The Younger Dryas event (YD) has always posed a troublesome problem for climatologists. Just as the world started warming from its last glacial maximum (LGM) the Earth’s climate abruptly revesed course and cooled by as much as 15 Celsius for another millennium or so. The reversal seemed weird both because glacial-interglacial cycles had not done that before, but also because of how fast it happened. At the time that I last studied climate no other event in history had warmed or cooled the climate faster than YD. Whenever sampling resolution improved the time window kept shrinking, down to a possible span of thirty years. If you imagine changing climate like moving an aircraft carrier, YD was like bringing the Nimitz from full sail to full stop faster than a Porsche.
Climate experts took YD to mean that climate doesn’t have to change slowly. Analogize that to today and we have a very big potential problem. Clearly knowing whether or not we should freak out depends on knowing what happened 12,900 years ago. The answer: another damn asteroid (via Cernig).
The theory is to be outlined at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Acapulco, Mexico. A group of US scientists that include West will report that they have found a layer of microscopic diamonds at 26 different sites in Europe, Canada and America. These are the remains of a giant carbon-rich comet that crashed in pieces on our planet 12,900 years ago, they say.
[…] It was not just America that bore the brunt of the comet crash. At this time, the Earth was emerging from the last Ice Age. The climate was slowly warming, though extensive ice fields still covered higher latitudes. The disintegrating comet would have plunged into these ice sheets, causing widespread melting. These waters would have poured into the Atlantic, disrupting its currents, including the Gulf stream. The long-term effect was a 1,000-year cold spell that hit Europe and Asia.
All right then. This hardly means that we should relax; our present rate of change can kick people back to the bronze age if we don’t start planning for extinctions, altered patterns of food availability, water scarcity, sea level change, weather craziness and orthogonal problems like peak oil. Happy bullshit like switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs and ethanol biofuel just exacerbate the problem by letting us believe that we’re doing something useful when we’re not. For some real thinking read up on Amory Lovins or visit a site like this (Update: commenters have pointed out hat the site has some credibility issues, e.g. 9/11 conspiracy stuff, that my casual reading never picked up. caveat lector). It feels good to know that unless the sky god gifts us with another surprise we probably won’t have a Day After Tomorrow climate shift in the time it takes to sequel Before Sunset, but not so much better that we should put off solving the the problems that we do have.
I was told it was because of some lake up in Canuckaland that drained as the glaciers retreated. If it was a asteroid, what happened to that lake?
Re that suffocation link. Who needs permafrost? Look, we’ll just transplant our brains into the dolphins and feed on all the salmon that will be running in all those glacier-fed streams. We’ll just need some lasers for dealing with the sharks.
Zombie Santa Claus
Wait a minute, are we really even sure the Earth moves yet? I thought that was open to debate. How can we be so sure about global warming if we haven’t even settled the global movement question?
Or maybe we’re just fucked. There’s a serious problem that gets very little buzz (sorry), but if someone doesn’t come up with a solution soon we’ll have to quit our jobs, grab little paint brushes and get to pollinating. My theory: We’re seeing some sort of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish event.
Just kidding! my theory is some reckless ape creatures did something somewhere that’s killing all the bees and by the time we figure it out apples will cost $20 each.
Nah — we’ll just retarget the smaller sharks as housepets (think cats with teeth), and use the big ones to knock down all the dams we built before we were transplanted.
What kind of cats without teeth do you have currently have?
And what about those odd variants with claws and tails?
Join Team Mitt!
Or so it says on the ad in the PJ left pane right now.
For some real thinking read up on Amory Lovins or visit a site like this.
You do realize that you are linking to a site that links approvingly to 9/11 conspiracy stories among other things? Not that it has anything to do with global warming but you might want to check to see if they are crackpots before linking to them as ‘real thinkers.’
To be honest I don’t remember reading much about 9/11 from him, just a fairly millenialist view about climate change and the future of civilization that I think is closer to reality than most realize. You’re right to point out that I didn’t recommend him for his politics.
I read this title and thought this was going to be dedicated to one of my favorite video games. Sadly, it was just more depressing climate news.
Did you see that Starcraft 2 has been announced?
Um…you know, I don’t know hat you think a cat is, but, you know, you must have some might odd ones. Teeth? Claws? *Tails*?
Sheesh. Next you’re going to try telling me that fish have gills. What kind of fool do you think I am, anyway?
…view about climate change and the future of civilization that I think is closer to reality than most realize.
I’m no chemmist/biologist, but I’m not sure this guy knows what he’s talking about. He seems at least fairly oblivious to the wild variations in climate/oxygen levels throughout earth’s history & the ability for life to sustain & regenerate in rapid fashion.
Maybe he’s right – dunno, seems pretty off the reservation to me. Would be interesting to hear from someone who knows this stuff.
Well, I have a relevant master’s degree and I find him pretty close to the mark.
