Skip to main content

Site Key Topics Guide

Elements of Peace Obstacles to Peace
Human Psychology and Peace The Nature of Reality
The Climate Change Scam The Science of Global Warming

Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

I'll probably be posting quite a bit about global warming, and you might wonder why I think it's a big issue for a site devoted to peace. Well, peace is easier if we aren't all scrapping with each other to eke out an existence in a starving world. True peace (which includes peace with all our nonhuman friends) requires we don't do things that will harm wildlife or damage Earth's capacity to feed us all. True peace should make everyone happy; and if you've seen Gitie's and my wild bird website (wingedhearts.org, you'll know I don't reserve "everyone" just for people.

It was only last August, when I was able to leave my paid job as a computer science lecturer, that I finally got around to asking myself what the truth was about global warming. True, the Kyoto protocol had come and gone (right past me); I had read lots of insults directed at our (Australia's) ex-prime minister John Howard for saying there was no evidence of global warming, and for which he was supposedly a foolish neanderthal hopelessly out of touch with informed opinion. Well was he? I decided to spend some time finding out. I was glad I did, I nearly overlooked an issue that, handled wrongly, might result in billions of human and wildlife deaths.

It was maybe by the end of September that I was convinced John Howard was right and his critics wrong. Maybe a week later, I was convinced beyond that, that for sure there was no significant human-caused (anthropogenic) global warming (called AGW for short). That means, of course, that there would be no need for emissions trading schemes (cap and trade, ETS) to try to control carbon dioxide emissions. But when I mentioned my discoveries to some of my friends, almost all raised something called the "precautionary principle", which goes like this: "True, maybe there is no AGW, but if that's wrong, if the world is heating up due to human actions, a disaster will ensue; surely we should introduce ETS anyway, just to be safe; the animals will thank us." I wondered about that.

If we want to take a precaution, it stands to reason we should first guard against the greatest danger. But what is that? If it isn't global warming, if, on the other hand, it is global cooling that should worry us, then all the ETSes, "carbon reduction schemes", "reducing our carbon footprint", and so on, will actually make the problem far, far worse. When I was a child, they told me in school that ten or so thousand years ago, the world was in an "ice age", great glaciers covering Europe, Britain, and so on, and now the ice age "is over". One of my biggest surprises when I started researching global warming was that this is very, very wrong: dangerously so in fact.

The truth is that the planet is in an ice age, and has been for about 2.5 million years. Temperatures now are maybe eight or more degrees Celsius lower than what was normal for most of the time life has existed. Our climate today is far from normal; it is merely a short warm time in between long periods of frigid, deadly cold. The massive herbivore dinosaurs, eating over a tonne of plant matter every day, roamed a clement land surrounded by warm shallow seas. A lot more than just temperatures come into the equation, of course, but it seems clear that life can tolerate climates much warmer than they are today. On the other hand, it's hard to make a living on a glacier! Ice ages cover huge areas of the planet in ice, and even worse, temperatures are much more variable. According to Ian Plimer in his remarkable book Heaven+Earth, temperatures one year could be up to thirty degrees colder than the year before. I look out the window now at our beautiful Australian magpies, and I don't have to wonder how they would fare if this winter the temperatures dropped 30C: I would be looking through eyes welling with tears for their dead bodies when the ice melted.

So what should I be doing to take precautions for the safety of our delightful wildlife and our fellow humans? I looked up some temperature records and made a picture of the possibilities. I think it speaks for itself:

This data comes from Antarctic ice cores. "Proxies"—measurements that reveal ancient temperatures—from ice going back 400,000 years, show us the shocking truth: the climate has been going up and down like a saw tooth. What's more, the clement warm periods are only brief interruptions to the frigid times that 'knock out' much of the planet as far as supporting life is concerned. Other measures show us that this has happened ever since the current glacial era started a few million years ago.

So at last we come to the critical point: what would the climate do next if no humans were around to make changes? What do you bet? The climate scientists relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tell us that the temperature line has been, and without human intervention would continue to be, horizontal. (Even the documented changes shown in the ice core for the past thousand years are denied.) Is that at all credible?

The global warming alarmists tell us that those who don't agree with their scare scenarios are 'climate change deniers'—but who are really the deniers here—the IPCC and its alarmist friends who seem to think that without humans the world would placidly continue in the horizontal direction on the diagram—or the climate realists who say the world's climate has always changed and always will?

Let's forget the question of whether the IPCC is right or wrong about the world heating up and about whether humans are causing it. Let's assume they're right 100%. (They're not, but this is about an even bigger question.) Let's say they're right. Now check the diagram. The reason the ice ages come as regular as clockwork is that they are driven by the changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun, its axial inclination, and so on, things that change slowly over many thousands of years. Currently the ice ages are responding to all this on a 100,000-year cycle, and it is crystal clear that the next major movement on this cycle will be down, a sharp plunge into glacial conditions, followed by 100,000 years of a slowly deepening, ever-more deadly freeze.

