I’m so used to hyped-up health scares that I’m more or less convinced that the new coronavirus scare is just another one.
If you fear the worst, this is a fiendish bioweapon that’s going to kill tens of millions of people in a replay of the Black Death.
If you hope for the best, it’ll all be over by April.
It seems that some people always fear the worst, not just about epidemics, but also about climate change and tobacco smoke and any number of other things.
Antismokers are pessimists: they fear the worst. And smokers like me are optimists: we hope for the best. And we inhabit very different worlds. Their world is dark and overcast, while mine is sunny.
Donald Trump is an optimist: he thinks that the coronavirus epidemic will all be over by April. Democrats like Nancy Pelosi are pessimists who are trying to start a panic about it.
And Greta Thunberg is a pessimist who thinks that we’re facing an imminent climate catastrophe. She’s probably a pessimist about everything else as well.
And I’m a climate optimist. In fact, I can’t see how anyone can be a pessimist. After all, as far as I can see, even if you accept that global warming is happening, and that the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are melting away, and sea levels are going to rise by 60 or 70 metres, it’s going to take hundreds or even thousands of years for this to happen. In what sense can something that takes so long to happen be called a “catastrophe” or an “emergency” or a “crisis”? Aren’t such things sudden events, not slow processes taking hundreds or thousands of years?
If anything I’m now a climate super-optimist. I think global warming is a good thing. If pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere actually has served to warm the planet, then I think we should do more of it. Because I’m far more worried about a new ice age than I am about global warming. Our current Holocene interglacial has already lasted about 12,000 years, and these interglacials seldom last much longer than that. And a new ice age could start very suddenly. All it would take is for a blanket of snow to cover much of North America and Europe and Russia, and the Earth’s atmosphere would start to rapidly cool, with global air temperatures dropping by an average 10 Cº in less than a decade. And that would be a real catastrophe, and a real emergency. But fortunately our current slight global warming may well be just enough to prevent it from happening. And that’s why I think global warming is a good thing, and we need more of it, not less of it.
Furthermore I have good reason to believe this because for the past two years I’ve been building my own simple climate model in which I calculate the heat gain from the Sun and the heat loss from the Earth at different locations on the Earth’s surface, and I can get a glaciation cycle working with long periods of cold glaciation punctuated by brief warm interglacials. Here’s one of my ice ages, with snow covering North America, Europe, and Russia:
And I’ve come to believe that the climate scientists don’t understand how ice ages work. In my model, the snow and ice in the ice sheets melt because they act as a layer of insulation on the surface of the Earth, and cause the surface to slowly warm up and eventually melt them. But climate scientists seem to be unaware of this simple thermostatic process. They try to explain the glaciation cycle using variations in the Earth’s orbit (Milankovitch cycles) and a number of other things including, of course, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And in the process, I think they’ve exaggerated the importance of carbon dioxide. I think they were desperate to find something that could start and stop ice ages, and somehow or other they convinced themselves that carbon dioxide was the only possible explanation. And that’s why we’ve got Greta Thunberg.
But I’m not a climate scientist. And I’m not an expert. I’m just someone who spent years and years building heat flow models of buildings with sun shining on them, and I’ve taken that knowledge, and added snow and ice and geothermal heat and an atmosphere. In my little model I’ve got Milankovitch cycles, and I can simulate global warming as well, and also mad schemes to stop global warming by pumping sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere (guaranteed to start a new ice age, in my opinion).
I know a bit about heat flow. I don’t know very much about viruses. And as far as I can see neither do all the expert virologists. For the simple truth of the matter is that us humans know very little about anything. And we know least of all about tobacco smoke.