Category Archives: Ice Age Scare

A pessimistic world view and the media

Belgians in their 20s and 30s aren’t getting cheerful from what they see happening in the world,. This was the result from the research of sociologist Mark Elchardus (Dutch). He wrote the book ‘Voorbij het Narratief van Neergang’ (Beyond the Narrative of Downfall). It is based on 2,000 interviews with Belgians in their 20s and 30s, taken at the end of 2013. The result seems to be that they have a rather negative world view:

  • 92.1% fears more disasters caused by global warming
  • 84.8% thinks that open borders threatens our own workforce
  • 90.9% sees lowering of pensions
  • 82.8% poorer people becoming poorer and riches becoming richer
  • 68.8% fears more victims of terror

At the end, just in passing, was said that those young adults, while having a pessimistic world view, have it socio-economically at least as good as their parents and they look optimistic towards their own future. To me it sound like they are thinking these negative things will not effect them that much.

At that age, I wasn’t much different. I, and my peers, had it at least as good, maybe even better, than our parents. We also heard plenty of doom stories around us. Mostly known are the stories about an imminent overpopulation, the new ice age, acid rain, the ozone hole, the immigration wave from South Europe/North Africa, consequences of the aging of our population and many more. The topics that the current young adults worry about are rather similar to those that we had when we had at their age. Only the events differ.

It doesn’t seem if they are the last to do so. The children of today are growing up in a world with its own scares like climate scare, climate disruption, the current immigration wave from the middle East,.. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But that wasn’t actually the thing that caught my initial attention. It was this: the contrast of their pessimistic view of the world and their optimistic view towards their own future could be explained by the news coverage in the media, according to Elchardus.

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The polar Vortex doesn’t disprove global warming. Sure, but that is no big deal actually.

There was lots of talking about the polar vortex this week. Even in this tiny country, which wasn’t affected by the freezing temperatures (yet), the media was full of the polar vortex that made the freezing temperatures in Northern America possible. The media was assuring us that this cold snap was the result of global warming (but a lot carefully avoided calling it global warming and diplomatically called it climate change).

This is basically how the media said it works: it is the result of the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice because of climate change. This decreases the albedo of the Arctic region and as a result it heats up faster than other parts of the Earth. The temperature difference between the Arctic and the southern regions determines the strength of the jet stream. If the jet stream is strong, it isolates the cold Arctic from the warmer mid latitudes. But because of this melt the jet stream becomes weaker and more wavy, allowing cold air (usually confined to the poles) to reach further into the mid latitudes. Et voilà, global warming/climate change caused the severe cold snap. John Holdren, the science advisor of President Obama, even went that far to state that because of this process those deep freeze cold snaps will occur more frequent in the future.

But in general, I can agree with the statement that current cold wave doesn’t disprove global warming. Yet, while it is a nice explanation of the assumed mechanism, it doesn’t prove global warming either. It only proves that media and scientists are creative in finding new ways to fit new events into the theory. AFTER the facts, that is. That’s not difficult, that is what humans are good at, finding connections between seemingly unconnected things.

But deep freeze winters due to the weakening of the jet stream is nothing new. In the 1970s it was used to explain the coming of a new ice age. Younger people may think the weather we see now is unprecedented, but it is not that extreme, nor unprecedented when looking at it over a larger time frame. Remove the hype and there is not much of a story left. Holdren, as a crusader of the coming new Ice Age in the 1970s, should at least recognize that.

How much of this is due to anthropogenic causes? The theory seem to rely on polar amplification. That is a real process, but it doesn’t prove anything about the anthropogenic nature of the warming. Any warming would have that effect, whether it is natural, anthropogenic or both. By the way, the outbreak of cold is also part of the negative phase of the Northern Atlantic Oscillation, which is a natural pattern.

To me it seems yet another patch on a wound of a heavily bruised theory that continue to limp further. I didn’t hear anything about having a higher frequency of very cold winters as a result of global warming/climate change until recently. On the contrary. I heard a lot about more heatwaves, higher temperatures at night, more droughts, more storms, less to no snow,… sure, but very cold winters? No. When it started to snow massively in 2010, suddenly snow became a result of global warming or at least not impossible in a warming world. It seems the same with the cold winters due to the melting ice. Just adding to the possible explanations and covering an additional hole without elimination other ones.

I would be more impressed if scientists came with new falsifiable hypotheses/predictions (based on the global warming theory) about these snowy winters. Now we only hear after the facts that this is not impossible in a warming world or doesn’t disprove global warming. Which is not a big deal actually.

Lasting impressions

lastingimpressions

Sometimes events can make an lasting impression. For example, take at the popular expression: “Where were you when JFK was shot?”. The meaning behind this is that this event shook people so much that it made a lasting impression. This is why they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing at the very moment they heard about the news.

I have to admit, there was only one candle on my proverbial birthday cake when JFK died, so not much of an impression for me on this one. But there were other similar experiences for me and some of them had to do with the global warming theme. For example, there is quite some discussion about whether there was or wasn’t an ice age scare in the 1970s. Was it a real widespread concern at that time? Or just the shrieking of a vocal minority?

I was about 19 years old and was being trained as a lab technician (specialization environmental compounds). We got courses such as chemistry, biology, ecology,… and also a course named “Study of Air, Water and Soil”. Until that time I only was aware of the “Coming Ice Age”, global warming wasn’t raised yet. One day, the lecturer explained some things about climate, more specifically about temperatures. He said that at that time there was a debate over whether the temperatures would go down (because of aerosols) or go up (because of greenhouse gases). I was really surprised, as were my fellow students. This was the first time hearing of a debate about something we thought was settled. I still remember the class room where it happened, in a prefab building, me sitting a the left of the class room, second chair on the second row, the teacher making some schematic drawing with some sun rays on the blackboard (that wasn’t black, but green by the way),… That day my ice age belief was shaken.