So now we come to the precautionary principle. What's the bigger danger? If the planet heats we might unfreeze some polar regions (cold regions heat more than hot regions) and make Siberia, northern Canada, and Greenland into green, verdant places where crops can grow and wild animals can prosper. Yes, we might also have to relocate some people if sea levels rise; we can't pretend there is no downside at all from a warmer planet.

But if the planet cools, what then? Half the northern hemisphere landmass will be uninhabitable (and much of the southern hemisphere too). Climates will alternate viciously from year to year; no animal that is unable to migrate will be safe. The wealthy populations of Europe and North America, whose countries will be covered in ice, will obviously not simply sit down and die; they'll migrate south and take the remaining warm places for themselves. Whatever the outcome, there will be wars, starvation, and unthinkable human and wildlife deaths. If we escape without half the world's population dying, we'll be very, very lucky indeed.

So here's my vision of a wise precautionary principle: take advantage of any heating that human activity is making happen. If industrial activity is pumping up the planet's temperature some degrees, excellent. The IPCC says we are making big changes, but climate realists, more credibly, say we are making only small changes. But big or small, any warming we can organise will forestall the next ice age. By lots (the alarmists) or only a little (climate realists), it all helps.

It would be bad enough if the alarmists misused the precautionary principle merely to impoverish people with mad 'carbon reduction' laws. But shockingly, the alarmists are not stopping at wrecking our economies with nutty schemes. Many of them want to put cold-generating sulphur pollution into the atmosphere, or seed the oceans with iron or, even worse, lime, or any number of other hare-brained schemes designed to cool the Earth. Can anything be less like a sensible precaution than that?

Sadly, we are all now in the power of people to whom rational argument means nothing, whose goals are driven by ideological zeal. It is up to us to retake our societies and our governments and start driving public policy from facts, evidence, and concern for all the lives that are threatened by human folly.

Comments on this Story are now closed.

Share this

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

I believe in Australia if the Govt persists in trying to push the climate change bill through and it is rejected by the senate twice the Govt falls. Perhaps this is the opportunity to make the world wake up and begin to fight back - petition your senators with all the growing evidence that CO2 is not to blame for floods, droughts, sea level, ice caps, or whatever else they think of to scare us into blowing what money we have left in the world on what is the ultimate bubble market - the trading of a life giving gas.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Hi John, Unfortunately it isn't quite like that. Each three years, an election is held for the House of Representatives (three year terms) and half the Senate (six year terms). If the Senate twice rejects a bill, then the government can ask the Governor General to call a 'double dissolution', in which all senators as well as all MHRs are called up for re-election. After this special election, then a meeting is called of all MHRs and senators, and the rejected bills are put to the combined vote. Typically, when the Senate is controlled by the opposition parties, a number of 'triggers' for double dissolutions get created, and the government decides whether to call the election on tactical grounds. But I think your main point is true, that a double dissolution on these grounds would be a major headliner. As you say, CO2 is a life giving gas. We used to say you couldn't tax the air we breathe. They are determined to prove that wrong.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Hello,
Phew, what a breath of fresh air (including the requisite dose of CO2). I am sick and tired of the extreme polarity of this debate, where, if you are sceptical of AGW you are immediately branded as a conservative redneck. Indeed, if you visit most of the sceptical web sites you find yourself in this sort of company with posts ranting on about a Commie plot with tedious regularity.

Let's hope your site opens up a chink in the AGW armour so we can not only get some balance into the debate but start addressing the real environmental issues largely left aside through the current obsession with this AGW red herring.

Best wishes,

John Wright.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

In some ways, I applaud the sense of urgency that accompanies the perceived need to do something to affect climate change. The need is there in more ways than you presently know. But the means could be another matter entirely. The Akkadian Empire under Sargon (2,300-2,200 BC), mankind’s first empire ever, succumbed to climate change that happened rather suddenly. A 300 year long period of drought struck this nascent civilization and toppled what turned out to be only a 100 year empire. The Old Kingdom of Egypt and the Harappans of the Indus Valley suffered a similar fate 4,200 years ago, succumbing to an abrupt drought that ended those civilizations, with Egyptians “forced to commit unheard of atrocities such as eating their own children and violating the sacred sanctity of their own dead (Fekri Hassan, 2001)”. The Mayans had pretty much the same luck with three periods of extreme drought at 810, 860 and 910 AD. Sadly just two years after the last drought which saw 95% of the Mayan population gone, wet years returned to the Yucatan. A reconstruction from fossil algae in sediments from Drought Lake in North Dakota of the past 2000 years found that dry conditions were far and away the rule in the High Plains, with the Dust Bowl conditions of the 1930’s one of the lesser dry spikes found in the record. Half of the warming that brought us out of the last ice age (the Wisconsin) occurred in less than a decade.

