What Gets Warm Must Cool Off.

January 11, 2010 at 9:47 am (By Amba)

Here’s one of the most persuasive accounts I’ve seen (you can take or leave the political editorializing appended at the very end) of how large a part natural warming and cooling cycles have likely played in the climate changes of the past century.

The authors of this study are not climate-change skeptics, exactly.  They just think about 50 percent of the most recently observed warming trend was natural (i.e. not “anthropogenic”), and that we’ve probably now flipped into an equally natural cooling phase that could last a few decades.  They’ve received hate mail from both “warm-mongers” (I love that phrase!) and antiwarm agitators, a sure sign that they are doing something right.

Meanwhile, polar bear fans take heart:

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, says that Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007.

If these guys are right, this cold winter we’re having is no fluke, but the new normal for the next 20 to 30 years.  Of course, if so, this is going to cause problems of its own (doesn’t everything?):  deaths of the poorly housed and homeless, high heating oil demand, crop damage, shifts in tourism patterns (I saw a few hardy souls trying for suntans in South Florida last week; they were getting polka dots from their goosebumps).  It will also come as a setback to investors and entrepreneurs who have been betting on a continuing temperature rise.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that the Chicago child in me is excited.

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27 Comments

  1. El Pollo Real said,

    the new normal for the next 20 to 30 years.

    Glad I made a small investment in SoCal real estate then.

    Say Amba, you don’t happen to recall the winter of ’51-’52 in Chicago do you? According to my father, there was a lot of snow there that year.

  2. amba12 said,

    I certainly can recall those years, but I can’t specifically peg “a lot of snow” to any one winter. It seems to me there was ALWAYS a lot of snow. It was, you know, winter.

    We have some hilarious home-movie clips of us ice skating right around then. I’m a little chubby kid in a snowsuit, laughing and falling down. At one point the cameraman (my dad) also falls down and the row of houses upends itself.

  3. El Pollo Real said,

    It turns out that 1950-51 were extra snowy years in Chicago Link. There was a 10″ accumulation on Dec 14, 1951 alone. My father remarked about how much snow he saw in Chicago when he passed through just before New Years in 1951: Link. That may have been the first time he ever saw snow in a “big” city though. So while I agree that as kids we tend to think there was a lot more snow, in your case the historical record shows that there actually was more. :)

    I took several reels of old super 8mm film to Costco and they converted it to DVD (digital) format. It wasn’t too expensive as I recall and I easily made copies to give to my brother and my mom last year. Ron says there is a way to chop-up and edit the DVD into smaller bite-sized snips, and I keep meaning to do that, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  4. amba12 said,

    A tech-savvy in-law put our home movies on DVD. If I can figure out the snippet part, I’ll compare snowsuits with ya.

  5. Donna B. said,

    extra snow – 1950
    extra heat – 1980
    extra cold – 2010

    Contact me about global warming in 2040.

  6. wj said,

    One thing I have never quite been able to follow: why does it matter whether the cause of global warming is human activity or not? Either way, if global warming is happening (and the evidence looks good, if not yet totally iron-clad), and if we feel that the consequences are bad (admittedly a matter of opinion . . . at least for those who do not live in low-lying areas or on islands), then human action to attempt to reverse it is obviously the way to go.

    Unless you believe that anything that happens is simply God’s plan for the universe. In that case, of course, taking any action at all is sacrilegious — on this or any other aspect of the world. But how many people are willing to just do nothing and let the world (e.g. society) do to them as it will?

  7. El Pollo Real said,

    then human action to attempt to reverse it is obviously the way to go.

    The question is what human action would reverse global warming. Proponents of AGW will say we need to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. That “curative” mechanism has not been tested either, and so the logic circles back pretty quickly.

  8. El Pollo Real said,

    Hey, why doesn’t 2 html language work here?

  9. amba said,

    What’s 2 html language? I use plain old HTML coding in these comments and that works OK.

  10. Donna B. said,

    I cringe when I read about seeding clouds as well as CO2 reduction. We may have evidence the planet is warming, but we don’t have a lot of evidence as to why… and therefore we can’t fix it. Yet.

  11. El Pollo Real said,

    What’s 2 html language?

    Sorry for the confusion. I was trying to make a subscript with that “2” by typing with “2” in the middle followed by . It doesn’t seem to work.

  12. El Pollo Real said,

    OK now I see that some bracketed text that I type here disappears. I was trying to make a subscript. Amba, I guess you’ll have to read the html version of what I wrote to make sense. I’ll stop now.

  13. amba said,

    H2O

  14. amba said,

    Right. Doesn’t work. I was trying it with the tag. Many comment forms have a heading that says ‘some HTML acceoted.” It doesn’t say that here but apparently it is the case — “some (not all)”.

