Guest essay by Dr. Tim Ball
There is nothing permanent except change. – Heraclitus
If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. – Giuseppe di Lamedusa
Moving the Goalposts Again.
Climate changes significantly all the time. Those who point this out are considered more dangerous than global warming skeptics. Perversely and incorrectly, they are called climate change deniers, with its holocaust connotations. However, even a brief examination of the historic record shows how much climate changes naturally. This information is reaching the public and reducing people’s fear and is encouraging questions.
The political reaction, as in the past, is to move the goalposts. From the pulpit of the White House, John Holdren created climate disruptions; another ‘spin’ phrase used to imply abnormality and therefore due to humans. As proof, he pointed to media reports of increasing weather extremes. They weren’t extreme, but if you don’t know the history and the facts, exaggerations in the media make them so. It becomes a classic circular argument. Most people don’t understand that hurricanes are normal weather events. What has increased are the number of people who choose to live in hurricane regions and media attention, who are the phony storm chasers.
Forced to acknowledge that climate changes required a new name, but also a change in the story. It had to be abnormal, so now the claim is it is more rapid, frequent, abrupt and severe than anywhere in history. It isn’t, but the idea maintained the fear and guilt factors – millions will die, plants and animals will suffer and it is your fault. Maybe opponents to these claims should be called Climate Disruption Dastards.
Why Does Rate of Change Create Concern?
Every time a new threat is promoted, evidence shows it is unsubstantiated. Usually, the threat only worked because the public doesn’t understand. Once they appear to understand, a new threat is required. Increased rate of change resulted in stories claiming nature would be unable to adapt because the rate of change was abnormal.
It resonated because western science is based on the philosophy of uniformitarianism (gradualism), which assumes that processes occurring today were the same in the past. Charles Lyell summarized it as, “The present is the key to the past.” It was interpreted, incorrectly, that nothing changes much over time.
Lyell’s book Principles of Geology accompanied Darwin on the Beagle and profoundly influenced his thinking. Darwin’s theory required a much older world with time for evolution to occur. It replaced Catastrophism, which is ironic, because it held that the earth has been affected in the past by sudden, short-lived, violent events, possibly worldwide in scope.” Briefly, at the end of the 20th century, Chaos theory appeared, but faded. Stephen Jay Gould proposed a compromise called “punctuated equilibrium,” which said change was gradual with occasional catastrophic events.
This idea coincided with what appeared to be a good example, evidence that an asteroid wiped out dinosaurs 65 million years ago. (I celebrate that event each year, because it allowed the mammals and ultimately humans to emerge – it is my religion of Asteroidism). Despite this, traditional uniformitarian thinking persisted because it formed the philosophical thinking of western science. One result was the assumption that recovery from catastrophic events would take considerable time. This translated into the claim that human induced climate change was beyond the capability of plants and animals to recover.
Examples of Gradualist Thinking
An example of this thinking, accompanied a forest policy proposal for the Province of British Columbia by Werner Kurz.
“The climatic “comfort zone” for some species of trees is shifting north and it is moving far faster than the natural climate changes recorded in the geological record. “As long as change is a slow process the response of vegetation is to migrate with the shifting climate zone,” Kurz said. Paleo-ecologists measure the pace of migration in kilometres per century, but climate bands in recent years are moving at least 10 times that fast, outstripping the ability of plants to cope with the change, he said.” “Relying solely on the biological migration mechanisms of trees is not going to be sufficient,” he said.
Proper scientific method challenges such theories and thinking. Apparently, Kurz didn’t do his research. First, he should look at the palynological record for the last 12,000 years to get a measure of the rate and extent of natural change. Using the geologic record for recent change is like measuring human hair with a yardstick.
Diane L. Six, like Kurz in BC, lacks wider knowledge, historical perspective and understanding of climate patterns and mechanisms. In a Billings Gazette opinion article, Six wrote,
As scientists who have lived and worked in Montana, we understand the scientific principles demonstrating that human activity is rapidly changing our climate. That is why we joined over 100 other scientists across Montana in sending a letter to our top elected officials calling on them to support policies that reduce carbon pollution.
Thousands of scientists have produced thousands of studies on the causes and impacts of climate change. Each of those studies has undergone a rigorous peer review process. Building such a body of evidence to explain what is happening in the world around us is a careful, slow, and painstaking process, which rarely yields broad agreement. That’s why it is so remarkable that 97 percent of scientists who study climate change say that it is real, and largely caused by human activities that produce carbon pollution.
Climate change is a major concern for Montana. Scientists in Montana and around the West have documented that spring snowpack is melting on average two weeks earlier than in the 1950s. There has been an extension of two months in the wildfire season since the 1980s. August stream flows now average 20 percent lower than in the 1950s. These impacts are already having notable impacts on agriculture, recreation, wildlife, and water resources.
Ms. Six makes the inferred, but unsubstantiated connection between IPCC science and local conditions, while ignoring facts. For example, Ken Schlichte notes NOAA data shows that
· Montana’s meteorological winter (December – February) temperatures have trended downward at a rate of 4.2 degrees F per decade over the last 10 winters.