There were 24 Dansgaard-Oeschger oscillations between this interglacial, the Holocene, the interglacial in which all of human civilization has occurred, and the last one, the Eemian, in which the first fossils of Homo sapiens are to be found. D-O osillations average 1,500 years, and have the same characteristic sawtooth temperature shape that the major ice-age/interglacials do, a sudden, dramatic, reliable, and seemingly unavoidable rise of between 8-10C on average, taking from only a few years to mere decades then a shaky period of warmth (less than interglacial warmth), followed by a steep descent back into ice age conditions. Each D-O oscillation is slightly colder than the previous one through about seven oscillations; then there is an especially long, cold interval, followed by an especially large, abrupt warming up to 16C. During the latter parts of the especially cold intervals, armadas of icebergs are rafted across the North Atlantic (Heinrich events) their passage recorded reliably by the deep ocean sediment cores which capture the telltale signature of these events in dropstones and detritus melted out of them. We know with absolute certainty that these events happen, with evidence of D-O oscillations extending back some 680 million years. We do not know yet precisely what causes them. What we do know is that the past 6 interglacials (dating back to the Mid Pleistocene Transition) have lasted roughly half of a precessional cycle, or 11,500 years, which just happens to be the current age of the Holocene. What we know is that N65 latitude insolation values are very close now to what they were at the close of the Eemian. What we also know is that GHGs seem to have played only a spectator role to all of these natural transitions, with temperature changes leading GHG concentrations by a considerable margin of time. What we do not know is if anthropogenic sourced GHGs can trigger a climate change event. What we do know is that earth’s climate is bimodal, cold (90%) and warm (10%), with the transition times (such as at the end of an interglacial) well known from proxy records to be quite sensitive to forcings we do not yet understand, and the forcings we have identified seemingly incapable of producing the responses we see in the paleoclimate record. Including the recent paleoclimate record.

The climb out from the Last Glacial Maximum of the Wisconsin ice age (called Termination 1 with sea level bottoming out about 121 meters, ~397 feet, below present) into the Holocene is studded with the Younger Dryas, a 1,300 year near instantaneous return to ice age conditions. “Briefly, the data indicate that cooling into the Younger Dryas occurred in a few prominent decade(s)-long steps, whereas warming at the end of it occurred primarily in one especially large step of about 8°C in about 10 years and was accompanied by a doubling of snow accumulation in 3 years; most of the accumulation-rate change occurred in 1 year (National Research Council, 2002)”. Almost as suddenly we came out of it: “Taylor et al. (1997) found that most of the change in most indicators occurred in one step over about 5 years at the end of the Younger Dryas, although additional steps of similar length but much smaller magnitude preceded and followed the main step, spanning a total of about 50 years (NRC, 2002)”.

Termination 1 began with what is referred to as Melt Water Pulse 1a (mwp-1a) centered at about 14,680 years ago which resulted in a 24 meter rise (about 78 feet) in sea level believed to have occurred at the rate of 4.5 cm (about 2 inches) a year. It was followed around 12,260 years ago by MWP-1b with a 28 meter (about 92 feet) rise nearer 5 cm per year. Recent model results predict that sea level is currently rising at 32cm/100 years. With natural rises clocked at 5cm/yr (or 500cm/century) we, (meaning us) have a lot of hard work ahead of us if we hope to trump mother nature’s most recent finest result.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago, a period known to geologists and paleoclimatologists as the Holocene Climate Optimum, sea levels peaked about 6 meters (about 20 feet) higher than today (some say 70 meters), and during the Eemian Optimum, some 20 meters (about 60 feet) higher than today. During the seven post MPT ice ages, sea levels dropped some 100 or more meters below present, the water tied up in the miles thick ice sheets that have spread in North America as far south as Kansas. These are just some of the facts of the abrupt climate changes which we, as Homo sapiens, have experienced. General Circulation Models, of which the IPCC references 23, have yet to reproduce a single known abrupt paleoclimate change fed with the proxy data. The latest GCM models produce predictions based on a variety of input data and complex equations which few of us would understand. But for all the complexity and investment, they are just predictions.

Belief in, and acting as a result of, such predictions has opened up what may be the first chapter in faith-based science (W. should be so proud). Understanding the history of climate change provides a factual understanding of far more alarming climate changes that have actually happened, with sea level changes and temperature shifts that dramatically overshadow any faith-based prediction you have yet heard.

