The fly wants the credit
Around twenty thousand years ago, sheets of ice thousands of feet thick lay over northern reaches of Europe and Asia, and over all of Canada and New England, spreading as far south as Ohio, the Dakotas, and Washington state. When this ice was at its greatest depth, perhaps a mile in thickness, the water in the oceans worldwide was about 300 feet lower than today.
This is commonly called the ice age, although geologists and climatologists tell us it was part of a much longer period they call a “glacial age,” and they point out that we are technically still in one that began about two and a half million years ago. Those who have watched the “Ice Age” movies, with their woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and primitive humans, are aware that we actually did have a recent icy period, when those creatures were indeed present, and probably the same people who have seen the movies might also assume that it ended when the ice receded from the United States about 13,000 years ago.
Anthropologists have deduced that about 16,000 years ago, when the sea had dropped between Russia and Alaska leaving a frozen “land bridge,” humans, for the first time, explored their way from Asia into North America. In place of open water there was only permafrost between the two continents in what is now the Bering Strait.
Not the First Ice Age
Scientists generally accept the geological evidence that there have been at least five long glacial ages, each one lasting millions of years. In at least one such period, the glacial age centered around 850 million years ago, the oceans were practically empty and ice covered the globe from both poles almost to the equator. From a quarter million miles in space — the perspective from the moon, for instance — it looked like a snowball Earth.
The current glacial age, the one we are still in, began about two and a half million years ago, at the beginning of the Pleistocene epoch. It was during the Pleistocene when modern mammals, especially the larger and smarter ones, began to take over the planet. But the Pleistocene is considered to have ended about 11,700 years ago, and we are now in the Holocene epoch, which is the period of mankind’s rapid development. The current glacial age, you see, has continued into a new epoch.
(I thought since 1950 we’ve been in the Anthropocene epoch, you say. It may help if you understand that Earth’s history is divided into a hierarchical series of smaller chunks of time, referred to as the geologic time scale. These divisions, in descending length of time, are called eons, eras, periods, epochs, and ages. These units are classified based on Earth’s rock layers, or strata, and the fossils found within them. The term for the present, Anthropocene, has been proposed by a small group of activists to emphasize as much the social impact as the geological impact of human activity upon Earth’s systems. However, the term has not been adopted by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), the international organization that names and defines epochs. The IUGS would be interested in declaring the present a new epoch if humans have changed Earth’s systems to the point that changes in human activity are reflected in the rock strata. Since it takes several millennia at the very least for rocks to form, it will be some thousands of years before the IUGS will have the information needed to determine that such activity has been permanently recorded in the strata of Earth’s crust — that is, unless political pressure, social agitation, or government edicts interfere with the ethics of pure science within the IUGS.)
In a glacial age, such as the present Holocene, the atmosphere worldwide cools by an average of as little as six degrees Celsius, or ten degrees Fahrenheit, and stays cooler. The average temperature of the planet’s surface, that is, the ground temperature, drops too. Precipitation continues year after year, more and more as snow across wider areas — snow which cannot melt and which falls onto the previous years’ snow and thickens into ice sheets over parts of several continents. The polar ice spreads, and glaciers found in mountain ranges grow longer and deeper.
During the warmest periods between one glacial age and the next, there is no lasting ice to speak of around the globe, even at the north and south poles. That is how it was just a few million years before the Pleistocene. Plants grew all over the continent of Antarctica and there was warm open water at the north pole. Since humans did not exist at that point — or if they did, they were not organized into industrial nations — humans did not cause palm trees to grow at the south pole.
A little thing to keep in mind as you look at the globe, by the way: In the southern hemisphere, there is a great land mass at the south pole — the continent Antarctica — and virtually nothing but oceans around it for thousands of miles. In the northern hemisphere it’s just the opposite. There is a great expanse of water at the north pole — a sea — and little else but land around it for thousands of miles.
