Seasonally Affected, Epochally Not So Much

I go to my study, the ‘blue room’, after breakfast to catch up on news, write my daily blog entry, and get in a little keyboard practice. This morning, I noticed I felt cold after a while, put on a jacket and got some hot coffee. The temperature registered 61 on the thermostat in the family room. Fortunately, the blue room is a couple of degrees warmer; a large power amplifier, running Class A at idle, serves second duty as a space heater near my desk; across the room, my computer and its disk drives do similar duty. I turn off the amp in the summer when not in use.

I like to operate at ambient temperature as much as possible. My comfort limits, with appropriate attire, are ~60-82° F. At 82° F, I will be in shorts only, no shirt. At 60° F, I will be fully dressed with jacket. Debby has a narrower range, ~65-78° F (more sensitive to heat, but modestly declines the sans-top option). When Debby retires soon, my roughing-it image will be tamed a little during the day. A space heater for D’s study may equalize us in the winter.

The first annual instance of a heater-on event (6AM inside temp < 65° F) defines the start of my So Cal winter. It seems like it is later this year. Maybe some year soon it will correspond with the official start of winter, Dec 22. It is not possible, though, for us to individually experience the very slight annual trend to warming. The lability of our local climates hides it and the warming effect is small even over a human lifetime.

Global climate fluctuations are predicted to get worse, further disguising the long term trends. The global temperature averages over the last century point to a historic precedent in temperature rise, and our climate canary, our polar regions, is acting very nervous. The rate of change is accelerating in the last decade, as melting ice reduces the planet’s reflectiveness and more of the sun’s energy is retained at the surface.

Let’s not become alarmed by the prognosticators’ scare tactics: tipping points, irreversible processes, etc. Humans exaggerate the nearness and graveness of problems involving geologic-scale processes; our human space-time frame forces that myopia on us. Well-meaning experts in these scale processes consistently work against themselves, crying wolf before the wolf has even been born. Tarred by their visibly failed predictions, the public discredits them even though the problems they report may be all too real. In the end, their egos do a huge disservice to the cause. So let’s keep it real and not pretend to know how big or near the problem is. And anyway, too cold rather than too hot is more likely our impending scenario.

A look at ice core temperature ‘gauges’ reveals a very cold Earth (average temperatures perhaps 5° C lower than today) for most of the last half-million years, punctuated by very short, very sudden warming periods lasting on average on the order of 10 millennia. We are now 10 millennia into our interstadial, the brief period of time that has seen the agricultural explosion of the Neolithic and the rise of all our civilizations. Soon, based on our recent cyclic history, whose first order components may be continental configuration and solar output, our interstadial will max out and our climate will crash again.

What starts an interstadial is not clear (to me). The mechanism for ending an interstadial is thought to be heat-related, a large influx of fresh water from melting land glaciers and ice caps entering the oceans, causing the Gulf Stream to stop, forcing the northern hemisphere into a new glaciation stage. Right on cue, it is reported that the current rate of global warming has caused the Gulf Stream current to begin to slow, beginning ~1950. Oops, there’s that wolf again. Let’s observe for a few centuries before declaring imminent freeze or melt.

Let’s recognize that global warming has been a naturally cyclic event. Because of Earth’s current unsustainable population growth, we may be accelerating the inevitable. This acceleration component is first and foremost a people problem. No need to fear, though. The coming crash will likely solve that problem for us. On the other hand, perhaps it is even conceivable that our greenhouse gasses may actually prevent or moderate a new Big Freeze after our interstadial ends.

We live in interesting times. Perhaps the only sure bet to emerge is that there are two good technical fields to pursue: mitigating the effects of over-population, and moderating our behavior so as to ensure a future habitable climate for our descendants.

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