The real inconvenient truth about climatic change is that it is a perfectly natural and normal process. A complex interplay of orbital, solar, biological, and geological factors causes our planet to cycle somewhat regularly between warmer and cooler periods. These cycles develop over approximately 40,000 to 100,000 years.
Currently, we are about 10,000 years into an interglacial period that may persist for another 20,000. Temperatures are generally increasing, and ice coverage is generally diminishing. Even so, there is still variation within the cycle. It was warmer about a thousand years ago, but it was colder just 400 years ago. The climate may very well be right where it is supposed to be, with human activities contributing little to an existing warming trend.
Technically, in fact, we are still in an ice age. In the more distant past, the global climate has been much warmer. Climatic change is a reality, and the biological history of our world has largely hinged on that fact. The only question is what we might do about it.
The assumption behind global-warming alarmism is that a warmer climate would be a bad thing. Sea levels would rise, weather patterns would change, and human civilization would be much disrupted. While such changes could surely be dramatic, I can’t say that they would all be negative.
In a warmer climate, vast tracts of the northern hemisphere would become more favorable to human habitation and agricultural development. The opening of the Northwest Passage would facilitate maritime trade. Perhaps the Sahara would become a verdant savanna once again. As with any change, there would be both positive and negative aspects.
Proposals to halt global warming, such as the Kyoto Protocol, raise still more difficult questions. If human-influenced climatic change is undesirable, is “natural” climatic change any more desirable? Do we stand by and do nothing when the climate “naturally” begins to cool again, starving our multitudes, crushing our cities under the ice, and land-locking our ports? Or do we try to keep things warm? If we decide that climatic control is a human prerogative, which ideal will we choose?
Furthermore, the proposals themselves often appear as much politically as ecologically motivated. Might they do more harm than the problem they are intended to correct? For example, the Kyoto Protocol is somewhat arbitrary in its application and almost seems to punish the developed nations, even though these are the ones working the hardest to reduce pollution and to mitigate environmental damage. This would also threaten to spread the institutionalized poverty that serves as the political power base for many of the parties that support the protocol.
Climatic change is an extremely complicated subject. More research and much more discussion should be undertaken before we begin to make rash decisions about controlling the global climate. We live in a dynamic system, and disrupting that system to maintain some arbitrary status quo may prove just as dangerous as pushing it toward an unknown outcome.