What might be quite ironic is that if GHG predicted global warming is in fact real, and, at half of a precessional cycle, we are near to the cliff of the next natural shift to an ice age, we may find ourselves needing to generate as much GHGs as possible to ease our transition into the next ice age. So as I said at the beginning, doing something about climate change is not necessarily a bad thing. Doing the right thing might actually be quite another. The ice ages and associated interglacials are well known to be paced by the eccentricity, obliquity and precession cycles in earth’s rickety orbit. These we will do nothing about. D-O oscillations show strong evidence of being tied to the 1,500 year cycle of solar output, something we cannot change.

So be ever thoughtful of both facts and predictions before leaping to a conclusion. It was in fact a LEAP that terminated the last interglacial, the cold Late Eemian Aridity Pulse which lasted 468 years and ended with a precipitous drop into the Wisconsin ice age. And yes, we were indeed there. We had been on the stage as our stone-age selves about the same length of time during that interglacial that our civilizations have been during this one.

Meanwhile, enjoy the interglacial!

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Sentient:
That was the shortest and best representation of geologicial history I have seen. You have brought it together very well. I saw that we are and have been on the down hill slope for about 5,000 years with short periods of warming that do not equal the previous period.
Ron:
Thanks for the data you found and provided.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Sentient:
What an amazing piece of work, so amazing in fact I couldn't help myself reposting it to a mud slinging alarmist blog site that is short on science but big on accusations of being in bed with Big Oil and all that baloney. I headed it with "If you don't feel humble after this then you need to get over yourselves".

I doubt they will though, the blinkers are well and truly glued on with these guys.

Thanks again - great info.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

While agree with nearly everything you say, I don't see another ice age as an immediate threat. While it is almost certainly on the way, the temperature downturn is probably more than 1,000 years off, and our experience with technological innovaton says that a few hundred years from now we will have a much greater ability to protect the world from global cooling than we do today. More easily and more cheaply.

My issue with the "precautionary principle" is that the world has many needs and carbon schemes will suck up so much of our resources that little will be left over to address these other needs. For instance for less than the cost of reducing the world's carbon output by 1% we could bring fresh clean water to all of humanity. The fact that we won't is another issue, but if we try to reduce carbon output, we guarantee that we won't. Ever.

In myriad other ways, millions will die unnecessarily and all of life will suffer from the resource drain of combating global warming. And as you point out, global warming is not a global problem. It will bring localized problems, but changing climate has done that many times in the past and it will again many times in the future.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Very good indeed; and very perceptive comments.

Australia is likely to lead the world with rational thinking on this issue.See..

http://mickysmuses.blogspot.com/2009/07/imagine-how-wonderful-it-would-b...

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Very nice job done, thanks for the useful post.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Hi John,

Thanks, and I couldn't agree more that this is not (or perhaps, shouldn't be) about rednecks versus commies. I find the question of the origin of it all perhaps the most difficult though. If you check out some of my site background papers, you'll see I have more or less convinced myself that there is at large what I call a "false religion". I don't mean the devil's possessed folk or stuff like that. It seems to be more a question of human psychology. Is it normal psychology, but of a species that evolved on the African plains and is now maladaptive (our hankering for primitivism for example), or are there other factors (need for certainty, a community of likeminded 'believers' etc.)? And how are human weaknesses manipulated by those who spot an opportunity to enrich themselves? I am always grateful for any insights anyone can give me about this stuff; it's a really hard issue, but maybe we have to sort it out in order to crack it?

Best wishes,

Ron.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Hi Sentient, thanks for that wonderful insight into the past ice age cycle. It makes truly chilling (in two senses!) reading to learn, if I understand you correctly, that the same dangerous temperature swings that I discussed about the 'big' saw tooth are also happening on smaller scales in a similar pattern. That's very worrying because 8 - 10C changes over just a few years would be deadly to so very many animals. Our magpies here who took us into their family are territorial creatures, they cannot up and move just because the temperature band has shifted. Maybe the ones at the new top end can reproduce into the now-suitable extra range, but the many at the low end will simply be killed. Our currawongs, OTOH, are migratory (we see our friends each year in winter and spring only) and I can imagine them being smart about where they go if climates change.

The other thing that I got from your comment was the truly huge changes in stored heat (which would mainly be oceans) that would be occurring over just a few years; no way can humans hope to counter that in a hurry if 'the swing is on'. All the more reason why the mania to stop global warming is so very dangerous.

Lastly, I hope you have your own blog somewhere, because you have a great deal to teach us. If so, can we exchange links? :-)

Ron.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Tim: Your point about clean fresh water: very true, but so very tragic that we can't get such issues to the top of the political agenda. I don't agree so much about an ice age being unlikely though: see the insolation info. that Sentient gave us. Also the problem with these unlikely events is precisely that they are not likely to happen tomorrow - despite that they are just as likely to happen tomorrow as any other specific date, so we can't neglect precautions.

Ayrdale: Love your blog - want to swap links?

Ron.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Yes, but do you applaud the present-day stifling of the debate on the part of the Science-is-settled crowd?

