I was reading yesterday that:
Release of 1000 gigatonnes of carbon would prevent an ice age for 130,000 years. If anthropogenic carbon release were 5000 gigatonnes or more, glaciation will be avoided for at least half a million years. As things stand now, the combination of relatively weak orbital forcing and the long atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide is likely to generate a longer interglacial period than has been seen in the last 2.6 million years.
So we can rest assured, there is no ice age around the corner.
And a few minutes later I read here that:
That insulating blanket has a bigger climatic influence than the slight flux in incoming solar energy from changes in Earth’s orientation relative to the Sun, said Dr. James A. Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
”We have taken over control of the mechanisms that determine the climate change,” he said.
We’re now living in the Anthropocene era, according to these people. And we can remake the world as we like.
But I’m not so sure. And for the past 3 months I’ve been thinking about a climatic cycle that the experts in the field of climate science seem not to have noticed.
It’s a very simple cycle: The hot Earth slowly cools over many millions of years. And for those many millions of years the water in its atmosphere falls on its surface as rain, and flows in rivers to the sea. But one day, as the Earth cools, the water stops flowing away in rivers, and the rain freezes on its surface. And as the rain continues to fall, and turn to ice, the ice grows deeper and deeper on the surface of the Earth. And what had been a warm, wet world turns into a cold, dry world. And it stays cold. But the mantle of ice lying on the Earth acts as a blanket to warm it. And so the rocks beneath the ice warm up. And they get hotter and hotter. And they start to melt the ice, which flows away in boiling rivers beneath it. And soon, almost overnight, all the ice has melted. And the cold, dry world turns back into a warm wet world. And the hot surface rocks start cooling back down. And they gradually cool until, once again, the rain falling on the surface of the Earth turns to ice again, and the cycle re-starts.
The two states – warm and wet, and cold and dry – are very stable. They both seem permanent. But neither of them are. And when the warm, wet world flips to become a cold, dry world, the change comes suddenly. And the same when the cold, dry world flips back to being a warm, wet world: it happens almost overnight. And both flips are accompanied by mass extinctions, as plants and animals are unable to adapt quickly enough to the changing environment.
And the same sort of cycle operates in human affairs. Everything remains stable for a long time, until it suddenly flips. And when it flips, lots of people die.
The Russian revolution of 1917 was one of those sudden flips. One day (and there was probably just one day, 23 March 1917? ) tsar Nicholas II became a prisoner in his own palace. A new regime took over, and consolidated its power. And it remained in power until suddenly, almost overnight, it was in its turn swept away. On the 19th (or maybe the 18th) of August, 1991, Michael Gorbachev was placed under house arrest. There were 27,176 days – 74 years, 4 months, and 26 days – between the two events. No doubt historians will haggle over the exact dates, maybe even the exact months and years.
Much the same happened in the palace of Versailles on 5 October 1789 when an angry mob of Parisian women marched into it, and tried to kill Marie Antoinette, wife of king Louis XVI.
Or 14 October 1066, when William, Duke of Normandy, defeated king Harold of England at the battle of Hastings.
Long periods of stasis are interrupted by sudden revolutions in which the world is turned upside down. But they are sooner or later followed counter-revolutions which invert the established order once again. In stable periods, stasis endures for millennia or centuries. In unstable periods, stasis endures for years or months.
And smoking bans are no different. They also appear on single days. For example 1 July 2007 in the UK. They inaugurate a new era. But no sooner has the new era dawned, than people start to work to subvert it. And eventually they succeed. One can safely say that one day the UK smoking ban will be repealed or overturned. Nothing is permanent. Everything is always in motion, even if the motion is glacially slow.
Same with the EU. Rather like the Soviet Union (of which it is an accurate reflection), it looks set to last not much longer than the political state on which it was modelled. The Treaty of Rome was signed on 5 March 1957. And so 74 years, 4 months, and 26 days later, on 31 July 2031, we may expect whoever is then President of the European Union to be locked in his office, much like tsar Nicholas II and king Louis XVI before him (or her). For a while it confidently expanded. But then it began to contract. The ice grew, and then it started melting. And 31 July 2031 looks to be a very plausible date for this particular political experiment to come to an end. And all political settlements are experiments: the USA is a political experiment, and so also is the UK, and any other country or state you care to mention.
I sincerely hope that James Hansen is right that us humans are now “in control” of the Earth’s climate. If so, climate scientists will be doing rather better than our political theorists have ever managed in keeping control of human societies for any length of time.
I also hope that our current interglacial lasts 130,000 years (or more). But at the moment I doubt it will last another 2,000 years, if that, given my new understanding.
And I don’t think we’re really “in control” of anything. The dream of Control (including Tobacco Control, climate control, and political control) is really just that: a dream. We live in a little solar system, with planets orbiting a central star, and it’s totally out of control. There’s no Captain Kirk at the helm of USS Earth, because there is no helm, and there is no Kirk. And everything that happens on our planet is completely and totally out of control as well. The best we can hope to do is to be able to foresee what’s going to happen outside or our control, days or weeks before it happens, because we won’t be able to stop it happening