Even though the ice sheets have melted partway back so they now cover just the polar areas, we are still in a warming phase of the latest glacial age. What determines that the current glacial age has not ended are the remaining Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and the frozen sea at the north pole. By definition, when this remaining ice has melted, the current glacial age will be in its end phase — at its nadir so to speak, and we will anticipate that a sixth great glacial age will begin some millions of years beyond that — we’ll have to wait and see. This complete polar melting will happen, once again, whether mankind exists or not. The global warming accompanying the arrival of the end of the glacial age will happen whether mankind takes steps to preserve and regulate the present coolness or not. We cannot stop it.
Not A Smooth Transition
During a glacial age, though, there are pulses of intense glaciation, and periods of rapid warming which we call interglacials. It is the cooling side of such a glaciation that brought us the most recent “ice age” that peaked 20,000 years ago. For the entire time since then, that is for the past 20,000 years, (which includes the 13,000 years or so since most of the ice receded from the United States), we appear to be on the warming side of an interglacial period which, if it isn’t the end of the glacial age, may nevertheless last many more thousands of years. This current warming could last until the ice sheets are all melted, but if it doesn’t, and turns gradually or abruptly cold again, it could plunge us back into another few thousand years with ice sheets creeping over the continents — but that would still be part of an overall warming trend. Eventually, the glacial age will end and there will likely be no natural ice to be found anywhere on Earth.
In other words, it’s kind of like the tides at the seashore. If we compare the incoming tide to the cooling of the planet, and the outgoing tide to the ending of a glacial age, then we are currently near the end of an outgoing tide. As the tide is changing, you can stand on the beach and the water surges over your feet (temporary cooling), then flows back out (temporary warming), then back over your feet again, and so on. But eventually it no longer reaches your toes, and you are left standing on wet, warming sand.
That is sort of where we are now with the current long glacial age and the present, warming interglacial. The most recent “ice age” that peaked 20,000 years ago was like one of the last surges that covers your feet on the beach. Now we’re at the stage where we would wait to see whether the wet sand dries out completely. Another surge or more may rush all the way up and touch your toes again — another mini-ice age — another interglacial. And then the waves will be gone and there will be a long wait on hot dry sand until the cooling begins once more, like the tide returning to the beach after a few hours, comparable to beginning of another — the sixth — glacial age.
Cosmic Forces and Humans
Science has not yet come up with a good explanation for the forces in the universe that have kept this cycle in motion. There are theories and they all involve some very powerful determinants, comparable with, and probably tied to, other strong forces: the throbbing of pulsars, the bursts of gas emissions from the sun, the elasticity of orbits, and the waves of interstellar energy rays that wash over us like unseen spirits.
Onto this cosmic time scale have arrived modern humans. Over the past hundred years or so, since Albert Einstein shook the world with his strange theories, we have discovered and codified all this evidence about the glacial ages. We have put a halt to the forest fires that used to burn for years over vast areas of the continents. Thus we may have stalled some of the natural events that may or may not have contributed to the overall warming of the atmosphere. We have begun burning the “fossil fuel” left from decayed and buried forests instead, so maybe it’s a break-even — there is no way to measure one against the other.
The Scale of Our Impact
There is no denying that every human footfall on a forest trail, every animal ‘s touch, every instance of one molecule pressing against another with gravitational force, contributes to compressing the soil in the spot where a creature has trod. Concomitantly, this argues that my every emission of hot breath into a wintery wind contributes to global warming. If my footfall in the forest fails to foster, find, or follow a trail but meanders without detectable effect — if my my gravitational force, that is, is resisted by the elasticity of moss or the expansion of forming frost — then the forest floor is neither further compressed nor is the trace of my passing any more consequential, on a global scale, than that of a squirrel that has scampered from one tree trunk to another. And yet, I realize that I am arguing with those who warn that my single instance of exhaling or my casual passing once across a patch of bare ground constitutes permanent degradation of the planet.
