Humanity is younger than global warming and the conditions that cause and have caused global warming.
As the world heats, the authorities among our relatively young species look for industries to blame and nations to blame – and we come up with formulas and needs for more formulas, all of which are based on economic legislation and policies. Kyoto stands as a high-profile example – as the entirety of the Kyoto proposal rests on economic foundations, with penalties targeted at western civilization and the industries that feed western civilization. The need to do something – the act of doing something defined in economic terms – is underscored by parades of scientists who state and restate that the planet is indeed getting hotter.
Questioning these financial formulas is seen in popular media and culture as illogical and as misinformed ranting. Cocktail conversation on the subject takes on a certain smug and unruly demeanor should one suggest that we are living in an unusually calm period in geologic history; that we are existing between ice ages and that snow during winter is not an entirely welcome occurrence for our frail species; that life on our blue planet benefits from the wobbly course of its orbit – with the poles tilting as they do – and that from time to time that wobbly orbit can slip a bit too far and turn our sweet blue planet deathly white; that the planet heats and cools through vents on land and undersea and in manners that we do not understand.
“Seemingly,” wrote Bill McGuire in The Guardian, “the fact that we are still within an interglacial period, during which the ice has largely retreated to its polar fastnesses, has been forgotten – and replaced with the commonly-held view that one good thing you can say about global warming is that it will at least stave off the return of the glaciers.”
The conversation tends to grow quiet when the facts arrive at the party. We are an incredibly fragile species – and one that holds desperately to its crutches. The drinks are put down on the coasters and the coats are summoned when these subjects are explored. We need to believe that we are special; that there is a wondrous place for us when we die; that our wildly fragile planet is ours alone to nourish or to destroy.
A recent video has emerged on the internet and has spread virally under this curiously anthropocentric banner of power and economics-based logic (http://youtube.com/watch?v=bDsIFspVzfI). In the video, the narrator challenges the viewer to test the formula he has drawn up in four simple boxes. The quadrants point to a financial coaxing. Inaction will almost certainly lead to doom, as demonstrated in the Business 101-type rows and columns. One wonders how many other thorny global questions can be put down on graph paper.
And so we are left with a truth – the world is warming at present.
Can we create a cooler planet through economic incentives and investments? Even if we could, do we want to create an artificially air conditioned planet? The shortcomings in the above-mentioned video and in these questions are found in a dangerous ignorance of geologic time and history. Every 15,000 to 20,000 years, the planet cycles through a heating period – called an interglacial period – and we are nearing the end of one of these periods, according to the geologic record. When the heating ends, our orbiting rock starts to cool – and the earth will regress back to an ice age environment, where much of North America, Europe, and Asia will be covered in glaciers.
The geologic record points to frightening spikes in heating and cooling periods as well. An example of one of the more likely spikes we may witness is the ticking bomb that is Yellowstone National Park. One of the largest super-volcanoes in the world lies just beneath the surface of Yellowstone – and it is active. Recent reports in the press and in scientific journals have noted increases in this activity. Yellowstone’s last major eruption was 640,000 years ago – and it has been exploding with a fair amount of regularity every 600,000 years, so it can be argued that we are overdue. The ashes released from an eruption of this nature would significantly cool the planet and could hasten our return to an ice age.
Facts have a way of putting things in perspective. It is important to understand that we do not understand how the macro scales of the earth tilt. The planet is heating – but it is doing so through mechanisms and courses that we do not yet comprehend. It is important also to come to grips with the idea that we have not invented global warming and that its trends are not a byproduct of the relatively brief history of Homo sapiens.
In some circles, questions are being posed on whether or not the earth is a living organism – and the heating and cooling cycles may point to a larger behavior that can help us determine the broader nature of our host. Known as the Gaia Hypothesis, it states that “…the physical and chemical condition of the surface of the Earth, of the atmosphere, and of the oceans has been and is actively made fit and comfortable by the presence of life itself. This is in contrast to the conventional wisdom which held that life adapted to the planetary conditions as it and they evolved their separate ways.” If this hypothesis is proven correct, and if our host should become significantly warmer – mimicking the fundamentals of a fever – we may be in for a challenge that will transcend the collective weight of our currencies.