Prat watch #10: the ice age is here!

Forget all that nonsense about “no warming for 16 years”, to be a real sceptic these days you have to insist that the climate’s currently cooling. But why stop there? To show your real commitment to the coolist cause, you have to go BM (Beyond Monckton) and insist that the next ice age is descending on us. And that’s exactly what Britain’s nuttiest weather forecaster, Piers Corbyn, is proclaiming. Britain’s had a bit of snow and a cold start to March, so Piers jumps on his soapbox and cries “The new Mini Ice Age is upon us!”


Here’s Piers:

“This is further evidence of the inevitable plunge from now into the new Mini Ice Age we warned of some years ago — The CO2 story is over. It has been pointing the world in the wrong direction for too long. The serious implications of the developing MIA to agriculture and the world economy through the next 25 to 35 years must be addressed.”

● The CO2 story is over
● World cooling is now ‘locked-in’
● Average solar activity way down
● Jet stream often way south
● Jet Stream develops wild waves giving very extreme weather events – hail, thunder, floods etc.

“Locked in”, eh? I rather suspect that the next El Niño will make Mr Corbyn look rather stupid in all but his own eyes. He won’t notice though, because he’ll be busy reinterpreting history (he’s already reinvented solar physics) in the same way as his nearest NZ counterpart, weather astrologer Ken Ring. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see who amongst the usual suspects will be happy to support Corbyn’s frothing. Is no idea too wacky for the coolists?

Stuff unstuffed (a bit)

Fairfax New Zealand’s news web site Stuff has responded to criticism [Hot Topic, The Atavism, From the Morgue] of its ‘Solar minimum’ could trigger Ice Age [WebCite#1] story last week by posting a substantially revised version [WebCite#2], now titled Research considers solar cooling period. The latest version gives a much better picture of the paleoclimate research that was ostensibly the subject of the original story, but Stuff‘s editors have neglected to address the lifting of material from the Daily Mail. Remarkably, the only sentences retained from the original are those that were directly “borrowed” from the Mail article.

Here’s what the Mail piece originally said, with the sections used by Stuff in bold:

The link between Solar ‘moods’ and the weather down here on Earth was first noticed in the 1970s, when the American astronomer Jack Eddy noticed a strong correlation between historic weather records and contemporaneous accounts of Solar activity, most notably the long record of sunspots published a century before by the astronomer Edward Maunder. Eddy noticed that a ‘quiet’ Sun correlates with cold weather and a manic phase means warmer conditions.

Here’s what Stuff published in the first version of the story, and left unchanged in the latest revision:

It was first noticed in the 1970s when the American astronomer Jack Eddy noticed a strong correlation between historic weather records and accounts of solar activity. He noticed that a ‘quiet’ sun correlates with cold weather and a ‘manic’ phase means warmer conditions.

Remarkably similar, I’ll think you agree. Neither Stuff story gives any credit to the Daily Mail, so unless Fairfax has a syndication arrangement with the Mail that allows uncredited use, the site has been incredibly sloppy, both in allowing the original nonsense to make it to the front page of their site, and by correcting the piece without addressing the clear plagiarism. An apology to Stuff‘s readers on both counts would seem in order.

Earth: The Operators’ Manual

Earth: The Operators' ManualRichard Alley’s splendid abilities as a communicator are well displayed in his new book Earth: The Operators’ Manual. Written as a companion book for a forthcoming PBS documentary he hosts, it provides a lively review of the science of climate change and of the renewable energy sources now able to be employed. The general reader who wants to understand why human activities are causing climate change and why it matters, and is prepared to put a little effort into the quest, will find the book an engaging explanation.

Continue reading “Earth: The Operators’ Manual”

Ice Age

The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World

It might be about the last ice age, but global warming concerns are never far away in Brian Fagan’s latest book The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World. Fagan collaborates with three other writers to explain how our understanding of the ice age has developed since the great 19th century achievement of its discovery. A book for the general reader, its content is well explained in medium-length chapters with many photographs and helpful illustrations.

Fagan kicks off with an account of how geologists first began to interpret the signs of glaciation and to posit the advance of great continental ice sheets in northern land masses. He also describes the early searches for clues as to when and why the ice age had begun and how many glacial events it may have included, culminating in the essential validity of theories that variations in the motion of the earth around the sun triggered the multiple glaciations.

Paleoclimatologist Mark Maslin takes up the story, first looking at the possible confluence of events, particularly tectonic, which pushed the warm planet of 50 million years ago into increasing coldness. A near ice age 5 million years ago seems to have been aborted by the influence of ocean currents, but full onset was realised some 2.5 million years ago. A climatic rollercoaster followed, with many glacial-interglacial cycles, alternating coldness and warmth. The waxing and waning of the huge continental ice sheets was initiated by changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun which were then amplified and transformed by various feedback mechanisms. Sometimes things happened quickly. The so-called Heinrich events, massive collapses of the North American Laurentide ice sheet, which added enormous quantities of cold fresh water to the North Atlantic and altered ocean currents provide a stark warning of the possible extreme and rapid effects of climate change in the future.

John Hoffecker, an expert on human adaptations to cold climates, offers a fascinating chapter on the human response to the ice age. Novel forms of humankind evolved repeatedly in Africa and migrated into Eurasia during the Ice Age, confronting either intense cold or intervals of warmth. Homo sapiens, finally, with the emergence of mind brought a new capacity for adaptation to environmental challenges. They spread into an astonishing range of habitats and climate zones without differentiating into new species, and displaced their cold-adapted Neanderthal cousins. One hopes that the creative powers of mind will be adequate to the rather different range of challenges ahead.

Paleontologist Hannah O’Regan completes the picture with a survey of the animal life of the ice age. Megafauna survived all glacials but the last, and while acknowledging the controversy surrounding the extinctions O’Regan notes that what differentiates the last glaciation from the others is the arrival of modern humans on all continents.

Fagan returns with a chapter on the way human communities have adapted and flourished in the ten or so millenia since the last glacial period. Sea level rises in the order of 90-120 metres were among the staggering environmental changes initially faced. The relatively stable climatic conditions of the Holocene have seen the development of agriculture and animal domestication and the appearance of civilisation, but even minor temperature and rainfall shifts within this context have had dramatic effects on human societies, especially through the incidence of famine. “We would be rash to assume that our own cities are impregnable to climatic forces that are beyond our control.”  (Readers of Brian Fagan’s absorbing earlier book on the medieval warm period The Great Warming will recall his reconstruction of the devastating effects of drought on many civilisations of the time and his expressed concern that future global warming, unprecedented for human society, will include drought that will severely affect crowded populations in vulnerable parts of today’s world.)

As Mark Maslin reminds us in a final chapter on the future, we are part of the ice age and depend on its legacy. The huge ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are witness to that. What happens if you put lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere of a planet with lots of ice sheets? That is the experiment which is now under way. What the study of the Ice Age tells us is that when climate changes it can do so suddenly and without warning. The book adds its voice to the many warning us that the experiment is dangerous and should be stopped.

The study of past climates is important for our understanding of the present and the future we are storing up, as a number of books reviewed on Hot Topic make clear, including Broecker’s Fixing Climate, Ward’s Under a Green Sky, Turney’s Ice, Mud and Blood and Archer’s The Long Thaw. But in a book like this one by Fagan and his associates there’s also an intrinsic interest in the picture of the past that is being constructed as the jigsaw is assembled. I read it partly for the sheer pleasure of sensing the past, untroubled, albeit only briefly, by anxieties about the future.