When I was about 5 or 6 – or whatever age I was when our family lived in Gambia, West Africa – my mother once explained to me the theory of evolution, as being the idea that plants and animals all gradually changed into different plants and animals, And when she’d finished explaining it to me, she added that she didn’t believe a word of it.
My mother never did believe the theory of evolution. She never could believe that, as she put it, “frogs could turn into snakes”. For her the idea was simply patent nonsense. Such things never happened. No-one had ever seen a frog turn into a snake, had they? Of course not.
But I adopted the idea immediately. I suddenly saw all living things as distant relatives of each other. Not just us humans, but all the animals and plants as well. And that meant that our little marmalade cat was also a distant relative of mine, and that I should love him all the more for it. That day, when I fed the little cat, he probably got an extra helping of food from me. Instead of one single small fish, he probably got two. For I saw him in a completely new light.
And with that I discovered an interest in what I then called Prehistory, and read avidly about past eras populated by dinosaurs which had now all vanished. I learned the names of all the periods of prehistory from the Cambrian to the Cretaceous (I can still remember the names). And I discovered that there had been ice ages in the past, as well as much warmer periods.
I never lost interest in it all. Instead I continually added to what I already knew. At some point I learned that the last ice age had only ended about 10,000 years ago. We were now living in a relatively ice-free interglacial period. And the last one that the Earth had enjoyed had been 100,000 years earlier.
So I’ve always had an idea of the world and all the plants and animals living in it as something that was always changing. It never stayed the same for long. But I suspect that my mother saw the world and everything in it as something fixed and unchanging. And if she didn’t believe in evolution, she probably didn’t believe in ice ages. I can well imagine her saying, “Glaciers two miles high? What nonsense!”
And I think that most people are like my mother. They see the world around them as being essentially static and unchanging. The world has always been pretty much exactly how it is right now, and furthermore it always will be. Yes, there might be a cycle of seasons. but they’re just ripples on the surface of a placid, unchanging pond.
And in many ways the argument between climate alarmists and climate sceptics, that’s going on right now, is an argument between people who see the world as an ever-changing place, and people who see it as static and unchanging.
The climate alarmists have been shouting that mounting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere threatens to warm the entire atmosphere, and we humans must stop pumping it into the atmosphere with all our coal and gas and oil burning. And the sceptics have been saying that it’s not happening, and we’ve just had 20 years of no warming at all.
And I’m a climate sceptic. I’ve never been able to see how trace amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could have such a huge and catastrophic effect. Most sceptics will agree that carbon dioxide will warm the atmosphere, but only by a 3 or so degrees Celsius. And they say that’s a good thing. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is good for plant life, because plants need carbon dioxide to grow.
I’m still a climate sceptic in this respect. I still don’t believe that carbon dioxide can cause catastrophic global warming (much like I don’t believe that trace amounts of tobacco smoke are causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people every year).
But over the last few months I’ve gone back to something that has always been bothering me about the whole climate debate, which is: If we’re living right now in a warm interglacial period that’s only lasted about 10,000 years, and the last one 100,000 years ago didn’t last very much longer than that before the ice returned, shouldn’t we be much more worried about an impending new ice age than we should be worried about warming the atmosphere a few degrees? For doesn’t the historical record suggest that if the last few warm interglacial periods only lasted about 10,000 years, our current interglacial period isn’t likely to last very much longer? And in fact, if we should be more worried about the planet cooling down than warming up, mightn’t it even be a good idea to burn as much coal and oil and gas as we possibly can?
Why ice ages begin and end is something that’s a bit of a mystery. There are lots of theories. But nobody really seems to know. And furthermore, nobody seems much bothered about it. And certainly the climate alarmists with their carbon dioxide are not in the least bit bothered about it at all.
But over the past few months, I’ve been having my own ideas about how ice ages might begin and end. I won’t repeat my idea again: I set out the gist of it last month in A Theory Of Ice Ages. And it’s a very, very simple idea. And it’s started me thinking in completely new ways, down completely new tracks.
And I’ve now become something of a climate alarmist. And I think I understand why ice ages begin and end. And I think that in the next few thousand years the Earth is almost certain to enter a new ice age. It’s going to get very cold. So I’m not worried about global warming: I’m worried about global cooling. And right now I’m trying to put together a computer simulation model that shows how it could happen.
And that’s not easy to do. I started out using a little asteroid, but I have to scale the asteroid up to the size of the Earth, and furthermore add an atmosphere on top, and sunlight as well. And maybe lots of other things as well.
And my theory of ice ages is a picture of a world that is forever changing. It’s a dynamic model of the world rather than a static model. But pretty much all the climate scientists, alarmist or sceptic, use a static model. They write steady-state equations with all the heat flows balancing out. They always assume an unchanging world, or a hardly-changing world. They won’t be able to understand my idea, because my idea includes things heating up and cooling down at different rates, and I use a dynamic simulation model of ever-changing heat flows. My models never reach any steady state ever. Steady states are useful fictions, but they’re still fictions all the same. The real world isn’t like that. The real world is never in equiibrium. It’s always changing.
So the way I see it right now, our current climate alarmists and the climate ssceptics are both people who see the Earth and its atmosphere as something that exists in an equilibrium steady state. They just disagree about the effect of trace amounts of carbon dioxide. Other than that, they’re all in complete agreement with each other, because they all write the same equations. And in some ways all equations, which equate one thing to another, are equations of some sort of steady state.
In fact, the entire environmental movement, and all the Greens, are another bunch of equilibrium, steady-state thinkers. They see the world as an unchanging, static thing. They see it as a blue-green Gaia, a beautiful droplet of water suspended in the void. And they think we greedy, grasping humans have come along and started spoiling it with all our engines and factories and ships and boats and planes, all belching out carbon dioxide and soot. And they think we should Stop Doing It, and let Gaia go on being Gaia, just like she always was, and always will be, once us poisonous humans have been driven away.
And it’s very easy to see the world as something that’s static and unchanging. Because all our experience says it is. The stars in the sky at night never change. Or almost never change. And if they do change, they change with such regularity as to be effectively unchanging.
I could go on.
And on and on and on.
But now I must go back to figuring out how to bolt an atmosphere onto my simulation model.