Perhaps they would allow that single instances such as these do not matter and cannot even be measured but would argue that cumulative instances cause true, measurable impact. A much-used hiking trail is testimony to that. But a much-used hiking trail would be no trail at all if every hiker chose a different path through the wilderness, resulting in no discernible impact — unless a hiker leaves other evidence of passing such as litter or campfire debris. Someone’s preference that I restrict my footfalls to paved pathways such as city sidewalks (in order to save the forest from my destructive presence) denies that a once-pristine patch of ground has already been destroyed in the creation of the city. Because someone — many someones in the past — have decided to create a city does not oblige me to make use of it.
People with self-appointed authority over the ethics of my existence, (governments, that is), may declare that, of course, I am allowed to breathe. They expect me to be grateful for their indulgence (when it should be those in government who are grateful for my indulgence of its existence).
I liken my presence to the infinitesimal “clatter” of a penny dropped onto an already noisy city street, where its contribution to the city’s din is philosophical rather than physical or detectable. “But the city exists because you demand that it exists –“ I can hear you saying — “with all of its foul air and subterranean rumble and screaming sirens, its forest-obliterating concrete and electrical hum and congestion with incoming and outgoing shipping containers. It’s there for you, with all its ineradicable poverty and obscene wealth! Maybe your stroll in the forest does no real harm, but the things you demand all come from cramped urban centers like Chicago and Tianjin, Moscow and Hiroshima, Caracas and Johannesburg.”
No, I aver, I don’t demand it — and I understand that the word refers to the supply-demand equation of basic economics. I avail myself of it a little, but as I’ve grown older I’ve also reduced my participation in the “advantages” offered by civilization. Each of us enters adulthood according to the trajectory set by our youth, a course initially determined by the windage of our parents’ knowledge, understanding, and attitudes and by the pressures of our then-contemporary pococurante culture.
Each of us adjusts that trajectory — or should adjust it — as we fly through life, shedding nonsensical desires and expectations of ourselves as well as our dreamy expectations of the world. Each of us should adopt attitudes consistent with reality steered by hope rather than adolescent fantasy steered by willful ignorance. What I believed the world would deliver to me 50 years ago is laughable now. In that half century I have shifted toward relying 99 percent on myself and one percent on others, whereas, in my gullible youth, I believed that the majority of people were benevolent and trustworthy and that we were participating in looking out for each other. I have found those few who are benevolent and trustworthy, who have reciprocated and earned my trust as I have earned theirs.
Instead of viewing human activity as a cause of global warming, it is valid to look at recent but prehistoric global warming, over the past 5,000 to 13,000 years, as a an impetus to human civilization and a cause, rather than a consequence, of the “industrial revolution.” Maybe global warming speeded up human activity and nation building and industry, not the opposite as is commonly assumed. Science can give us no more evidence for one theory than the other. And an honest scientist admits that coincidence is not evidence.
Our population is so great, or more precisely, so small, that all the humans currently living, about 7.7 billion people, could just about cover the island of Puerto Rico with 14 square feet per person – about the proximity that people enjoy on a dance floor, or on a crowded sidewalk, or when it’s crowded at the Springfield Fair. If all the people on Earth were standing around like a crowd waiting for a speech from a fascinating politician, they could do it on Puerto Rico, and the rest of the world would be devoid of humans. That’s how much space we actually take up on the surface of the planet.
There are those within this jostling crowd who believe that our human activity of the past century or two, and especially since the new millennium began, has substantially affected the ebb and flow of the current glacial age — what is called Earth’s albedo. They want us to believe that the planet is warming because of our reckless activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, and if we stop burning stuff and stop raising animals that expel methane, we will halt global warming.
Well, global warming is the nature of the cycle and the cycle of nature. Global warming is absolutely real and would forge ahead even if humans had not invented so much as a campfire. There is evidence that humans have contributed gases to help block the sunlight hitting Earth’s surface, and there is even scientific debate whether that contributes to cooling or warming of the atmosphere, but there is no scientific evidence that human activity is affecting the trend of the present interglacial period or the outcome of the current glacial age. There is only speculation that such is true, and a correlation is not proof that one causes the other. Ask any honest scientist.