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Regardless of what side you are on in the AGW debate it should be clear to anyone with thirty seconds' thought that in the absence of evidence, the Precautionary Principle is bunkum.

For instance, the Earth could be about to pass through a belt of dangerous radiation, in which the only way to be safe would be to stay inside a brick building for the next 24 hours. I have no reason to believe this is true, and no evidence for it, but nonetheless, it could happen. The Precautionary Principle, then, advises us to stay indoors.

However, it is also possible that a meteor will pass close to the earth tomorrow, causing a sonic boom that will flatten thousands of brick buildings, killing anyone inside them. Again, no evidence, no reason to think it will happen, but it might. So the Precautionary Principle advises us to stay outside.

Obviously a rule of behaviour that advises two contradictory things at the same time is no use to anyone. Without the evidence to make accurate predictions, the so-called Precautionary Principle is totally useless. And if we can make accurate predictions, we don't need a Precautionary Principle.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Hi John,

I can't understand the 'science-is-settled' crowd. How can we ever know we know the full truth? Surely we have to have unfettered free speech (except for "how to make an A bomb" stuff) or else we can't be sure we are making our best shot at understanding reality.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Excellent point Jon!

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Ron,
"Science-is-settled" goes back beyond the Spanish Inquisition and is the basic mantra of the closed mind, or those that put faith before science - which some might say is the same thing. Classic examples of this are the Flat Earthers (ironic that climate skeptics are called that now), the refutation of the theories of Galileo and Copernicus despite the fact that the Helio-Centric view of the solar system had been known to be true 2000 years previously, and those that laughed at Darwin and considered Newtonian Physics irrefutible.
Although a skeptic I am always ready accept resonable arguements, but when somebody says to me "that's the way it is and if you don't think that you're a looney" or even suggest I'm dangerous then it is THEY that have the problem.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Hi John,

Yes, I agree 100% with your comments. You have probably seen Mark Twain's comments on "consensus", which show that you are in good company! For anyone who hasn't seen them, here they are: 

...[I]n the drift of years I by and by found that a Consensus examines a new thing by its feelings rather oftener than with its mind. You know, yourself, that this is so. ...

Do you know of a case where a Consensus won a game? You can go back as far as you want to and you will find history furnishing you this (until now) unwritten maxim for your guidance and profit: Whatever new thing a Consensus coppers (colloquial for "bets against"), bet your money on that very card and do not be afraid.

There was that primitive steam engine -- ages back, in Greek times: a Consensus made fun of it. There was the Marquis of Worcester's steam engine, 250 years ago: a Consensus made fun of it. There was Fulton's steamboat of a century ago: a French Consensus, including the Great Napolean, made fun of it. There was Priestly, with his oxygen: a Consensus scoffed at him, mobbed him, burned him out, banished him. While a Consensus was proving, by statistics and things, that a steamship could not cross the Atlantic, a steamship did it. A Consensus consisting of all the medical experts in Great Britain made fun of Jenner and inoculation. A Consensus consisting of all the medical experts in France made fun of the stethoscope. A Consensus of all the medical experts in Germany made fun of that young doctor (his name? forgotten by all but doctors, now, revered by doctors alone) who discovered and abolished the cause of that awful disease, puerperal fever; made fun of him, reviled him, hunted him, persecuted him, broke his heart, killed him. Electric telegraph, Atlantic cable, telephone, all "toys," of no practical value -- verdict of the Consensuses. Geology, paleontology, evolution -- all brushed into space by a Consensus of theological experts, comprising all the preachers in Christendom, assisted by the Duke of Argyle and (at first) the other scientists.

(That from contratimes.blogspot.com/2008/08/ global-warming-and-consensus-mark-twain.html)

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Well first, thanks Mike Davis and John Thorpe, and all others with a similar appreciation for facts ve. fantasy for your appreciation of the facts of the matter. This is actually the central issue in this now-over debate. In an advanced course in Psychology taken some 30 years ago I learned that the human being is nine times more susceptible to rumor than it is to fact. That simple rule (the 9TR for short) explains a dramatic amount of human behavior. To prove this rule all one needs to do is accurately answer this simple question: Which religion is the correct one? In your internal deliberations you are allowed to consider Zeus and the pantheon of gods once resident on Mt. Olympus, or Rah the former sun god of Egypt (and Isis and Horus), or Ishtar, the god of ancient Babylon right before Islam became all the rage of the Middle East. Just because these religions are dead and gone does not in any way mean that they were not the "correct" religion. And would politics even be possible if not for the 9TR? Would we still have a need for words such as salesman or saleswoman if it were not for our proclivity to believe what we want to believe above all sense? Doing the math on the 9TR either 88.9% of the time we just don't get it, or only 11.1% of ever do. Probably a combination of the two.

