“There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a dramatic decline in food production — with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food production could be quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now … Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars’ worth of damage in 13 U.S. states … To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity.“
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It might be an excerpt from any one of many recent articles about today’s concern over global warming. However, this quote actually comes from a 1975 story entitled “The Cooling World,” from the time when scientists and the media fretted over global cooling.
In and of itself, the quote proves nothing. But it reminds us that many ideas that are in vogue today, including some that are gospel for many may be relegated to history’s dustbin in a short time.
I came across this quote in Bjorn Lomborg’s controversial new book The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. (The subtitle is a deliberate dig at the World Watch Institute and its annual “State of the World” report.) The book was part of my winter holiday reading in Florida. The annual family pilgrimage to Orlando provides a superb setting to ponder one of my greatest interests, the emerging field of paleoclimatology. The Florida peninsula wasn’t frozen over during the last Ice Age so its unique jumble of dinosaur-era ferns, trees and wildlife focuses the mind on what the world was like, say, 100 million years ago.
Some readers may wonder what this editorial has to do with solid waste and recycling. But greenhouse emissions are a key consideration in some new waste reduction initiatives and, more importantly, separating truth from fiction is important in every aspect of the environmental field.
Mr. Lomborg, a professor of statistics and one-time GreenPeace activist exposes and dissects the most egregious ways in which certain prominent environmental pressure groups manipulate data sets to make it look like the world is rapidly going to hell. His analysis is convincing.
Mr. Lomborg doesn’t deny that some kind of climate change is in the offing. He simply checks the data used by environmental groups and concludes that there’s a lot of bias and exaggeration in their news releases and the subsequent media coverage.
An Orlando Sentinel newspaper item held special meaning for me, encountering it as I did while reading Mr. Lomborg’s book. It turns out that, contrary to the popular notion that the Antarctic is warming because of climate change, researchers have discovered the continent has grown colder in the last 35 years. The cooling, unique among continents, was reported by U.S. scientists in the respected journal Nature.
A propos of Mr. Lomborg, the news item stated, “But there has been ‘resistance’ to the findings in some quarters, says Professor Peter Doran, a hydrometeorologist at the University of Illinois and lead author of the report. He would not elaborate, saying only: ‘It hasn’t been a popular paper politically, let’s put it that way’.”
Odd that facts offend people.
Now if this upsets your apple cart, brace yourself. I’d like to update information of a few columns back in which I described a concept outlined in author Graham Hancock’s 1995 bestseller Fingerprints of the Gods. It’s an alternative to the common assumptions about global warming the audacity of which triggered a number of letters from our readers. The theory (you may recall) was that various parts of the world may have heated up or cooled suddenly because of a phenomenon called “earth-crust displacement.” In this theory (that Albert Einstein took seriously, by the way) the earth’s hard outer mantle periodically shifts over the molten layers beneath, much as might the skin of an orange if it were detached from the pulp. Some of you found that idea bizarre.
Well, my Florida reading included Mr. Hancock’s 1998 follow-up book Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization. The author quotes from an article in the July 1997 edition of the scholarly journal Science in which researchers at the California Institute of Technology focused on changes to the Earth’s geology 550 to 535 million years ago that coincided with the famous “Cambrian explosion” — the greatest diversification and expansion of life on this planet.
While the scientists avoid using the term “earth-crust displacement,” they state: “This evolutionary burst coincides with another apparently unique event in earth history — a 90-degree change in the direction of Earth’s spin axis relative to the continents…. Regions that were previously at the north and south poles were relocated to the equator, and two antipodal points near the equator became the new poles.”
Comments Mr. Hancock, “What their evidence points to is a titanic rotation of the entire crust of the earth in one piece and at a cataclysmically fast rate.”
So, what do I believe? I don’t know the ultimate truth about these matters, but I suspect several ideas about the environment that are popular today will be discredited, and others that are deemed bizarre or the lunatic fringe may be accepted. So I’m going to keep reading about those fringe ideas. And, for climate, I recommend that Florida is a nice place to do so.
Guy Crittenden is editor-in-chief of this magazine. Send your letters to: