I think playfully. I like to have fun with ideas. I don’t take them too seriously. I think that if you take ideas too seriously, you’re likely to get stuck in them.
My theory of ice ages is one of my playful ideas. It’s a simple idea, like all my ideas. And it’s that when large areas of land get covered with deep snow, the snow acts as insulation above the underlying rocks and sediments, and causes them to slowly heat up, and eventually melt the overlying snow. So I propose that the advance and retreat of snow and ice sheets is driven from below, and not from above (by the Sun and Milankovitch cycles and dust deposition and carbon dioxide) as climate scientists believe. I’ve been slowly building a model in which all these various components are present, and hope to use it to show that the heating and cooling of subglacial rocks is the primary driver of glaciation cycles.
This explanation of ice ages seems to be completely absent from the literature. Nobody seems to have heard of it. It only occurred to me because 40 years or so ago I used to work with electronic heat flow models of building, in which the walls would often have a lot of insulation, and I could remember how those models used to behave. So when I started thinking about snow and ice sheets, I was drawing on my experience of slabs of expanded polystyrene or polyurethane. Instead of thinking about heat flows sideways through walls, I started to think about heat flows upwards through layers of rock and snow and ice. I approached the matter more as a heating engineer than a climate scientist. And I approached it playfully, because nobody has been paying me to think about it, like they were 40 years ago.
I doubt that anyone in the climate science community will take me seriously. But does that matter? I don’t want to be taken seriously. It stops being fun when it gets serious. And I suspect that the real problem with climate science these days is that it’s all got far, far too serious. And it’s got stuck.
The idea that carbon dioxide controls climate is really just another playful idea. It seems to be an idea that works pretty well with Venus, which has a very hot atmosphere that’s 95% carbon dioxide. So climate scientists started fooling around with the idea that carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere might have a similar warming effect. And why not? It’s as good an idea as any.
But instead of presenting it as a fun idea, and saying “Hey everybody, we’re toying with the idea that carbon dioxide controls the climate. Some people think it’s a great idea, and some people think it’s stupid, but that’s life,” we have trench warfare between climate alarmists and climate sceptics. The whole thing has got stuck in mud, with both sides refusing to budge. They really ought to relax, calm down, chill out, and go back to thinking playfully again.
But I carry on thinking playfully. And recently I’ve come up with a playful extension of my playful theory of ice ages. It’s a playful theory of plate tectonics. And it’s a very simple idea. It’s the idea that when large areas of land heat up under ice sheets, they expand laterally, pushing against adjacent rocks. And when they cool they contract, and cracks open up between them, like in the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim, where cooling basalt columns have fractured into hexagonal prisms. So I’ve been thinking about the surface of the Earth as being one great big Giant’s Causeway, with columns of rock expanding and contracting and jostling with each other. And it’s this jostling that makes the plates slowly move around.
In slightly more detail, most of the surface rock expansion and contraction takes place near the poles, where snow and ice gets deepest. There’s very little expansion and contraction at the equator. And the polar expansion tends to firstly push plates towards the equator, and secondly squeeze them in an eastward and westward direction. So a circular Pangaea somewhere in the northern hemisphere would get pushed south, and get squeezed eastward and westward. And something a bit like this is what seems to have been actually happening, as the Americas have moved westwards, and Australia and Indonesia have spilled eastwards. I’m now planning to construct a polyhedral model of the Earth, and see how continental plates might move around as they expand and contract during glacial cycles.
In this manner, one playful idea has led to another playful idea, and may well lead to even more. I hope nobody takes it seriously. It’s what Isaac Newton seems to have been doing:
“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”