I have thought long and hard on this because it is actually a central theme to this debate. If, in fact we are nine times more permeable to fantasy than we are to reality how did we get this way? When did that happen? Will it change again, and if so when? And the answer will stun you in more ways than one.

Zooming back to 2 million years ago, we see with the clarity of archaeological conviction that climate change has been very good to us. Spend some time reading tons of information on hominid evolution, and you will soon come to know that scientists in that field have long speculated that climate change over the past few millions of years, yes, those same two million or so years has been a very effective agent provocateur in our evolution. Our brain case size has experienced the most dramatic increase of any mammal in the fossil record, in fits and starts, of course, to go from about 500 cubic centimeters (cc) to about 2,500cc in the last 2-3 million years. The evidence is sparse, as we didn’t start burying each other until just a few thousands of years ago, and a million years is a thousand times a thousand years, and we start this discussion about three of those ago.

The genus homo diverged from the australopithecines about 2-3 million years ago (mya), after a sea level maxima (also called Global Warming) of between 3.2 to 2.8 mya. This period is presumed, by some, to have ended around 2.95 to 2.82 mya with the onset of the late Pliocene glacial event known as the Northern Hemisphere Glaciation (NHG). This period of global cooling caused temperatures to plummet in Africa. The cooler drier air resulted in humid woodlands to die off giving way to wide, dry grasslands. Campfires were at least a million years away, and we were relatively small in number. So we have to figure we didn’t do this one. But we had to smarten up quick and deal with it. Paranthropus boisei made it through this one, and a few more, adapting from soft rain forest fruits and vegetables, to roots and grasses. Although Paranthropus boisei succeeded in transitioning to the savannah grassland environment in the early stages of going into the late Pliocene glacial period, he apparently did not develop tools, or any other diet. He had a braincase size of about 500-550cc and ranged eastern Africa from about 2.6 to 1.2 million years ago. Late Pliocene faunal turnover, as known from the Turkana Basin in Kenya and Ethiopia, indicates that from 58-77 percent of the mammal species were replaced during this long-lived cooling event. The majority of this replacement occurred between 2.5 and 1.8 mya.

At roughly 2.4 mya, the first members of the genus Homo arrived on the scene. Homo rudolfensis (2.4-1.9 mya) and Homo habilis (1.9-1.6 mya). Rudolfensis was slightly smaller brained than habilis and many anthropologists place them in the same species (habilis). With a 30% larger braincase (500-800cc, or about 680cc average) than Paranthropus, and having just survived or evolved during what we now call the NHG event. His name habilis means “handy man”. During the NHG we had evolved crude stone tools with our more plentiful grey matter. The Stone Age had begun, and with it a prolonged cooling trend in East Africa, both of which are believed to be responsible for rapid evolutionary changes among the hominids stirring around in those times.

It is at this point that we can probably hear Fred Flintstone asking Barney Rubble just what the heck it is he is going to do with that rock he had chipped up. Prior to that moment, we may have been say a million times more susceptible to rumor than we were to fact as it took dozens of millenia to take this to the next level. Habilis stuck around until at least 1.6 mya, the beginning of the Pleistocene. He used stone tools primarily for cutting carrion off bones, but developed no weapons we have yet found.

At about 2 or so mya, Homo ergaster arrived, with a propensity to explore wide and far in Africa, making it easier for sub-populations to become isolated and we see the emergence of Homo erectus at around 1.9 mya. With a braincase size in early specimens of about 900cc, and 1,100cc in later specimens, Homo ergaster/erectus spread out of Africa for the first time and touched off the Acheulian tool period (hand axes or bi-face tools). Homo Erectus kicked around from 1.8 million years ago to 300,000 years, with the first spear dated to 350,000 years.

About 800,000 years ago, or right about the time that the ice age/interglacial cycle switched from the 41,000 year cycle (which matches the obliquity in our orbit) to the 100,000 year cycle (which matches the eccentricity of our orbit, the event known as the Mid Pleistocene Transition) a large brained robust hominid, Homo Heidelbergensis appeared. It was the first hominid to migrate out of Africa to Europe. Homo Sapiens arrived on the scene about 120,000 years ago in the penultimate interglacial, the Eemian.

As I mentioned before, all of human civilization has occurred during this interglacial, the Holocene, with only cave paintings recording our presence before 10,000 years ago. Just a mere 7,000 years before that we found ourselves at the Last Glacial Maximum, with sea levels 121 meters below present. Not just a few creatures passed into extinction during that passage (need I mention the sabre-toothed tiger or the wooly mammoth?). In fact, as I just recounted, the vast majority of our ancestors may have succumbed to such reliable, dramatic and seemingly wholly unavoidable global climate change events. With the harnessing of fire, we may have zoomed past the 10,000 Times Rule, for it instantly became undeniable that this new tool had unimaginable dimensions, eventually graduating us into the Industrial Age.

