to undo centuries of progress because they are completely delusional about global warming. The People’s Republic of Aspen is an epicenter of political correctness.
L: Don’t hold back, Doug, tell me what you really think.
Doug: [Chuckles] Global warming is the most prominent form of mass hysteria raging across the world today. Kids in school these days are almost afraid to breathe, because it will “increase their carbon footprint.” It’s quite amazing, the way carbon, the element all life is based on, has replaced plutonium as the enemy-element. It’s as if the chattering classes are making war on the periodic table of the elements.
Meanwhile, they’ve been changing the cry from “global warming” to “climate change” because there’s so little evidence there’s actually any warming going on. I believe that as little as a decade from now, global warming will be recognized as one of the greatest swindles in world history. It has so little scientific basis, it can only rationally be considered a political scam.
L: If that’s true, will the scam ever be revealed? There was a silly movie – I believe it was called “The Day After Tomorrow” – in which global warming caused the world to suddenly freeze over. If people are willing to think that’s possible, and the only thing certain is that things will change, and any change can be blamed on people, perhaps the con job can be maintained indefinitely. It could become a perpetual guilt trip aimed at the population, just as useful as the one certain churches used for centuries to control people.
Doug: Yes. I think Roseanne Rosannadanna of Saturday Night Live said it best: If it’s not one thing, it’s another. It’s always something.
There’s a professional class of hysterics in the world. They are the same type of people who were walking around in the Middle Ages in sack-cloth, throwing ashes on themselves, saying that the world was going to come to an end.
The world will come to an end, of course, maybe even before the sun dies in about five billion years. But these people have no perspective at all. They don’t realize that the earth is just an insignificant ball of dirt, in a nothing/nowhere star system, in a nothing/nowhere galaxy – of which there are billions, each containing billions and billions of stars. And that’s just in this universe. There’s reason to believe that there’s an almost infinite number of universes like ours, with new ones being created virtually every second.
And these people are worried about changes in the biosphere of this one, tiny little planet. To me, it makes no sense.
But dropping from the sublime, cosmic scale down to the local level, it’s still completely ridiculous.
L: Okay, let’s talk about that. What are the facts? How ridiculous is fear of climate change?
Doug: Contrary to the blatantly untrue statements these people make about the science being “settled,” if the science indicates anything at all, it indicates that anthropogenic global warming is not significant. Remember, the question is not so much whether there is any warming – which is another question – but whether human activity is a major, or even significant, contributing factor to global warming.
Of course men can have an effect on the planet. We have wiped out numerous species that we know about, just in historic times, like the dodo, the passenger pigeon. And we almost did in the North American bison. Of course we have an impact, and people do make mistakes. It’s unfortunate. And because of the butterfly effect (because of quantum effects, tiny changes can have huge consequences, such as a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world resulting in a hurricane on the other side), humans could have a big effect on climate change – but so could everything else. The point is that there are other factors that have orders of magnitude greater impacts on the earth’s climate, things that are tens, hundreds, and thousands of times more important to the climate than anything mankind can do – perhaps even including a major nuclear war.
Fear is being used by the political class as an excuse to accumulate more power and self-importance – and collect a lot more taxes to support their agenda. Instead of being stampeded into the dark fantasy, we should focus on increasing our wealth and our knowledge. Eventually, mankind’s fate will depend on our technological advancement. Nature teaches us – not that many environmentalists listen – that we need to colonize the rest of the solar system, and beyond. Mankind must diversify, so all our eggs aren’t in one planetary basket.
But as an aside, I have to say I’m not sure I care if mankind is going to survive – I’m not sure why anyone should care, since most of us aren’t going to live more than three score and ten years anyway. Perhaps the world ends when we end… Mankind’s future seems beyond any individual’s concern, at least beyond the lifespan of your immediate friends and family. Too much worrying about things beyond your control can turn you into a busybody.
L: You’re speaking as one with no children. Having children, I have a different view on that.
Doug: How about your great-great-grandchildren, whom you’ll probably never meet?
L: I’m not so sure about that. Life is already longer than it has ever been in history, and medical technology keeps advancing. And that’s not even getting into nanotechnology. I believe my generation may live for centuries, aside from violent death and acute, fatal illnesses.
Doug: Well, I’m sympathetic to that view. But the morality of caring for one’s posterity is a philosophical issue we can perhaps discuss another day. For now, I’ll say that I don’t like to think of myself as a survival machine for my genes – so I don’t give a damn what happens to my genes. I have my own plans. The consideration I would have for my children, if I did have any, would be reserved for those who earned it as individuals, not just because they’re my children.
