Um, wait a millennium…

Joe Biden might not have been lying when he said global warming was “caused by man”, but he was at best only partially right.

The globe has been warming for the last 20000 years or so: ever since the last ice sheet began to retreat, leaving Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Cape Cod, the Great Lakes and most of Canada behind — a process that’s still going on:

While there is plenty of evidence to support the belief that humans have contributed to global warming over the past couple hundred years, we’re talking about a phenomenon with a lot more geologic scope than that.

By the way, we’ve had seven ice ages in the last 650,000 years, and we’re probably in for another one after the current interglacial period passes. And by “we” I mean life forms. There’s no guarantee that humans will last that long.

12 comments

  1. vanderleun’s avatar

    That’s okay, Doc. Biden also said:

    “When we kicked — along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don’t know — if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.”

    Yes, that ancient stealth US war that kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon. And remember, foreign policy is his strong suit.

  2. rjh’s avatar

    Politicians (and most people) have great difficulty with complexity. Politicians rarely manage anything more complex than A causes B. When presented clearly, the public can manage more complex causality descriptions. They understand that when a child is electrocuted by sticking a screwdriver into a power outlet that there are contributing causes (unwatched child, unprotected outlet, inadequate fusing of the circuit, etc.). They don’t like, but can handle complexity. Climate is at a far extreme of complexity.

    The real science of climate studies cannot give a short simple answers to the questions of the public or politicians. It gives huge, complicated answers full of uncertainties. It’s a truism (I heard it from Wunch) that if the public cannot get their short simple answers from science, the public will turn to charlatans and frauds. The charlatans are always able to give short simple answers. This is what you see.

  3. Richard Bennett’s avatar

    PALIN: Yes. Well, as the nation’s only Arctic state and being the governor of that state, Alaska feels and sees impacts of climate change more so than any other state. And we know that it’s real.

    I’m not one to attribute every man — activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man’s activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet.

    But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don’t want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?
    ———-

    The thing is, Doc, the “cyclical nature of the climate” thing is actually hogwash. While we know that there have been several periods of warming and cooling in the earth’s history, we do not in fact have any reason to believe that there’s a master cycle that makes them come and go for no particular reason. In fact, the atmosphere on this planet is largely created and maintained by volcanoes and our mix of plant and animal life, and the major changes in climate are all correlated to events that altered the mix.

    The early atmosphere was high in methane and low in oxygen, but the rise of cyanobacteria changed that. Meteor impacts and/or volcanoes brought about “snowball Earth” which was ultimately warmed up by gradual increases in temperature releasing greenhouse gases again. And so it goes.

    The current warming period – the one that’s like 100 years old – certainly appears to be correlated to the increased use greenhouse gas-emitting fuels, and that’s what needs to be addressed.

    So just to say that something has happened before is not to say that it’s “cyclical”. There has to be a regular rhythm for that to be the case.

    Incidentally, Biden has heard of Hezbollah and knows that it’s controlled by Iran. That’s a good thing.

  4. Dave’s avatar

    So, using that graph: wouldn’t the fact that the current CO2 levels have climbed from 320 to 380 in the last 50 years be kind of alarming, considering that your graph shows them not that high in the last 650,000 years?

  5. Sarah Palin’s avatar

    Ya know, the earth is only 6000 years old – so all this “sciencey” stuff is just a big steaming pile of moose poo.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Richard,

    You’re right about cycles, or lack of them. There are short and long processes, and major events that may or may not be repeated. The recent period of pulsed glaciation may or may not be over. No way to tell without living for an impossibly long time.

    But the current warming so coincides with the burning of fossil fuels that it’s irreponsible not to address the latter as an obvious cause.

    My problem with Biden’s remark is really a quibble. I’m a geology freak who likes to take a long view. And I can excuse Biden for simplifying the issue in a useful way.

    And Dave, yes, our currently high CO2 levels is, and should be, alarming.

  7. Stephen Lewis’s avatar

    I was going to add a comment on the economic and population effects of the “Little Ice Age” four centuries ago — dramatic falls in population and declines in economies — and contrast its possibly cyclical origins which the far greater scope and effects of present day global warming. But, no need to, the comments above already do an excellent job of showing how extreme the present situation is and how closely it coincides with the age of fossil fuels. By the way, a gallant tip-of-the-hat to Sarah Palin and her comment above.

  8. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    Doc, the short cycles run every 1500 years plus or minus 500 years. There’s evidence for this from all over the world (although if you ignore the evidence from the rest of the world, you can claim that these cycles only happen in Europe, although why you would do that I don’t understand). The interesting thing is that during the previous two warmings, mankind did great things.

    Living in the northern part of the US, where we regularly experience -20F temperatures, and occasionally -40F, I can tell you with a 90% certainty that I’d rather be too warm than too cold.

  9. Richard Bennett’s avatar

    Wikipedia, the font of all wisdom (after the Left Behind books that Sarah loves so much) says the Little Ice Age was caused by volcanic activity and maybe sun spots: “Throughout the Little Ice Age, the world also experienced heightened volcanic activity.[26] When a volcano erupts, its ash reaches high into the atmosphere and can spread to cover the whole of Earth. This ash cloud blocks out some of the incoming solar radiation, leading to worldwide cooling that can last up to two years after an eruption. Also emitted by eruptions is sulfur in the form of SO2 gas. When this gas reaches the stratosphere, it turns into sulfuric acid particles, which reflect the sun’s rays, further reducing the amount of radiation reaching Earth’s surface. The 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia blanketed the atmosphere with ash; the following year, 1816, came to be known as the Year Without A Summer, when frost and snow were reported in June and July in both New England and Northern Europe.”

    Who can argue with the Wisdom of Crowds?

  10. David Taht’s avatar

    I tried to post here earlier today, didn’t work.

    Ended up commenting at length via
    http://the-edge.blogspot.com/2008/10/little-variety-in-climate-science.html

    (have also never figured out trackbacks)

    Just to be snarky @ Russ, the little heat wave we had in the 900s in Central America wasn’t so good for the Mayans… and too much heat sucks the IQ right out of you.

    @ Doc – the current warming coincides with the rise of industrialization. Plenty of fossil fuels were burnt during 45-79 cooling phase….

  11. Ben James’s avatar

    Yes, geological events have naturally been altering the composition of our atmosphere since the Earth was formed.

    That fact doesn’t mean that humans are incapable of having a significant effect.

    What if we are able to change the concentration of carbon dioxide far beyond the highest point in that graph? What will the graph mean then?

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