There is a difference between our suspicion that we are doing it and scientific evidence that we are doing it. That difference is profound. I am a scientist, so I will refrain from the conceit that I have such cosmic powers until I see the evidence.
I don’t make fun of people who reduce, re-use, and recycle. I am strongly involved in conservation on all levels. Waste and excess are deplorable for so many reasons that I don’t need political persuasion to avoid it and to practice good stewardship over this insignificant speck of cosmic dust that we call Earth.
Science, in part, is the process of proposing theories, developing hypotheses, discovering evidence, and assembling information into coherent explanations of the world. Science is also dispassionate. If an explanation does not stand up to proof, it must be discarded, often to the serious disappointment of anyone who wanted to believe the theory.
If a theory has not been tested, a scientist does not proclaim that the theory is proof. But a few loud scientists who favor a certain political position have been offering theories of human influence as proof of human influence, the coincidence of human activity and global warming as evidence of human influence.
Having looked at the theories that explain the natural surges in global warming and cooling, for which there is confirming evidence, I must argue that humans are falsely blaming themselves if they believe that they have already made any impact on the forces of the universe. “Experts” deserve even more to be disregarded who argue that we can reverse those cosmic forces by changing the U.S. tax code (to punish certain corporations or industries that are out of political favor). They may call themselves scientists, but they are promoting superstition.
And what if we tweak the tax code just enough to arrest further warming? Then we must certainly keep electing the politicians who know how to keep tweaking and tweaking forever to hold it right there — not too hot, not too cold! To change the politicians in power is to risk reckless swerving of U.S. government intervention and resulting surges in warming and cooling. (Remember that it is all up to us. China is excused from the mandates of the Paris climate accord, which China’s representative sign on the condition that it does not apply to them, and the rest of the world, even if each of the other signatory countries were to honestly comply, can have but little effect compared to the United States.)
And, if we can influence the forces of the universe by political antics — for the results of which we might wait centuries — can we then halt the natural cycle altogether so that the oceans nevermore rise or fall by one meter, the mean temperatures in all zones hold steady, and weather patterns and habitats remain constant? Can we arrest the progress from one glacial age to the next?
Such human folly — a sort of incredible arrogance, really — is as if a few of the sand crabs on the beach have suddenly decided that the crabs are collectively responsible for the disappearance of the water and the drying of the sand between tides, and so they force all the other crabs to stay buried and completely still, on the premise that their sacrifice will make the water return. (And if it does return, there’s your proof!)
Regarding those who believe humans have caused Earth’s warming by roughly one degree in the last hundred years, Æsop may have said it best, around 600 B.C.: The fly sat on the axel-tree of the chariot wheel and said: What a dust I do raise!
What’s Actually Happening
Whether it is I who have caused global warming or whether it is the inevitable course of the earth’s cycles, I will act the same way. I will, in fact, behave as if I believe I am contributing to global warming by my reliance on coal and oil to produce my wind turbines and to generate the electrical power for my rechargeable batteries, by my purchase of products made in China and contained in hard plastic display packages. In other words, I will resist relying on those commodities. Whether I believe it is human activity which is a factor and that the atmosphere is warming more swiftly than it would in my absence, or I insist on true evidence rather than emotional appeal, I will act the same way.
And even if I were to believe that I am at fault or contributing to the crisis, anything I can say or do is overwhelmed by the colossal forces of political power not just here but in other countries. Anything I can do is crushed by the rapacious supremacy of the money controllers around the world reinforcing the status quo. And I am drowned out by a nation obsessed with self-indulgence, locked in the pursuit of entertainment and personal gratification. Everything I can do in my lifetime is obliterated by just one of the jets leaving its contrail above my house on its way to Europe.
Since the 1970s we have effectively made manufacturing illegal in the United States. Every industry producing consumer goods, (in contrast with the music “industry” or other non-industrial industries), has been forced to subjugate the processes of manufacturing to oppressive labor laws, compliance with complicated social engineering regulations, and the burden of unbelievable tax policies so debilitating as to make it an act of surpassing stupidity any longer to open a factory in this country.
