Commentary: With talk of ‘mini ice age,’ global warming debate may again be about to change

Commentary: With talk of ‘mini ice age,’ global warming debate may again be about to change
Some scientists are predicting that a mini ice age could hit the United Kingdom by 2030. Many of those who believe humans are primarily responsible for global warming have already denounced the mini ice age prediction. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Many Americans believe the debate over whether man is primarily responsible for Earth’s recent warming was started by Al Gore in the 1990s, when the issue prominently made its way onto the national stage, but scientists have been debating humans’ role in our changing climate for many decades.

For instance, in 1969, the New York Times reported, “Col. Bernt Balchen, polar explorer and flier [now serving with General Dynamics], is circulating a paper among polar specialists proposing that the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the ocean at the North Pole may become an open sea within a decade or two. … A number of specialists believe that an ice-free Arctic Ocean would not freeze again.”

In the 1970s, some scientists speculated Earth was about to go through an extensive global cooling period, with some even suggesting the cooling could be catastrophic.

These dire predictions, and many more just like them, never occurred, of course, but they all have one thing in common: Environmentalists have consistently used scientific projections to justify radical, often socialistic policy changes, including carbon taxes and exchanges, incentives to limit population growth and other extreme measures that take power away from individuals and give it to an ever-growing centralized government.

I believe we could be about to experience another remarkable shift in the climate change debate, although radical environmentalists’ plan to seize your rights will likely remain the same.

Another ‘mini ice age’?

On Dec. 27, Sky News, a large media outlet in the United Kingdom, published a news article on its website titled, “Scientists predict ‘mini ice age’ could hit UK by 2030.” In this article, reporter Gerard Tubb describes a new report from researchers at Northumbria University that claims “a mathematical model of the Sun’s magnetic activity suggests temperatures could start dropping here from 2021, with the potential for winter skating on the River Thames by 2030.”

Sky News reported the research team, led by professor Valentina Zharkova, projects there will be “rapidly decreasing magnetic waves for three solar cycles beginning in 2021 and lasting 33 years.”

Zharkova says there is a 97 percent chance the model is accurate, but she and her team say because of man-caused global warming, it’s not clear how much cooler things might get. Still, Zharkova says it’s very possible global temperature will drop in a manner similar to when solar activity was last at Zharkova’s projected levels, in the mid-1700s, when much of the world experienced a so-called “mini ice age.”

Many of those who believe humans are primarily responsible for global warming have already denounced the mini ice age prediction. They believe humans are creating so much warming that it will far outweigh changes in the sun’s magnetic waves.

“The effect is a drop in the bucket, a barely detectable blip, on the overall warming trajectory we can expect over the next several decades from greenhouse warming,” Michael Mann, a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University and the man behind the infamous “hockey stick graph,” said in an email to the Washington Post.

If Mann is right and the “warming trajectory” — which I think is a rather misleading term given some of the findings by Dr. John Christy and other researchers — continues, then it’s unlikely the climate change debate will change much over the next decade or two. Alarmists will continue to say the world is about to end, skeptics will say they think the alarmists are wrong, and most people will go on with their lives, waiting until the debate definitively ends or until climate alarmists get their wish and institute massive, far-reaching and expensive policies that will control how much carbon dioxide people can emit without paying a fine.

However, if Mann is wrong and the changes to solar magnetic waves expected by Zharkova’s team do occur and do cause warming to cease, or even cooling, then the climate change debate will inevitably shift, as alarmists and politicians scramble to come up with an explanation for why their many highly touted and dire predictions never occurred. How will far-left environmentalists save themselves from total embarrassment?

A new strategy

Interestingly, at least some climate scientists are already beginning to drop hints about how they might react. When asked by Sky News about how potential alterations to the sun’s magnetic waves might affect global warming, Zharkova responded, “I hope global warning will be overridden by this effect, giving humankind and the Earth 30 years to sort out our pollution.”

Ah yes, how fortunate it is that the sun’s changes will give Earth “30 years” to come up with a solution to global warming! Rather than admit that they might be wrong and that warming could be driven primarily by factors other than carbon-dioxide emissions, Zharkova suggests instead that an extreme cooling period would push the red line people like Al Gore are always ranting about 50 years into the future.

This conveniently gives the environmental left and many Democrats a doomsday deadline far enough off into the future that it will theoretically affect most people now living (or at least their kids) but not so far off that people aren’t concerned about it.

Given what I’ve read about Zharkova, it doesn’t seem as though she should be classified as an “alarmist.” In fact, in accordance with good scientific practices, she seems very willing to consider all the evidence on both sides of the debate. But her statement speaks volumes about the future of the global warming movement should her predictions about the Sun turn out to be accurate.

Zharkova isn’t the only one who has suggested such a view, either. In a Newsweek article, James Renwick, a professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, was quoted as saying any cooling would be limited to the 30-year period projected by Zharkova, and that global warming would pick up right where it left off, or be even worse, when the solar activity changed again around 2050.

“If things played out as described in Zharkova’s paper, and we did see a decrease in solar output roughly as happened in the 1700s, there would be some cooling for 20 or 30 years,” Renwick said. “But the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are so much higher now (and will be even higher in 2030) that temperatures would not drop much below where they are today. And that drop would last only until 2050 or so. Then we’d have a bounce upwards again.”

Newsweek reported Howard Diamond, the program director for the U.S. Climate Reference Network, also concluded warming temperatures would quickly rebound, even if Zharkova is right.

As these statements show, even if we experience lots of cooling because of solar changes, many climate scientists are likely to ignore those alterations as evidence that natural causes may be the most important climate change consideration.

Instead, it appears they will stick to their climate change theory about man’s responsibility and possibly use the cooling period (if one occurs) as a time to rally support for radical energy policies. This situation is eerily similar to when alarmists shifted away from using the term “global warming,” replacing it with the more-ambiguous and all-encompassing “climate change.”

Climate change doesn’t appear to be on the way out, but the debate could be on the verge of evolving again, this time putting alarmists on the defensive as global temperature cools because of changes in the Sun’s magnetic waves.

Justin Haskins (Jhaskins@heartland.org) is executive editor and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

256 Comments