  15. amba said,

    I said sub tag in angle brackets and the word “sub” disappeared!

  16. Michael_Haz said,

    One of the first serious things that happens when the globe begins to cool is that HTML gets all screwed up. We’ve been warned by the HTML Gaia.

  17. amba said,

    I wondered how we’d ever get back to the topic! Thank you, Michael!!

  18. El Pollo Real said,

    I cringe when I read about seeding clouds as well as CO2 reduction. We may have evidence the planet is warming, but we don’t have a lot of evidence as to why… and therefore we can’t fix it. Yet.

    I’ve not been convinced yet that the ocean’s capacity for CO2 uptake via phytoplankton, decay, sequestration and eventual subduction has been adequately considered. All we hear is “pH poisoning”. CO2 is a Lewis acid, and does form carbonic acid with water. But the ocean’s buffering capacity is enormous and not saturated.

  19. wj said,

    Donna, you can treat symptoms which are a problem, even when you do not know the root cause. It happens all the time in medicine (especially in Emergency Rooms). That’s why someone with a high fever may get ice packs. Nobody thinks that hot air is causing the fever, but getting the body temperature down can keep someone alive while you look for the cause.

    Granted that treating the cause of a problem is better. But treating the symptoms can buy you the time required to figure out what the cause is. Are the effects of a warming climate in that category? Sure, if your home is going to be flooded. But also if your sources of food are being battered by the changes.

  20. Peter Hoh said,

    This article includes a link to a very useful map that illustrates that the below-normal temps are balanced by some above-normal temps.

  21. Donna B. said,

    wj — I don’t think we know enough about the causes of global warming to even treat the symptoms. Are we sure CO2 is the culprit? What other effects might we be ignorant of? Weather/climate science is at the same stage medical science was when leeches were prescribed, IMHO.

  22. Icepick said,

    One thing I have never quite been able to follow: why does it matter whether the cause of global warming is human activity or not?

    One thing I have never understood is why so many believe that everything has to remain EXACTLY AS IT IS NOW in all perpetuity. Climate changed before hominids existed, for reasons that had nothing to do with hominids. I can’t decide if the fanatical belief that nothing should ever change is a mark of rank insanity or gross stupidity. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

    Unless you believe that anything that happens is simply God’s plan for the universe. In that case, of course, taking any action at all is sacrilegious — on this or any other aspect of the world.

    Exactly. Belief that God has a plan means no one should ever do anything. God has a plan, and if He wanted you to not starve He would miracle food into your stomach. So next time you’ve got the munchies, just sit there. @@

  23. wj said,

    Donna, what I am saying is, it doesn’t matter if CO2 is the culprit in the change we are seeing. Or if the entire phenomena is due to something else totally unrelated.

    Consider: if global warming is entirely due to changes in the sun (which I don’t believe, but just as a thought experiment), does that mean that nothing should be done to try to offset the effect? After all, we don’t have any idea how to modify the sun’s output level. But if we don’t like the impact that this has on us, should we not try to do something that we can do to reduce that impact? Reducing CO2 in the atmosphere (and/or reducing other greenhouse gasses) will reduce the temperature, and that is something we can do.

  24. wj said,

    P.S. Yet it turns out that, for some things, leaches are actually a good solution. And, after a century or two of not using them, they have returned to the medical arsenal. (Obscure facts for all occasions….)

  25. Donna B. said,

    wj… at the time that leeches were prescribed for every ailment, homeopathy was thought to be an improvement because it did no harm.

    It was not that bloodletting is never helpful, but that too much in combination with not knowing when to use it led to weakness and death.

  26. Icepick said,

    Consider: if global warming is entirely due to changes in the sun (which I don’t believe, but just as a thought experiment), does that mean that nothing should be done to try to offset the effect? After all, we don’t have any idea how to modify the sun’s output level. But if we don’t like the impact that this has on us, should we not try to do something that we can do to reduce that impact? Reducing CO2 in the atmosphere (and/or reducing other greenhouse gasses) will reduce the temperature, and that is something we can do.

    But is it a smart thing to do, in your thought experiment? Probably not. Solar output can vary much faster than our ability to change CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Not to mention, (to beat my tired old drum) there are more pressing matters. But what the hell, what difference do dead zones and overfishing matter as long as it’s comfortable outside?

  27. wj said,

    If the alternative is a different temperature outside, it might well not be worth investing much time and energy to addressing the problem.

    But once you start getting climates changing to the point where agriculture is seriously disrupted, it becomes a whole different issue. (Talk to an Australian if you don’t think that is becoming a serious problem.)

    Not to mention the detail of some nations pretty well wiped out because they are all under water. I’m thinking not so much of a few small island nations, but more of places like Bangladesh, which are not just barely above sea level but have fairly large populations.

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