L: I recall your Roman attitude about that, but that’s also a conversation for another day. Back to global warming… it’s been a while since I’ve researched this, but I seem to recall that the latest actual science is that there has, in fact, been some warming recorded in the Northern Hemisphere over the 20th century, but there’s insufficient data on the Southern Hemisphere, and the warming has been less than the global-warming models predicted.
Doug: Well, as I understand it, for the last five years or so, it’s been getting cooler, not warmer, and that’s entirely apart from the fact that back in the 1970s, all the magazines were showing pictures of glaciers toppling over the buildings of New York, because we were going into a new ice age. Even measuring the temperature is problematical, since many historical sites that were once isolated are now surrounded by civilization. It’s impossible to cover all the bases in a brief conversation like this, because there have been volumes and volumes and volumes written on this.
But look, the climate on this planet has been changing since Day One. When the solar system was formed, our best guess is about 4.2 billion years ago, things were very, very cold – as cold as deep space. Then, after the sun ignited, things got very, very hot. And, in essence, things have been cooling ever since.
Remember, there have been numerous ice ages, starting with a first period of glaciation thought to have occurred about 2.3 billion years ago, during the early Proterozoic eon, after the appearance of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. There was one that lasted over 200 million years, from about 850 to 630 million years ago, called the Cryogenian period, in which the ice caps may have met at the earth’s equator, covering the planet completely. Geologists actually define the earth as being in an interglacial period of the most recent ice age (the Quaternary glaciation), which started about 2.6 million years ago, during the late Pliocene. Ice sheets have advanced and retreated every 40,000 to 100,000 years or so, with the last glacial period, which covered North America and Europe with glaciers thousands of feet thick, having ended only about 10,000 years ago. So it’s no surprise that the climate has been generally warming since then.
So, the climate has gotten hotter, then cooler, hotter, cooler… And for the last 10,000 years or so, it’s gotten warmer. That’s the fact of the matter – and generally, warmer is better. The whole of the earth’s existence is marked by changes in climate. It happens naturally.
Doug: There are lots of reasons. One is cosmic rays, which is to say, radiation coming from billions of stars, light-years away. Cosmic rays have a huge impact on cloud formation. And cloud formation has a huge impact on the climate.
A second reason is changes in the ocean and its currents. The ocean has vastly greater mass than the atmosphere, so it’s a far greater heat-sink, and its currents have a major influence on climate.
Another is volcanism. Just in historic times we’ve seen major climate impact from volcanism. For example, there was Mt. Tambora, the most powerful volcanic eruption in history, which happened in April of 1815, killing thousands of people directly and tens of thousands indirectly through starvation. The eruption altered global climate so dramatically, 1816 became known as The Year Without a Summer, as crops and livestock around the planet were wiped out. Just one of these big eruptions, by the way, can dump more toxic pollutants into the atmosphere than man has created in the entire industrial age.
L: I happen to have been kicking rocks recently in a caldera in Idaho that was the location of the last eruption of the Yellowstone hot spot, before it blew the current Yellowstone caldera into existence. By way of comparison, Mt. St. Helens blew 0.7 cubic kilometers of rock into the air, covering half of Washington with four inches of ash. The eruption that created the caldera I was standing on blew about 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock into the air. Such an eruption, today, I was told, would kill everything as far away as Chicago.
Doug: Right, and imagine all the gases that would go with that. Sulfur compounds and the like – you want to talk about ecological disasters! And these ninnies are bicycling and recycling to save the planet from our puny little smoke-stacks. When something like the potential volcano under Long Valley caldera at Mammoth Lake in California or the Yellowstone caldera blows – and that could be two years from now, or two thousand years from now, nobody knows – it’s anticipated that these will be among the largest volcanic eruptions ever. And that’s just picking two in North America.
L: I remember a park ranger in Yellowstone telling my family that, in geological terms, the next Yellowstone eruption is overdue.
Doug: Yes, and there are other situations like that. Consider the near statistical certainty of the earth encountering a piece of space debris large enough to have an impact on the earth’s climate. The last one we know of was the Tunguska event in 1908, which is thought to have been caused by a meteor only a few tens of meters across and still leveled almost a thousand square miles of trees.
Worse than sticking their heads in the sand about this, these people are trying to stop science from progressing, ruining everyone’s lives in the here and now in the process. They think they are saving the planet, but in the end, the planet’s fate is out of our hands, and their obstruction could keep people from getting off this planet while they can.
But we haven’t talked about the main thing – and really, ultimately, the only climate change variable that really matters – which is the sun. Relative to the sun, everything else is totally trivial. Which, much as deluded believers in the omnipotence of the state might not believe, is beyond the power of human governments to regulate. To me, this is really the proof that the whole climate change thing is just a scam perpetrated by the ill-informed and ill-intentioned on the ignorant and the credulous.
