2000 Year Temperatures (courtesy Wikipedia)
One of my “fans” on Twitter is a fairly deluded Republican known as @gopthinking (I do try to maintain a level of objectivity here – if you feel that “fairly deluded” doesn’t sound objective, I invite you to read his timeline). If I admire @gopthinking at all, it is for a) his tenacity, and refusal to back down from insane positions in the face of mere facts, and b) the fact that he does engage, and has never blocked me. This second point is a serious one – I do respect those who allow themselves to hear alternative viewpoints, even if (as in this case) they seem incapable of comprehending them.
So, this week, we returned to discussion of a favourite MoronWatch topic: climate change. Mr (I’m assuming he’s a he) @gopthinking produced the following “facts”:
- The temperature on Mars is changing in line with that on Earth.
- The global climate has “only” warmed by one degree Celsius.
- A Nordic farm has been found buried under a glacier in Greenland.
Point 1) ranks high among the moronic “facts” that I encounter daily. The main question it raises for me (other than WTF?!) is “How do you know?”; given that many climate change skeptics claim it’s impossible to accurately measure the average global temperature on Earth, despite us living here n all, it’s a surprise to find they can accurately measure Mars’s average global temperature. Moving on…
Point 2) is an acceptance that we have recently seen a global rise in temperature. While running your bath one degree warmer than usual is unlikely to significantly change your life, one degree on average, globally, is a pretty big deal. Add to that, that the people who predicted this rise are predicting a rise of four degrees or more by the end of this century, and that models show this will make it difficult or impossible to sustain the current human population, and one degree looks significant. But it’s the next point that’s of most interest.
Point 3) is about a farm, built by Norse settlers in Greenland and subsequently abandoned and covered with glacial ice. By chance, I recently read the book Collapse by Jared Diamond, looking at why some societies “choose to” collapse while other don’t, and whether our societies today are heading for collapse (if you haven’t encountered Diamond before, I’d recommend all his books, starting with Guns, Germs and Steel). Among the collapsed societies he examines is the Norse colony on Greenland, which lasted from around 1000AD for five centuries before vanishing. The Norse colony died off for a number of reasons; its existence had always been marginal, and was supported by trade with mainland Scandinavia. But perhaps the killer blow was that the climate cooled, as the Medieval Warm Period gave way to the Little Ice Age.
It’s at this point in the discussion that climate morons get excited and declare victory. “You see!” they yell, “The climate has ALWAYS been changing!!” This argument is impossible to deal with on Twitter, because it contains misunderstandings at so many levels. At its core, this idea lacks any logical basis at all; it’s one of the most moronic examples of thinking in modern political discourse. It’s equivalent to a murderer denying that he shot someone by saying: “But look – people die every day! Someone was run over by a bus only this morning! So how can you blame ME for that corpse in my living room with its face missing?”
Yes, the climate has always been changing; that doesn’t constitute proof that we’re not changing it now. All it demonstrates is that the climate is a delicate and complicated thing, and probably shouldn’t be fucked with.
Regarding the buried farms: the Norse had the luck (good or bad) to settle Greenland when temperatures in the North Atlantic (not globally) had pushed slightly upwards, making survival there a little less marginal. Three centuries later, and temperatures started to fall again; at the same time, other factors also turned against the Norse settlers – in particular, their valuable exports of walrus ivory had found new competition from African elephant ivory. Their settlements became unviable, and they died or left.
And, by the way, the Medieval Warm Period wasn’t that warm; it was cooler than temperatures are today, and far cooler than they will be in a few decades. Yes, the climate has always been changing; but it has never changed so drastically during the short time (10,000 years or so) that human civilisation has existed. We rely for our delicate existence on a whole series of factors, primarily that we can produce enough carbohydrates and protein to feed a population of seven billion (and that’s projected to reach ten billion soon). Climate change factors that we are seeing today already challenge our ability to maintain existing food production levels. We saw, when Bush began his moronic experiment with turning food into biofuel, that even a small impact on food production causes big impacts on human societies. The idea that we can rest easy, because 800 years ago it got a little colder in Greenland, is a masterpiece of wishful thinking.