Watching this now-over debate, and reflecting on what I took the time and effort to, in some cases, re-learn as much as I could about climate change, it would seem that the only thing actually proven to smarten old Homo up is an ice age. When saddened by the wholesale permeability of the population to future fantasies (heaven, AGW, reality TV shows, just for starters), the thought comes unbiden; what we really need is another ice age, and now! And of course, one may be just around the corner, or it may not. The result of so many external and internal forcings make prediction of the natural end boundary of the Holocene even trickier than the abominably complex calculations of the "still in the womb" General Circulation Models. Who can say with absolute certainty that the Holocene will last another 1,000 years? Facts please, we have enough belief systems.

But our ability to stare facts in the face and deny them is perhaps our greatest and longest lived achievement. We persist in ignoring at least two of the 800 pound gorillas in the climate change room with us. Concerned, as we are, that by 2100 we will have climate changes that pale in significance to the ones we know have occurred time and time again, what could possibly hit us sooner and far more certain effects than GHG induced climate change? Try triple canopy rainforest devastation for starters. At a conference held on deforestation in December 2007 in Bali, Indonesia UN specialists estimated that 60 acres of forest are felled ever minute worldwide, or at the rate of 32 million acres (50,000 square miles, or about the size of Mississippi) per year according to the UN’s latest “State of the World’s Forests”. “If we lose forests, we lose the fight against climate change” declared more than 300 scientists, conservation groups, religious leaders and others at the Bali gathering. Destruction of forests is estimated to account for 20% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, second only to electricity and heat generation by fossil fuels. Try not to forget that forests store CO2 and carbon. They are pivotal in the extinction crisis. Last year the rate of Amazon rainforest cutting doubled, the emergence of boutique biofuels fueled not only this, but contributed noticeably to increasing food shortages. Notice how you hear very little at party's (blogs) about this.

Which brings us to the third rail of this discussion. Population. Something which just isn't discussed at party's. In 1999 Kofi Annan announced that we had just crossed the 6 billion mark in human population. Ban Ki Moon announced at last June's international food conference that we would pass 10 billion by 2050, an increase of 66% in half a century. A couple of years ago I heard on a National Public Radio broadcast that a new way for the young, over $200k/yr couples to flaunt their wealth is to have four or more children. One interviewee even said that her neighbor had just had her fifth child, which makes her want to do the same to show that she and her husband can also support such a large family. Also in 1999, the UN published a report that stated that we would need at least 7 more "M" class planets (my substitution with the Star Trek term for an earth type world) to provide enough resources for a western lifestyle (call it American Plush for reference). Do the math on that and if it takes seven MORE, plus this one, then that is 8. Divide that into 6 billion and you get an American Plush population of just 750 million. Hmmmmm. It would seem that a great increase in our technology will be constantly required to just keep up, much less win this one, as we are now about 6.6 billion, a 10% increase in 10 years..... Much less the technology it will take to keep the Jovian planets from pushing little old earth around in her orbit. Anyone feel like doing the calculations on how much energy it will take to counter 90,000 years of deep freeze which there is no reason to think will not re-occur?

I have a particular affinity for Australia, having migrated there 20 years ago, a short two years later being the first Certified Environmental Auditor empowered to sign off on contaminated site cleanups under the Victorian Environmental Protection Act of 1970 amendments of 1990. A Yank living in New South Wales being appointed the first such, go figure. For the past 30 years I have been cleaning up the planet with the latest technology, futilely of course, as we continue to create far more messes than I can get to, in no part helped by the byzantine laws and regulations which place the brakes rather firmly on how fast I can do it.

No, I do not have a website. Anyone willing to chip in and help out here and figure out how to host one may come to benefit from the "Climate change and evolution" folder in my cybrary. Current holdings as of this very moment are 3,100 papers divided into 127 folders and occupying 3 GB of disk space. You see the difference between confidence and arrogance is simply this, competence.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

The Twain Maxim, I have observed, is touted by the Consensus as the mantra of the Professional Contrarian. Such a title I would willingly accept for the following reasons I often give to such accusers:

If everybody said you couldn't lose money on stocks and you were an idiot not to be in it, what would a contrarian do?

If everybody said bricks and mortar were the ultimate investment and you could never lose, what would a contrarian do?

Not that I'm saying you would never participate but at the point when people who know nothing about the subject profess to be experts the contrarian bails. They are the first out (maybe prematurely) and the first back in when the whole world is on the edge of despair.

I pray the whole world doesn't suddenly decide Global Warming is a heap of horse dumplings LOL

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Sorry, my Science is settled comment was a reply to Sentient, but I am yet not used to the protocol here.