We have, of course, shifted our manufacturing chiefly to the People’s “Republic” of China. We have done so while openly acknowledging that country’s indifference to the protections which American laborers would enjoy were there any factory jobs here to fall under our glorious protections and benefits.
China is not affected by hand-wringing political pontificators. Although a signer of the pact, China is excused from the ineffectual Paris Climate Accord, l’Accord de Paris. (The Accord is described by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a legally binding treaty, however it was never ratified by the U.S. Senate and so is not legally binding on the United States.)
And China, which for a few years achieved and maintained some remarkable quality levels, is at or near the point where it may be free to slack off, or turn its better-quality goods inward while shipping the crappier stuff around the world. With its pirating of our technology and explosive growth in manufacturing capacity, there is nothing China needs that it cannot make for itself now, save for a few raw materials. We have become its groveling customer. Since capitalism is an alien concept there and since the customer does not influence its industries, we can now stand on the outside and wonder what went wrong.
What to Do
What, indeed! As with so many other areas of concern — faith, education, medical and mental health, emotional and physical self-sufficiency — I can be most effective by striving to improve that one human unit over which I have any control: myself. I must accept that I have no more influence on the course of human activity than a single water molecule has on the course of a river’s channel.
I do reduce, re-use, and recycle. I would walk, if there were any regular destination within walking distance. (Where I live that is largely out of the question.) I haven’t boarded an airplane in nearly two decades and may drive to some destination out of state only once a year.
Since, with the complicity of unelected government bureaucrats, the big-box stores have put small businesses out of business and have, since then, reduced their inventories to the three most popular items in every category, I now shop for most things, from printer ink to socks, on line. (I don’t need or want what’s popular. I generally want the 23rd most popular item in one category, the 719th most popular item in another.)
We have a little land, and we grow some of our fruit and vegetables on it. We have a heat pump to make our oil consumption more efficient and may soon add a second. Our house is equipped almost entirely with LED lighting. And, given where we live, we have a couple of wood stoves and Aladdin mantle lamps, essentially unused but available.
I put no faith whatsoever in government to study climate change objectively or to respond effectively. As with the Paris Climate Accord, government can be relied upon to use the tax code to punish certain out-of-favor corporations, to fund idiotic and environmentally destructive initiatives that pretend to be climate friendly, and to consume precious resources in virtue signaling.
I do not deny that the planet is warming. However, no one has established scientifically that you and I are involved in making that happen. (If you disagree with me, show me the evidence, not the correlation or the hypothesis.) Science can only report that the warming trend of the current interglacial, which began before humans even had written language, has continued through the recent industrial age.
I am not even denying that humans may have an influence on it. I advocate, in fact, that we behave as if we are having an influence. I want to leave this world no worse for my brief stay than when I arrived. Each time, along the way, that I have recognized some excess in my human “footprint,” I have modified my behavior to make less of an impact.
Here’s what I am denying. Disputing is a better word. I dispute that science has proved manmade climate disaster. Some scientists may suspect it, but the science is not “settled.” And scientists can become personally passionate about the same things that worry everyone else. People who are scientists may be warning us about what worries them, but they can only warn us as alarmed individuals like anyone else. They do not have the evidence to ascribe climate change to human activity. Their passion and concern arise from their emotional response to what they suspect is happening. I warn people about things (unrelated to climate change) from my emotional response to what I suspect is happening, too. But I can’t prove that what worries me will come to pass. (I discuss the things that bother me in other sites on the internet.)
As for climate change, I suspect what is happening now is similar to what has happened several times in the past, for which there is evidence. If you draw a sine wave on a piece of paper, from a distance it may look like a smooth undulation — steeply up, then gradually up, then gently rounded to start downward, then gently downward, steeply downward, gently rounded to start upward again, and so it repeats.
