There has been a good deal of excitement lately about global warming, as readers may already have noticed. It having been announced that the cause is an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to human activity, various segments of society have whipped themselves into rather a frenzy, and some of those in the public eye have made noble and ostentatious gestures of self-sacrifice — even going so far as to arrive at televised awards shows in Toyota Priuses, and to retrofit their palaces with compact fluorescent bulbs.
Meanwhile, of course, the lean and wretched billions in India and China, who have looked on for a century as we in the West feasted on carbon-based fuels, are finally able to join the banquet, and are not about to be denied. The sad fact is that even if all the Gwyneth Paltrows and Ted Dansons in all of Hollywood were to trade in their Maybachs for mopeds, when the teeming multitides in Asia finally start rolling up to the pump it’s still going to make the 20th century look like the Middle Ages, greenhouse-gas-wise.
This is not to say that we oughtn’t to be paying attention to the problem. Shearing away the world’s forests, for example, seems unwise regardless, and the coming tsunami of energy consumers in the East is all the more reason to develop alternative sources.
However, despite the revival-tent enthusiasm with which this new secular religion has gripped the nation, there are a few heterodox voices who dare to suggest that the current spate of warming might be caused not by a buildup of atmospheric carbon, but by variations in the Sun’s energy output. Indeed, as noted in these pages a while back, it appears that Mars is undergoing a warming trend too, a fact that even Al Gore would find hard to pin on our fondness for Lincoln Navigators.
As we all know, sunspots wax and wane on an eleven-year cycle. This cycle itself, however, is subject to fluctuations, and in the late 1800′s the astronomer Edward Maunder became aware that there had been a period stretching from 1645 to 1715 during which sunpots were almost entirely absent. This later began to be called the Maunder Minimum, and as it happens, this period of solar quiescence coincided with a stretch of exceptionally cold weather, known as the “Little Ice Age”†.
Now some researchers are suggesting that we may be at the beginning of another such interval, and that rather than facing consistently rising temperatures and sea levels in the decades ahead, we might be in for something a bit nippier.
Who’s right? I have absolutely no idea. Learn more here.
- † For more about the Maunder Minimum, read this.