Ron,
Difficult issue you say, but addressing it it is not helped by the stifling of debate I just referred to. And that's exactly what has happened: Hansen, Gore and their ilk have very successfully managed to stifle debate and implant a new orthodoxy. When I bring up the matter with friends I consider intelligent and open minded, the usual reaction I get is surprise. "What about the ice-free poles?, the polar bears? My usual answer implying there is "nothing to worry about there." usually gets the retort: "Why are we being misled on this?" - A good question, not easy to answer. But such are not the reactions of religious people having their beliefs questioned. In many peoples minds the question is simply "settled" and we have to get used to the idea and adapt our lives to its implications.

I just don't accept that AGW is a religion, like religions it is replete with orthodoxies, dogma and arguments from authority - but so too is science. And there I think the parallel with religion and the Inquisition ends

You see, we have long reached the point where, if AGW sceptics want to communicate their ideas their only outlets (until you came along) are right-wing magazines and institutions - such as Heartland.

One notable recent faux pas on the part of orthodoxy last January was the acceptance of Harold Ambler's article in the Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harold-ambler/mr-gore-apology-accepted_b_1.... For those who don't know, Ambler is the Democrat Representative for Austin, Texas, This article created a furore - or storm in a teacup whichever way you want to look at it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qsQoSqG-6s . In the DVD talk forum we have the following quotes from the interview: In the video, Red Eye host, Greg Gutfeld points out that Arianna Huffington had regrets about publishing Ambler’s column, and that if “she had her choice she wouldn’t have published your (Ambler’s) piece”.

Ambler explains:
I had presented myself to Arianna with several e-mails by that point of the course of the preceding two months, and she had responded to my e-mails. In every one of them I said, “I am a liberal, I question anthropogenic global warming dogma, I question Al Gore - every single one, and she had said, “Well, I’ll refer you to my green editors” Her green editors published me at her direction, I guarantee you, because they were clearly plugging their noses while they did so. If not, I’d like to hear which one of them loved my piece so much they published it. That person has never emerged, so I’ll leave that for people to conclude for themselves.

My question is, why should Arianna Huffington have regrets about publishing a view written by a "naughty boy" going against received and getting away with it? What sort of editorial policy is she defending?

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Sentient: Thanks again for that very informative post. If you want help with setting up a web site, please feel free to write to me privately.

John Thorpe: Very clever final remark! (Had to think about it to get it!)

John the Pom: Thanks, and don't worry about protocol, still trying to iron the bugs out of the system! I think you've put your finger on some of our big problems here. Not sure what to add at the moment. It seems the alarmists have a very nice setup going: wherever you go, on any of their blogs, the discussion is "Well of course that has been discredited" - as if they are trying to create an impression in the minds of naive visitors; but nowhere is the actual discrediting ever done. Hard questions are deleted. And thanks for those links, very interesting!

To all: I am writing a book intended to be a short, easily-read thing with the best and simplest arguments, mainly intended to give out to my friends, colleagues, local politicians, etc., to convince them in short order. I have started a new blog post simply to ask the questions that need to be answered in such a book. I'd be grateful to you all if you could take a mo' to comment on that post and list the key points you think I should make sure to cover.

Cheers!

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

What the heck are all these weird comments that keep being added to the end of this thread? I get a mail every time they are added, which is a bit annoying.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Hi John. Sadly it is spam. I delete them as soon as I find them. Experimenting with as many different spam blockers as I can find.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

You are a very funny man. Yes, our biggest concern is the coming ICE AGE!!! In 5000 years it will be a big PROBLEM!!! As if human beings could possibly not destroy themsleves and the planet in that time. In 5000 years there will be how many people on earth... uhhhh..... sorry my calculator doesn't go that high... But I am sure that TECHNOLOGY will solve it so in the meantime just keep shopping

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Hi j. Could be 5000 years, could be 10000, could start next week. We don't understand the system well enough to forecast to that accuracy. There are two kinds of people, those who can think past tomorrow and those who can't. Those who can't write stuff that must look sane to themselves, I suppose, but those who can just shake their heads at it.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

To those posters in Australia, do you think the recent defeat of global warming legislation will result in a snap vote (or whatever you call it) to--as I understand it--override the legislature? If it is called, do you think it will pass? Don't fully understand your system, but we outside Australia are watching with interest.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

The system is this: Senators are elected for six years, half every three years. Members of the House of Representatives are elected whenever the gov't calls an election, but max. three year terms. If the HR passes a bill, then if the Senate rejects it twice, the government can call a double dissolution, in which the entire parliament is re-elected (cutting short all senators' terms). Then the entire parliament meets as a single body to decide the fate of the blocked bill(s). (The half senators from each state with the most votes become six year senators, the rest three year senators.)

The gov't has a lot of issues to think through before going this route, because the re-vote in the senate might result in an unfavourable mix of senators and terms, even if they manage to get re-elected and pass the bill.

Re: Global Warming: The Precautionary Principle Backfires

Very good post, thanks a lot.