If you hold a strong magnifying glass near your pencil mark on the paper and look at a tiny section of your upward curve, though, you will see that the magnified edge of the curve is not a smooth, gradual rise. Where the pencil has ridden over the individual fibers of the paper, there will be precipitous drops and dramatic leaps and horizontal holds, all in the span of a microscopic space. If the entire sine wave you drew corresponds to 50,000 years between crests, then those microscopic aberrations in the edge of the line may correspond to a period of a decade to a century apiece — and we have evidence in the historical record that, even though the trend may be always warming for thousands of years past, there have been periods when it leveled off for years, when temperatures plunged for years, and when Earth was suddenly baking for years as is currently happening.
People living during any of those brief aberrations might readily have mistaken the phenomenon for a dramatic change in the overall trend. They might worry that it is a sudden change from a sine wave to a seizure.
Where That Leaves Us
Even if humans are demonstrably responsible, governments are not going to do anything effective. Governments are going to perpetuate internal political squabbles and countries are going to continue fighting among themselves in the name of political philosophy or ancient regional animosity or pseudo-religious convictions. Arrogant narcissists will continue to rise to the highest positions in governments and other institutions. After all, the principle hobby of humans has been war between nations or, in the occasional absence of international conflict, then internecine struggle.
Whether due entirely to cosmic forces that we cannot influence or human forces that we can but will not restrain, the planet is going to continue to warm — until the natural cycles of the solar system push the global temperature back toward the colder. That shift could begin as soon as this year, although we probably can’t detect or acknowledge it until a few centuries of data can confirm it, or that shift may not come until thousands of years more have passed. Just as the water at the beach surges in and out as the tide changes, temperatures on Earth are going to surge in ways that seem, temporarily, illogical one way or the other.
I accept that our descendants some generations hence will, almost certainly, see the polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise. They will face excruciating heat in most parts of the world. Some historically cool, wet areas will remain cool but will dry out. Other areas that are now hot and dry will remain hot but will see drenching tropical wetness.
“I’m not a pessimist but a realist. There is nothing about the changes in climate, the intransigence of government, or the invincible ignorance of the masses, that justifies much optimism for a rosy worldwide future.”David A. Woodbury
People living now may grow tired of the dire warnings, but may very well see little change. Of course I urge everyone, though, to live responsibly, also to prepare mentally and, as much as possible, physically, to adapt. The United States has passed its zenith of prosperity. Our best preparation will include learning as many as possible of the skills that will sustain a person or a family in less-prosperous, more primitive times.
I urge any thinking person much younger than I am, who has the prospect of living for a few more decades and who now resides in a densely-populated urban environment, to seek a home and a means of support in a more rural area. I’m not a pessimist but a realist. In my youth, I was, as Albert Jay Nock wrote of Henry George, almost “a second Jefferson in his naive idealization of the common man’s intelligence, disinterestedness, and potential loyalty to a great cause.” Now that my youth and optimism are spent, I can see that there is nothing about the changes in climate, the intransigence of government, or the invincible ignorance of the masses, that justifies much optimism for a rosy worldwide future. It’s 2021. Born shortly after World War II, by now I may not have seen the worst that humans can do to themselves and to one another, but I have seen the best and the brightest — and it’s not good enough.
The common man — or the masses, to use Eric Hoffer’s generalization, are not interested in a great cause on the merits of that cause. The common man does not think for himself. The masses are interested in any cause that is cleverly labeled and expertly manipulated, caring not who is pulling the strings or who suffers but caring, mostly, that no one gets rich. The irony is lost on most people that it is the unthinking masses who are the best customers of state-run lotteries. It is the masses who most hate the rich who also most want to become instantly rich.
I urge any open-minded person to seek or renew a relationship with God. Science and God are not incompatible, and the behavior that accompanies a life of faith, acts of kindness especially, is the very conduct that promotes community welfare, local commerce, and productive (as opposed to destructive) interdependence. Think globally, act locally.
Perhaps some discoveries in outer space — a mission to Mars, for instance — will trigger a new and unforeseeable era of hope. In the meantime, despair is not called for, but sober thinking. Climate change is real. It’s a colossal conceit to believe that we are causing it. Quit fighting about it and prepare yourselves to deal with it.