Thinking about it afterwards, the fact that I was genuinely surprised about this statement showed that the ice age scare was real for me. Otherwise the statement about the debate wouldn’t have made such an impression. The ice age scare was brought by the media and people (at least in my surrounding) were digging it. It was real, as real as the global warming scare is now. It was a “hot” topic at that time and it gave birth to many scary predictions and wacky solutions. Now they seem crazy, but back in those days they were taken seriously.

Whether there was a scientific, ahem, consensus on the matter, I don’t know and I don’t really care. Yes, I realize that some people try to explain that the issue was not alive with the scientists back then. But hey, it wouldn’t be that difficult either to explain global that warming isn’t an issue with scientists today, just a change the definitions will do (although scientists take global warming for granted, not many really talk about attribution).

Some say the ice age scare was only by a small, but vocal, group of scientists who dominated the media. Could well be. Maybe that is not even that much different than the situation we have now…

Chilling lesson from the past

chillinglesson

When hearing about the “global warming creates cold weather”-ad hoc explanation for our cold winter/spring, it all seemed familiar to me. I definitely heard that before. In the 1970s this was also how the coming Ice Age was explained. For example, this is how Science News brought it in 1975:

The principal weather change likely to accompany the cooling trend is increased variability-alternating extremes of temperature and precipitation in any given area-which would almost certainly lower average crop yields. The cause of this increased variability can best be seen by examining upper atmosphere wind patterns that accompany cooler climate. During warm periods a “zonal circulation” predominates, in which the prevailing westerly winds of the temperate zones are swept over long distances by a few powerful high and low pressure centers. The result is a more evenly distributed pattern of weather, varying relatively little from month to month or season to season. During cooler climatic periods, however, the high-altitude winds are broken up into irregular cells by weaker and more plentiful pressure centers, causing formation of a “meridional circulation” pattern. These small, weak cells may stagnate over vast areas for many months, bringing unseasonably cold weather on one side and unseasonably warm weather on the other. Droughts and floods become more frequent and may alternate season to season, as they did last year in India. Thus, while the hemisphere as a whole is cooler, individual areas may alternately break temperature and precipitation records at both extremes.

Indeed, very familiar when comparing what is proposed now as the reason for the current cold weather. Just somewhat different word preference. Read “Jet stream” for “upper atmosphere wind patterns”, “positive phase” for “warm periods”, “negative phase” for “cooler periods”, “Blocking” for “Stagnate”.

What were/are the effects:

  • Increased variability: check.
  • Alternating extremes of temperature and precipitation. Broken up into irregular cells. Check.
  • May stagnate over vast areas for many months, Check.
  • Unseasonably cold weather on one side and unseasonably warm weather on the other, Check.
  • Droughts and floods become more frequent. Check.

These effects are not unusual for a negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation. The Arctic Oscillation was predominantly positive for the 1980s and 1990s, which had an influence on the winters in the Northern Hemisphere. One time or another it was bound to go negative again. So how can one differentiate clearly between the two when the explanation has the same effect as the natural variation? Not to mention the scientists were surprised and had to again rebuild their theory to match the new observations.

The name of the phenomenon “Arctic Oscillation” is not used because at that time the phenomenon didn’t have a name yet. It was given by Wallace and Thompson at the end of the 1990s, who seem to consider it a natural process. In the current explanations of the warm cold, the name is not stated either, probably for other reasons.

This is how they showed it graphically in 1975:

chillingpossibilities_thmb
Source: Science News: Climate Change – Chilling possibilities

Compare it with current graphics:

fig17_9_thmb
Source: http://www.ees.rochester.edu/fehnlab/ees215/

So the same process seemed to be used to explain two opposites. In the 1970s to explain it was colder and we might go towards a new ice age. Now to explain global warming is still here and hey, it is getting colder because of “global” warming.

Me, former member of a lost generation

genXandY

It was at the end of the 1970s. I was around 17, almost finishing high school and preparing for college. Our teacher talked about life, about the economy, about the world outside school. He was quite negative. The economy did really bad at that moment. There had been a crisis at the beginning of the 1970s and at that time there was one again. Youth unemployment was much higher than now. He (and also others) called us the “lost” generation. That statement shook me.

So here we were, young, still studying and in some years going to be released to a world were there was no work for us. We were also told we inherited a world that was polluted by the previous generation, were at the verge of an ice age and worse even, our oil supplies would dry out in less than 50 years. In short, there was not much of a future for us.

Fast forward more than a decade. We had a reunion of our class. Listening to the stories of the others, we realized in the end that we weren’t that bad off. After finishing our studies everyone found a job and none of us was unemployed for long. The pollution also turned out better than expected. Fish were returning to the rivers, air was cleaner than before and there was more green in our environment. The feared ice age seemed to be a non problem after all and the oil supplies were … still about 50 years.

Fast forward to now. We, generation X, gave birth to generation Y and it seems we didn’t learn anything from our own past. I hear more and more the statement that generation Y is a lost generation. Yup, they experience high youth unemployment, we left them with our CO2 in the atmosphere and they will suffer from global warming in the future. Peak oil is just around the corner (but reserves are, you guessed it, still 50 years). In short, there is not much of a future for them. Hey, where did I hear all that before?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We seem to suffer from collective amnesia. Probably it is just a matter of waiting until the members of generation Y realize that this label was based on nothing much. Then add a decade or so before they declare generation Z a lost generation…