The Fable of a Stable Climate
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From: The Fable of a Stable Climate, by Gerrit van der Lingen
“The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”
Thomas Henry Huxley.
I used the title of this book, “The fable of a stable climate”, for the first time in 2007 as the title for a lecture (see Chapter Six). The idea came from a letter to the editor of the Christchurch newspaper The Press by a woman who wrote that people were entitled to a stable climate. Being a geologist I found this an absurd statement, as the climate has not been stable since the origin of our planet. I can best illustrate this with two graphs. The first is a simplified graph, showing major climate variations over the past 3,8 billion years (Figure 1).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in their first Scientific Assessment Report of 1990, published three graphs of climate change variations at different time scales, up to one million years (Figure 2).
Adopted after Harry N.A. Priem: “Climate change: the human influence analysed” (2000 lecture at the meeting of the European Council of Skeptical Organisations).
Source: IPCC First Scientific Assessment Report, 1990.
Our own research of a sediment core from the Tasman Sea, west of the South Island of New Zealand, produced a temperature graph showing variations over 300 thousand years (Figure 3).
Numbers 2,3,4 and 6 in Figure 3 indicate ice ages, numbers 5 and 7 are Interglacials. We are now in an Interglacial.
But it was not only the writer of the letter to the editor who assumed that a stable climate is the norm. Many man-made global warming activists have stated that we have to “stabilise the climate”. It should be clear from Figures 1 to 3 that a stable climate is a fable.
I often wondered what these people had in mind when they talk about a “stable climate”. Some years ago, I tried to illustrate this with a short fairy tale “Once upon a time”:
Once upon a time the climate was stable and benign. People lived contented lives. The pace was relaxed and unhurried. Farmers worked the land knowing that they could rely on the regular changes of the seasons. As far as the weather was concerned there were few unpleasant surprises. Extreme weather events were rare. Farmers and market gardeners were able to provide for their own families and had enough left over to take to the markets in the townships and villages. The traffic was easy-going. No noisy and smelly cars and trucks, but carts drawn by horses, mules or donkeys frequented the roads. Closer to townships some farmers would even transport their wares on foot, pushing wheelbarrows. Because the stable benign climate provided for abundant harvests, craftspeople could be freed up to build the churches, cathedrals and other public buildings that now delight the tourists. The land was tilled with horse- or bullock-drawn ploughs. Fruits and nuts were gathered by hand and wheat and hay cut with scythes. Cows were milked by hand. Chicken and other fowl would be free-ranging. People lived in simple harmony with nature.
People did not need electricity. They got up at dawn and went to bed at dusk. If they wanted to stay up after dark, they would use home-made candles or torches to provide illumination.
Transport across the seas could rely on predictable winds. Sailing vessels of all types and sizes carried people and goods to the far corners of the world. They would plan their voyages according to the predictable seasons, making use of trade and other stable winds. There was no hurry and nobody was worried about long voyages around the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. The winds provided cheap and reliable energy.
The skies were clear and free of industrial smog or fog trails of aircraft. At night the stars could clearly be seen.
As far back as people could remember, it had always been so. The climate had always been stable and benign. Figure 3, from an article by Professor Peter Barrett of Victoria University in New Zealand shows that temperatures on the planet were stable for more than 1000 years. According to this graph, the climate started to warm up towards the end of the 20th century.
[ NOTE: Comparing Peter Barrett’s graph with Figure 2c shows how incorrect his graph is].
The stable climate of the last thousand years was the world people were familiar with and they accepted that this was the way their God or Gods had created it for their benefit. Their footprints on the planet were light and sustainable.
Industries were small, more like cottage industries. In Europe, crafts and manufacturing were mainly in the hands of guilds. These guilds had a strict apprentice to master educational system. This ensured the high quality of their products. In other parts of the world systems were not much different. Artists depicted this pre-industrial way of life. Examples are known from early Egyptian times up to the nineteenth century.
Then, as far as the climate was concerned, this paradisiacal state came to an abrupt end with the Industrial Revolution. Humans started to burn coal and hydrocarbons, emitting the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, upsetting the stable climate.
This fable is at the heart of the beliefs of many environmentalists. But it is a romantic belief and an erroneous one, as it ignores historic reality. Geology and its associated scientific discipline paleoclimate, shows that the climate has never been stable. As shown in Figures 1 to 3, it has always changed, often dramatically, and on all time scales, from hundreds of millions, to millions, to thousands, to hundreds, to tens of years. Such changes occurred naturally, without the interference of humans.
Since about 1992 I became involved in paleoclimate research (see “A short autobiography”). Knowledge acquired about climate change in the past made me critical of the science behind the dogma of man-made global warming (now called “climate change”) as promoted by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I started writing an email newsletter (Chapter one), writing articles and essays (Chapter two), taking part in debates (Chapter three), writing letters to newspapers and magazines (Chapter four), writing book reviews (Chapter five), and giving lectures (Chapter six). All these were aimed at the general public, and form the content of this book. When I turned 80 in 2013, I decided to collate these activities in a book, a sort of memoir. I worked on it off and on and finally finished it in 2015. To make up the balance of my activities: I wrote 14 email newsletters, wrote 11 articles in newspapers, newsletters and magazines, took part in 6 written and oral debates, wrote 85 letters to newspapers and magazines, wrote two book reviews, and gave 27 public lectures. Some articles were published in Dutch, which I have translated into English for this book. The final chapter, “Miscellanea” includes an account of the development of the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme, a report of a Dutch Webinar, and includes a satirical subject, a blog I called “Warmaholics Anonymous”.
Apart from these general activities, I was also involved professionally in climate science. I published three peer-reviewed papers (with co-authors), and gave seven formal papers at national and international conferences (see “A Short Autobiography”). These are not included in this book.