Did Global Warming prevent a Catastrophe?

LIGHTNING RELEASES (11/28/2014) – One of the cooler aspects of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is the time in which it was written.  It was published in 1843, near the end of a period called the Little Ice Age.  At that time scientists were far more concerned about global cooling than global warming:  What if the Little Ice Age might be marking a return of continental glaciers?   A new glacier would grind Chicago down to a nub and turn it into landfill. 

 The Little Ice Age fortunately ended around 1900 with onset of the industrial revolution and widespread burning of coal. Did the switch from cooling to warming avert a catastrophe?   That would be a good thing.

“Not so fast,” says emeritus Prof. R. L. Handy of Iowa State University. “In fact, not fast at all.  It took up to 100,000 years for a continental glacier to become a major inconvenience, and that leaves plenty of time to get ready.  Politics being what it is, they might even consider building a really big wall.”

Prof. Handy points out that rates of glacial meltdowns were at least 10 times faster than those for glacial advances, which means that there was some kind of positive feedback.  “Positive feedback occurs when a process that feeds on itself, like when depression is so depressing that it leads to more depression.  Positive feedback is when scratching creates itching.  It probably plays a part in demonstrations.”

Handy also notes that when all of the glacial ice is gone, sea level rise will be over, and so much glacial ice already has melted that sea level has come up 400 ft.  Unfortunately even another 10 ft would be devastating.

In his new book, “FORE and the Future of Practically Everything,” Prof. Handy suggests that since Neanderthal man did not burn fossil fuels there must have been a different source of feedback.  “A best guess is methane, and mammoths contributed.  However, more methane gas is probably released by thawing of permafrost, which is happening today.  Huge untapped amounts of methane remain locked up as icy nodules deep in the oceans.” 

Handy concludes that even though global warming may have helped to avert a long-term catastrophe, it may be turning it into a short-term one.  He compares positive feedback to a runaway bus on a mountain slope after the brakes fail.  “Dragging our feet won’t get the bus stopped, and if it doesn’t get stopped there could be a real mess.”  

Dr. Handy’s book, “FORE and the Future of Practically Everything,” treats this and many other topics ranging from population growth to home run hitting.  Gordon Eaton, former University President and Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, writes, “An utterly fascinating book built around an astonishing variety of day-to-day practical relationships.”

Michael Mann, internationally known geophysicist and climatologist, writes, “…a great book that hopefully will get the wide readership it deserves.” 

Alan Alda, actor and science spokesperson, writes, “I hope it hits a home run.” 

Jim Woodard, story teller and syndicated columnist writes, “…easily understood and fun to read, primarily due to his skillful use of humor.”

FORE and the Future of Practically Everything is available from Amazon and from local booksellers as soon as enough people ask for it. 

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