Tuesday, September 07, 2004

National Geographic Warns of Global Warning

By Robert Wolf

National Geographic Magazine has decided to weigh in on the side of global warming. They conclude that the danger not only exists, but that man is a significant contributor.

The Magazine noted for its fluffy, mostly vacuous articles on natural science and archeology and famous with young boys for its pictures of topless natives, has for over one hundred years assiduously avoided political causes--but like another grand old lady, The New York Times, it may now have abandoned that objectivity.

The story is told with the vanity typical of the scientific community which places too great an emphasis on man’s capacity for shaping the environment perpetuating the hubris that nature could not prevail against man’s determination to “save the planet”.

It is self-evident, even to the vast right wing conspiracy, that mankind should not trash the planet. What isn’t clear to any, except the irrational, is why we should accept the Kyoto approach asking industrial nations to forgo the benefits of civilization to emulate the lifestyles of the 3rd world. What is most annoying is the malice of forethought that ignores two very significant ‘natural’ climatic events in this millennium.

According to authors Hubert Lamb and Le Roy Ladurie, between the 10th and 14th centuries AD, Earth's average global temperature was much warmer than it is today. This Medieval Warm Period is deduced from historical weather records and proxy climate data from England and Northern Europe.

The warmer conditions associated with this interval of time are known to have had a largely beneficial impact on Earth's plant and animal life. In fact, the environmental conditions of this time period have been determined to have been so favorable that it is often referred to as the Little Climatic Optimum. This is the period that corresponds to the Norse colonies in Greenland and Vinland that have so confounded historians.

In Europe, temperatures reached some of the warmest levels of the last 4,000 years, allowing enough grapes to be successfully grown in England to sustain an indigenous wine industry. Contemporaneously, horticulturists in China extended their cultivation of citrus trees and perennial herbs further and further northward, resulting in an expansion of their ranges that reached its maximum extent in the 13th century. From examining the climatic conditions required to grow these species successfully, it has been estimated that annual mean temperatures in the region must have been about 1.0 °C higher than at present, with extreme January minimum temperatures fully 3.5 °C warmer than they are today.

In North America, tree-ring chronologies from the southern Canadian Rockies have provided evidence for higher tree lines and wider ring-widths between 950 and 1100 AD, suggesting warmer temperatures and more favorable growing conditions. Similar results have been derived from tree-ring analyses of bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California, where much greater growth was recorded in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Simultaneous increases in precipitation were additionally found to have occurred in monsoonal locations of the United States desert southwest, where there are indications of increased lake levels from AD 700-1350. Other data document vast glacial retreats during the Medieval Warm Period in parts of South America, Scandinavia, New Zealand and Alaska; and ocean-bed cores suggest global sea surface temperatures were warmer then as well. The Arctic ice pack substantially retreated allowing the settlement of both Iceland and Greenland; while alpine passes normally blocked with snow and ice became traversable, opening trade routes between Italy and Germany.

Contemporaneously, on the northern Colorado Plateau in America, the Anasazi Indian civilization reached its climax, as warmer temperatures and better soil moisture conditions allowed them to farm a region twice as large as is presently possible.

To confuse the Climatic issue further, there was a second event in which Western Europe experienced a general cooling of the climate between the years 1150 and 1460 and a very cold climate between 1560 and 1850. The colder weather increased glaciation and storms had a devastating affect on those that lived near glaciers or the sea. For more, go to: http://www.co2science.org/subject/other/clim_hist_1thousand.htm

Scott A. Mandia, Assoc. Professor of Physical Sciences at SUNY Suffolk again relies heavily on Lamb and Ladurie in describing the opposite climatic events in the 14th through the 18th centuries.

Lamb (1966) points out that in the warmest times of the last 1000 years, southern England had the climate that Normandy, France has now. The difference between the two locations is about 350 miles. In other terms that means the growing season changed by 15 to 20 percent between the warmest and coldest times of the millennium. That is enough to affect almost any type of food production, especially crops highly adapted to use the full-season warm climatic periods. During the coldest times, England's growing season was shortened by one to two months compared to present day values. The availability of varieties of seed today that can withstand extreme cold or warmth, wetness or dryness, was not available in the past. Therefore, climate changes had a much greater impact in the past. The culmination in the year 1816 - "the year without a summer."

One of the worst famines in the seventeenth century occurred in France due to the failed harvest of 1693. Millions of people in France and surrounding countries were killed. The effect of this little ice age on Swiss farms was also severe. Due to the cooler climate, snow covered the ground deep into spring, and a parasite, known as Fusarium nivale, which thrives under snow cover, devastated crops. Additionally, due to the increased number of days of snow cover, the stocks of hay for the animals ran out so livestock were fed on straw and pine branches. Many cows had to be slaughtered.

In Norway, many farms located at higher latitudes were abandoned for better land in the valleys. By 1387, production and tax yields were between 12 percent and 70 percent of what they had been around 1300. In the 1460's it was being recognized that this change was permanent. As late as the year 1665, the total Norwegian grain harvest is reported to have been only 67 - 70 percent of what it had been about the year 1300 (Lamb, 1995.)

Ladurie (1971) notes that there were many "bad years" for wine during this period in France and surrounding countries due to very late harvests and very wet summers. The cultivation of grapes was extensive throughout the southern portion of England from about 1100-1300. This area is about 300 miles farther north than the areas in France and Germany that grow grapes today. Grapes were also grown in northern France and Germany at that time, areas that even today do not sustain commercial vineyards.

In fact, Lamb (1995) suggests that during that period the amount of wine produced in England was substantial enough to provide significant economic competition with the producers in France. With the coming cooler climate in the 1400's, temperatures became too cold for grape production and the vineyards in southern England ceased to exist and do not exist even today.

The study of the tree populations in forests of Southern Ontario by Campbell and McAndrews (1993) shows that after the year 1400, beech trees, the formerly dominant warmth-loving species, were replaced first by oak and subsequently by pine. Further, the forest under study appears to have remained in disequilbrium with the prevailing climate of today--suggesting that tree population distribution takes hundreds of years to recover from major climate changes.

The cooler climate during this time had a huge impact on the health of Europeans. As mentioned earlier, dearth and famine killed millions and poor nutrition decimated colonies of Vikings in Greenland, Vinland and Iceland.

In 1595, glacial advances at Gietroz (Switzerland) dammed the Dranse River and flooded Bagne resulting in 70 deaths. Between 1600-10: Advances by the Chamonix (France) glaciers caused massive floods which destroyed three villages and severely damaged a fourth. One village had stood since the 1200's. 1670-80 recorded the maximum historical advances by glaciers in eastern Alps. There was a noticeable decline of human population in the areas close to these glaciers, whereas population elsewhere in Europe had risen. Between 1695-1709 Icelandic glaciers advanced dramatically destroying farms. A glacier in Norway advanced at a rate of 100 meters per year from1710 to 1735—and from 1748 to 1750 Norwegian glaciers achieved their historical maximum positions. For more go to: http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/lia/little_ice_age.html

In light of these events, it is hard to mourn the retreat of today’s glaciers. Until science can explain these dramatic anomalies, who could reasonably put stock in the current, petty statistics involving fractions of degrees tormented into significance by flawed computer models--especially when just a short 30 years ago, these same sources were warning of an impending ice age.

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