L: What, specifically, does the sun do that swamps other effects?
Doug: The sun has a number of cycles it goes through, the sunspot cycle, for example, that have a huge impact on the earth’s climate. The sun is essentially all that keeps the earth from being an iceball a few degrees above absolute zero, so any change in it has major consequences for the earth.
The climate change people forget that within this pattern of warming and cooling, modern man only really came on the scene in the warming period after the last period of glaciation ended 10,000 years ago, and civilization has only been around for less than 5,000 years – which has generally been a period of global warming. Interestingly enough, the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire coincide with a period of global cooling, resulting in what’s commonly called the Dark Ages. And then we had the medieval warm period – when wine was grown in England and crops in Greenland – that ended with the Renaissance. Fortunately, technology had enough momentum by then that we kept advancing through the Little Ice Age, which ended only about 150 years ago. Things have been warming up since then.
Global warming hysterics generally have limited scientific knowledge, and of geology and meteorology in particular. Their belief is not science; it’s more akin to religion. The main epicenter of hysteria is not the scientific community but seems to be Hollywood. The charge is being led by actors and celebrities given free access to the pulpit by the talking heads on the various entertainment media – and you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think news shows are primarily entertainment. Through the intellectual lightweights that populate most of our classrooms, their ideas spread to our kids, and they filter up from the kids to their parents, who end up feeling guilty about something they don’t understand.
One of the worst things about all this is that it may in the future discredit science itself in the eyes of the common man. When it becomes clear to everyone that the whole global-warming scare is as silly as the tin-foil hats of the 1970s, people could mistakenly think that science itself is silly, because of all these people claiming science proves that anthropogenic global warming is real.
L: Well, maybe. But people don’t believe the sun revolves around the Earth anymore either. Lots of “scientific” notions change without damaging science itself.
Doug: True enough. But unfortunately, anthropogenic global warming has become the scientific issue. And worse, today most funding for science comes through government. That means that you have to be known to be sympathetic to conclusions that are acceptable to the political classes. It’s a shameful thing, and many scientists will deny it, but a lot of today’s research is politically biased. They like to think they are unbiased, but they all know what’s more and what’s less likely to get funded – and what politically incorrect words at conferences and budget meetings can get funding cut. It’s only human for such opinions to have an effect – which is why scientists use double-blind experiments when the beliefs of the researchers themselves can sway the outcome of experiments.
If you don’t robotically accept and parrot the “fact” of anthropogenic global warming, you’re looked upon as the moral equivalent of a holocaust denier. I’ve heard members of the chattering class actually come out and say things like this.
L: But this is science. In spite of the peer pressure and such, shouldn’t the facts lead to correct conclusions?
Doug: They should, but science is no longer the province of individual researchers. A rich amateur could be, and often was, a scientist back in Ben Franklin’s day, simply because it amused him. That afforded a great degree of independence. Today it seems to take billions of dollars to study almost anything, and the state is the center of big money these days. The result is that science is no longer run by scientists; it’s run by politicians – or to be more precise, by bureaucratic administrators who dispense money according to their own agendas.
L: So, would you say that in this environment, the peer-review process has become counter-productive, and now, instead of assuring standards, it assures desired answers?
Doug: I believe the peer review process has probably been corrupted. People are afraid to say things, to consider hypotheses unbiased research might support, because it’s become such a politically charged atmosphere.
L: They could lose their funding.
Doug: Exactly. So anything and everything you listen to on this subject of climate change – including what I’m saying today – is something you should investigate and analyze for yourself. Draw your own independent conclusions. But if you draw the conclusion that anthropogenic global warming is a fraud, you may find yourself reluctant to say it in public, for fear of being hunted down as a heretic and ridiculed by the hoi polloi.
L: Perish the thought that they might come to the conclusion that a little global warming might be a good thing. Coasts might change a bit, but you’d have longer growing seasons and more food for everyone…
Doug: Right. And – gasp! – people might not need to burn so much fossil fuel to keep warm in the winter, cutting back on pollution. Who knows? Look, no one can predict whether the earth will be cooler or hotter next year, let alone do anything to change it. If you’re afraid of global warming, turn off the lights when you leave the room – but don’t participate in the corruption of science, don’t scare our kids with unproven cataclysmic theories, and don’t try to ban economic energy sources that people living on this planet depend upon today. And don’t try to stop progress; it’s the only hope the earth has of seeing clean industry, short of exterminating mankind.
L: Well, I did ask you to tell us what you really think…
Doug: You know I would have anyway.
December 28, 2009