· Montana’s meteorological spring (March – May) temperatures have trended downward at a rate of 2.2 degrees F per decade over the last 10 springs.
There are also the inferences that the pattern Six describes are not normal and will continue. What Kurz and Six observe is perfectly normal. The problem is, the trend is incorrect. It cools, while they demand preparation for warming. They also need to know about the rate of adaptation to climate change. But these are problems created by academics and bureaucrats with a vested interest in perpetuating fear, while not understanding the science.
Kurz and Six must consider the events following the eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980. It provided a natural experiment that rejected predictions that recovery would take a hundred years or more. After just thirty years, scientists were amazed at the recovery rate. They were amazed because the basic philosophy was wrong; it’s the same error that allows the false claim that change is too rapid for nature to cope. Both Kurz and Six quote ecologists, but one of the earliest ecology studies illustrated how much animal populations fluctuate in response to climate changes that in turn affect food supply. Figure 1 shows a plot of Lynx population number fluctuations over 100 years. There is a link to sunspot numbers that links to the precipitation pattern.
An Example Of Rapid Forest Adaptation
In my climate research I found a map drawn in 1772 by fur trader and self-taught biologist Samuel Hearne. He followed the tree line (he called it the “woods edge”) from Churchill on the southwest coast of Hudson Bay to the Coppermine River on the Arctic coast and plotted it on a map. It’s a very distinct boundary, as I know from flying over this region for five years. The entire story was published as “Historical Evidence and Climatic Implications of a Shift in the Boreal Forest Tundra Transition in Central Canada“, Climatic Change 1986, Vol. 7, pp. 218-229.
Hearne, whose observations on Arctic Fox are still considered among the best, made a remarkable, astute, comment in his journal.
“I have observed, during my several journeys in those parts that all the way to the North of Seal River the edge of the wood is faced with old withered stumps, and trees which have been flown (sic) down by the wind. They are mostly of the sort which is called here Juniper, but were seldom of any considerable size. Those blasted trees are found in some parts to extend to the distance of twenty miles from the living woods, and detached patches of them are further off; which is proof that the cold has been increasing in those parts for some ages. Indeed, some of the older Northern Indians have assured me that they have heard their fathers and grandfathers say, they remembered the greatest part of those places where the trees are now blasted and dead, in a flourishing state. (Hearne, 1772, p.138).
Hearne’s observations fit the climate record. The tree line advanced during the warmth of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) then retreated in the cooling to the nadir of the Little Ice Age (LIA). Hearne describes this with his comment that this is “proof that the cold has been increasing in those parts for some ages”. It has warmed since Hearne’s time and the tree line has advanced with a pattern of movement appropriate for the general circulation of the region.
Comparing the “woods edge” (Figure 2) as Hearne drew it in 1772, with the tree line determined 200 years later by Rowe (1972) and Elliot-Fisk (1983), the amount of movement is significant. In the west/east portion from Great Slave Lake to Churchill on Hudson Bay, movement was up to 300 km. This means it moved more than one kilometer per year. Even if it is only half that, it is a remarkable rate of adjustment in one of the harshest growing environments anywhere.
Emergence of New Land Provides Evidence
While flying anti-submarine patrols in the North Atlantic in the 1960s I had the privilege of watching, month by month, the appearance of a new island off the Icelandic coast. Named Surtsey, it provided an opportunity for modern science to monitor how quickly life establishes itself. Insects were among the first to arrive, with birds bringing seeds and providing nutrients. Scientists were surprised and impressed by the rates of colonization and adaptation. It is not surprising to people who live on the land.
Once you realize climate changes significantly all the time it is much easier to understand that nature would have evolved for that eventuality. But, this is only one of the misconceptions created to promote environmentalism as a religion and climate change for a political agenda. It is a long list, but partly includes, the claim extinction is abnormal, when it is the norm; that if one species disappears the entire interconnection collapses; that warming will cause nothing but problems.
Further proof of political exploitation, but also the rapid rate of change, is that just 35 years ago governments were preparing for cooling. Indeed, some of the scientists active today in promoting the threat of warming were measuring and warning about the impact of cooling. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) sponsored studies on the impact of cooling on agricultural productivity in various regions. The CIA produced a few reports including, “The Potential Implications of Trends in World Population, Food Production, and Climate”. OPR – 401, August 1974.
Governments are misled and misdirected by the science and policy suggestions of the IPCC. They’re adapting for warming when cooling is occurring and is the greater threat because adaptation is more difficult. If it occurs as rapidly as it has in the past we appear disadvantaged. However, humans have prospered and progressed because we used technology, invention and innovation to adapt. Fire, clothing, irrigation are all adaptations to climate change. The biggest threat is to our food supply, but genetic modification, which allows adaptation in two years compared to over 15 years for plant breeding, significantly improves our adaptability.
The only thing changing faster than the climate are the names given to political attempts to exploit people’s fears for a political agenda. In approximately 14 years it is variously Global Warming, Climate Change, Climate Catastrophe, Climate Chaos and currently Climate Disruptions. As Bertrand Russell said, ‘Change’ is scientific, ‘progress’ is ethical: change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy.”