Sunday, March 9, 2014

Climate Wisdom

The counsel of Psalm 90:12 is appropriate for daily and mundane as well as eternal and spiritual guidance. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” proclaims King David. The Apostle James advises, “If any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:7). Taking the apostle at his word, we ask God for wisdom in our discussion of climate and climate change.

When rancorous debates occur, we must consign the issue to those with minds of wisdom. Society has been locked in many fierce debates over time. One current debate, abating only minimally, relates to climate change. Global warming proponents have lately given the discussion topic a different name. They now speak of climate change. This oversimplification does not signal the death of global warming. Far from it, for we are regularly assaulted with the pronouncement that disastrous global warming results from anthropogenic effects owing to emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. This outcome of modern society’s consumption of fossil fuels remains a fear-inspiring cause célèbre.

Reports of interesting, harsh, or even violent weather fill the news. Media analyses of such events invariably seem to intone various unsubstantiated theories as causative. Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 is but one example of many. It was caused, or intensified, by anthropogenic global warming, it is claimed. Commentators proclaim without hesitation that events such as periodic floods, droughts, and even the exceedingly harsh winter of 2013-14 in the Midwest and east, have explanations in climate change scenarios. Translation: Man is responsible for the changes!

We must seek an infusion of wisdom in this analysis. Climate science is exceedingly complex. Historical events are intertwined with climate conditions characterized by either long term coolness or warmth. For instance, the Medieval Warm period followed the cooler Dark Ages. During the Little Ice Age which followed, there were ice festivals and skating on the Thames River to match dearth and famine. If we agree that climate is always changing, we first acknowledge that attributing currently observed modern phenomena to “climate change” is an example of circular reasoning. Of course climate is changing. It has been changing for thousands of years both long term and short term. There have been at least nine major long term temperature fluctuations in the last eight millennia.

In the distant past, the era from 6000 BC to 2000 BC is termed the Holocene climate optimum following the close of the last major Ice Age. Prior to the history of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt a modest cool period was followed by a warm period from 1500-500 BC. During the Grecian Empire a cool period preceded the Roman warm period. We review common knowledge of better documented recent cooling and warming periods, ending with the current “warm period:” (1) The Roman warm period extended from 100 BC to 400 AD. (2) The Dark Ages, 400-900 AD, were characterized by cooling. (3) The Medieval Warm Period extended from 900-1300 AD. The Little Ice Age (4) lasted from 1300-1850 AD. (5) Finally, the Current Warm Period began in 1850. This period has seen retreat of glaciers which continues to this day. The cause of gradual earth warming was not a societal obsession until the last few decades. Even if the intellectuals of history reflected on changes in climate, they did not have CO2 and fossil fuels to include in their explanations.

Temperature anomalies of 0.5˚C persisting for decades or centuries may bring conspicuous changes to earth’s climate and the manner in which earth’s life forms cope. These periodic anomalies did not result in a true “Ice Age,” but their effects on society were significant. We may explain centuries-long warm and cool periods with more recently described climate oscillations still occurring today--cyclical atmospheric or oceanic temperature or pressure fluctuations. Some are short; some are long. Most oscillations are more or less predictable and regular. These oscillations have significant effects on climate and their effects are becoming better known as we continue to study them. My personal favorite phrase to describe the oscillation scenario: Inherent variability in global climate.

In the current “warm” period persisting since 1850, there were four minor warming or cooling periods since 1910. A warm period occurred 1910-1940; cooling occurred 1940-1970, warming from 1970-1998, and cooling since then. The current cooling has been dubbed a “hiatus” within a period when global warming enthusiasts insist the long term trend is inexorably and tragically hotter. Inherent variability of global climate has been replaced by the frightening scepter of “Climate Change,” formerly touted as “Anthropocentric Global Warming.”

When God created Earth, he created an optimal climate system. The climate has experienced many cooling and warming events. If we endorse “inherent variability” in our global climate, we will not imprudently attribute the current warming to fossil fuel consumption. We will remember that causes for long term temperature ups and downs have been manifold. Fossil fuels have supported human population expansion from one billion to seven billion in the last 200 years. We would do well to contemplate whether pulling back from their use in the 21st century would be a wise path for man to follow. We must look past CO2 to discover the wisdom of God with respect to multiple causes of climate change.