Geo-engineering: Acting in ignorance of the consequences
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report said there are 12 years left to save the planet. It triggered the usual frantic and ridiculous reactions. NBC News even proclaimed: "A last-ditch global warming fix? A man-made 'volcanic' eruption" to cool the planet.
Proposal such as this are defined as geo-engineering, trying to artificially modify Earth's climate to offset what are defined as unnatural events.
The problem is, the events they are trying to offset are actually natural events and if you don't know that, you will undoubtedly create worse problems.
From 1940 to almost 1980 the global temperature went down. Concerns and consensus were global cooling. The alarmists told us it would be the end. Journalist Lowell Ponte wrote in his book, "The Cooling:"
"It is cold fact: the global cooling presents humankind with the most important social, political, and adaptive challenge we have had to deal with for ten thousand years. Your stake in the decisions we make concerning it is of ultimate importance; the survival of ourselves, our children, our species."
Change the seventh word "cooling" to warming and it applies to the alarmist threats today.
The problem then was, and is still now, that people are educated in the false philosophy of uniformitarianism: the misguided belief that natural change is gradual over long periods of time.
Consequently, most people did not understand that the cooling was part of the natural cycle of climate variability, changes that are often huge and sudden. Just 18,000 years ago we were at the peak of an Ice Age.
Then, most of the ice melted and sea levels rose 150 meters because it was warmer for almost all of the last 10,000 years than it is today.
This misunderstanding, combined with the new and necessary paradigm of environmentalism — it is illogical to soil your own nest — to create the belief that perfectly ordinary changes were man-made and so had to be corrected by us as well.
During the cooling threat the geo-engineering proposals included:
• Building a dam across the Bering Straits to block cold Arctic water, to warm the North Pacific and the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere;
• Dumping black soot on the Arctic ice cap to promote melting;
• Adding carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere to raise global temperatures.
All these actions would impact global climate in unpredictable ways. Now we know they would have exacerbated the warming trend that followed.
The recent "volcano" proposal involves adding particulates (microscopic particles) to the high atmosphere to block sunlight to lessen the supposed global warming. The NBC News article references the cooling effect of the Pinatubo volcanic eruption of June 15, 1991, which ejected more particulates into the stratosphere than any eruption since Krakatoa in 1883.
The resulting sulfuric acid haze led to a reduction of global temperatures by about 0.9 degrees between 1991-93.
What NBC News neglected to mention was that this occurred in a period of warming. Had the eruption happened during a cooling phase, the results would have been catastrophic. This is what happened with the volcano Tambora in 1815. It was followed by the "year with no summer" that altered the course of history and was so devastating because it occurred during a cooling trend.
Since the best climate experts say that we can expect a gradual cooling over the next few decades as the Sun weakens, the last thing we should be doing now is artificially cooling the planet still further.
"Taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere," as advocated by the IPCC in their Oct. 8 news conference, is also foolish. The historic record shows that, at about 410 parts per million (ppm), the level of CO2 supposedly in the atmosphere now, we are near the lowest in the last 280 million years.
As plants evolved over that time, the average level was 1200 ppm. That is why commercial greenhouses boost CO2 to that level to increase plant growth and yield by a factor of four.
The IPCC has been wrong in every prediction since 1990. It would be a grave error to use their latest forecasts as the excuse to engage in geo-engineering experiments with the only planet we have.
Tim Ball is an environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba. Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.