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What if the world is really cooling?
January 27, 2014 - Stephen Browne
Anybody notice it’s cold out there? That’s not news in this part of the country at this time of year, but it’s cold in a lot of other places as well. My folks in Virginia told me it got down to 26 degrees the other day. Friends in central Texas said they got snowed on, not unheard of but not exactly common either. The northern east coast has had a particularly hard winter. Nothing about this indicates a trend any more than hot summers do. The plural of anecdote is not data. But... astronomers say we are entering a period of unusual sunspot activity. As in no sunspots at all. This has historically been associated with cooling trends. The primary rival to the man-made global warming hypothesis is the solar hypothesis. That is, that warming and cooling trends on Earth are caused by solar activity and have relatively little to do with anything we do down here. If this is true, it isn’t good news. The fact is, we know how to cool the earth if we have to. One really simple and relatively cheap way is to slightly de-tune aircraft engines, making them just a tad sootier. There’s enough air traffic throughout the world to have a significant effect on the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001), made a documentary film “Cool It” (2010) outlining a number of ways global warming could be mitigated. Lomborg summarized his position, "Global warming is real – it is man-made and it is an important problem. But it is not the end of the world." But if the Earth is cooling there is no feasible way to warm it. What if we have to live with this for a while to come? The climate of the Northern Hemisphere has been significantly cooler than it is today. From about 1350 to about 1850, a period called “The Little Ice Age” there were at least three cooling periods interspersed with slight warming trends. Some of the consequences were the end of wine grape cultivation in England and the extinction of the Viking colonies in Greenland. Shorter growing seasons and crop failures in Scandinavia possibly had something to do with the Northmen sailing down to Europe to ravage, plunder and make a dreadful nuisance of themselves for a few centuries. But we’ve got more technology than they had in Medieval times and are in a better position to adapt. We could breed early-maturing crops and invest heavily in greenhouse agriculture as the Netherlands has. We could build our houses with longer, colder winters in mind, and move our business districts into malls. Perhaps we might even build arcologies. That’s a city within a building, like a mall with apartments. An arcology would be more defensible when the marauding Canadians come raiding. Maybe we could get used to ranching caribou and reindeer. And maybe this is just a blip and the world really is warming up. Maybe our winters will get shorter and milder and all of this will just be a bad dream.
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