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More About Global Warming Versus The Next Ice Age

By Dan Shanefield
June 20, 2005

"Global warming" and the inevitable next "ice age" are subjects of immediate importance, because many people around the world are asking America to restrict our carbon dioxide output, to slow the increase in atmospheric temperature. If we do switch to more efficient burning of coal and petroleum, that would cost a lot, and it would hurt our competitive position versus low-wage China. Some countries (that now pirate our DVDs, etc.) are likely to cheat, even if they do sign the Kyoto agreement, with further bad effects on our employment situation. On the other hand, we don't want to hurt the environment. But there is some new scientific information to be considered, before deciding what to do.

I feel sorry for both the economists and the environmental scientists, because almost anything they advise is likely to be opposed by equally expert people who disagree. Should the economy's interest rates be raised or lowered? Are we overdue for another ice age, or maybe for super-duper global warming during the next few years? There are famous intellectuals on each side of these arguments.

In my own fields of chemistry and electronics, whenever I proposed a controversial new idea (which I did several times), other people in the field were initially skeptical. But they easily repeated my experiments and got the same results that I had obtained, so then they agreed with me --- no problem. Try that with interest rates, or with carbon dioxide emissions! There are so many variables, that even if you could somehow do the gigantic experiments, you wouldn't be sure there wasn't some uncontrolled "third factor" that was the real cause of the observed effect. Scholars are still arguing about what got us out of the 1929 "Great Depression," and what got us out of the Pleistocene Ice Age.

In my June 14th article in this e-zine, I said William Ruddiman has recently claimed that (1) we had been due for another ice age, but (2) the expansion of agriculture by human beings has increased carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, so much that we are getting global warming instead. Ruddiman is a tenured professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, and his article was published by the Scientific American magazine, which certainly adds weight to his credibility. A long discussion of his work appears at a website of experts on climate studies, and nobody there has contradicted his ideas, as you can see (if you have the patience to read it) at Expert's Views .

More recently, I have been visiting the realclimate.org site, and some other important things have turned up. In the peer reviewed journal Nature, it is reported that the present warm period between ice ages is likely to last 28,000 years, not the previously quoted 12,000 year period. The article can be visited at Delayed Ice Age . This makes it look like Ruddiman's idea that humans delayed the ice age is not necessary, because powerful natural causes are what delayed it. (Evidently, various wobbles in the earth's axis have gotten "out of phase" with each other, so they are not all lined up together this time around, to flip us deeply into the cold weather cycle.)

About 100,000 years ago, the geological evidence shows that both the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and the temperature were much higher than they are now. (See D. J. Shanefield, "Carbon Dioxide Levels," Envir. Sci. and Tech., Vol. 26, No. 10, page 1857, October 1992.) People certainly did not cause that! Possiblly volcanic emissions were the main cause. There are volcanoes right now such as Mount Erebus in Antarctica that dump enormous amounts of gases into the air. Is the present global warming caused by that, or by some other natural thing, or is it really just our industrial carbon dioxide output?

It would probably be a good idea to start to decrease the number of people in the world, voluntarily and slowly, the way the way the non-immigrant populations of Italy and Germany are going down. We'd have less carbon dioxide, less pollution, and longer lasting resources. But would global warming slow down? And would extremist Islamic leaders agree to any of this? It doesn't look very hopeful, although it seems like we enlightened people should at least be advocating whatever looks best for the world. Restricting our industry does not look like one of the better ideas, however.

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About the author: Dan Shanefield is a retired engineering prof, who worked at Bell Labs and then at Rutgers University. He wrote the book "Industrial Electronics for Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians".



Visit his website or email Dan Shanefield: shanefield@ieee.org


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