Oxygen is probably a red herring in my opinion, but only because I think the “trend” is actually stochastic variations in the readings. A real change in oxygen levels, while unlikely, definitely ought to get our attention. If I had to guess, your disconnect probably comes from the difference between evolutionary time and our time. Over evolutionary time changes in oxygen levels don’t have that much of an impact because species adapt, speciate, die out etc and the world moves on. The problem is that a human generation of ~30 years is less than an evolutionary instant. The adjustment period will be an unpleasant time for species as heavily invested in global stability as ours.
But again, I don’t see oxygen levels as anywhere near the top of our problem list. Like the author often argues, the world will face a wave of scarcity and ecological catastrophes with attendant cultural upheavals in the near future. The major threshold points for climate change have most likely already come and gone. Some real shit is on its way (for example, some of the countries that will lack food or clean water have nuclear weapons) and the last thing we need is to meet it unprepared.
Thanks for the response. This is one of the passages that set me off on his blog (and why I question his credibility):
The ultimate fate of our biosphere depends entirely on how far we push the deforestation/desertification of the Earth. If we push it far enough to decrease the ozone shield of the Earth (no free oxygen, no ozone) to the point where UVB radiation will burn away the tender new growth of spring – then it’s game over. At that point we have crossed the point of no return, and the Earth will become a barren anoxic desert planet, as UVB radiation burns away all plant life, and with it, all food and all free oxygen. Only primitive anoxic organisms will survive in deep UVB sheltered places.
Okay – how are we going to be able to live long enough as a species to destroy all land based life? There seems to be a contradiction here. As I said, I don’t really know this stuff but he seems to wildly overstate human capacity for destruction, which leads me to be skeptical of everything else he discusses. The 9/11 consipracy stuff doesn’t help.
The problem is that a human generation of ~30 years is less than an evolutionary instant. The adjustment period will be an unpleasant time for species as heavily invested in global stability as ours.
I don’t really doubt this but he references a decline in population of 65-75%. If my math is right, that would take us back to early 20th century levels. Assuming that the population decline would not impact the world uniformly, I doubt that this would lead to the destruction of civilization & a return to subsistence existence. Massive disruption, yes. Complete destruction, no.
Yes, that passage was a bit much. I have updated the post accordingly.
I think that you have to look at the problem holistically. If the global population drops by 65-75 percent, which a totally unprepared resource crash could easily accomplish, it will not go down quietly. War will break out over diminishing resources and I cannot promise that sensible heads will always keep a steady hand over nuclear stockpiles. Countries facing an imminent existential crisis tend to behave badly.
Further, when I said that civilization is leveraged on stability I chose the word carefully. Our current technological state is heavily, exquisitely dependent on global stability and cheap resources. You can think of the web, but practically every symbol of modern life is assembled from raw materials, components and labor from every corner of the world. The system absolutely requires global stability to function, and the beating heart of the system is cheap petroleum.
When resources start to run out the cultural timeline won’t just run smoothly in reverse. Countries with guns will try to keep their quality of life at the expense of those without and in the melee any hope of sensibly transitioning to a new sustanable lifestyle will be lost.
Unless, of course, we plan ahead.
Our current technological state is heavily, exquisitely dependent on global stability and cheap resources.
As someone who’s continued existence is dependent on electronic gizmos (and pharmaceuticals) I am excruciatingly aware of that fact. I still don’t buy the destrucion of civilization. We have a fairly good historical analogy in the Black Death. The destruction was widespread (though not uniform), but while European civilization was disrupted; it certainly didn’t end.
Assuming the worst-case predictions are correct, I still don’t think destruction of civilization is more than a remote possibility.
How about we look at it from the near-term future, say 2030? What achilles heel will the US have then?
We could survive w/o China and Walmart. We can live on tofu and genetically drought-resistent crops. Coal will keep the lights on forever, and high-efficiency cars will be powered by electricity and oil we can take from Alaska, Canada, Mexico or Venezuela (at gunpoint, if need be). What components of future society will be impossible to support?
People all over the world have been living in much more stressed enivornments for awhile, and are getting by. The future might be a bit bleak for a subset of the population, and less care free for the rest of us, but I don’t see the system crashing.
My reason for skepticism about that site is that there’s a tendency (especially on the Internet) to make the situation as bleak as possible. It reminds me of housing bubble blogs where people compete to make the worst possible situation.
“Houses will be down 20% next year.”
“20%?! More like 50%!”
“Houses will be down 80% and it will inspire a new Depression.”
“The 1920’s will be known as the Lesser Depression”
etc etc etc
Petroleum and water. By 2030 peak oil will have come and gone and markets will have fully compensated for the insane supply/demand imbalance for petrol, which means that every damned thing on Earth will have adjusted its price to the $200 barrel of oil. And climbing.
Water is a little less well known, but pay attention to news out of the American southwest. To say that cities like Flagstaff manage their water supply like drunk chimpanzees is a gross insult to the chimpanzee community. Head over there some time and count the golf courses in the desert. When you’re done, count the number of golf courses watering their greens on or about noon, when two thirds of the water that shoots up in the air never hits the ground. Then visit the suburban neighborhood with a forty foot fountain in the middle of a traffic circle. Again, you would be amazed how much of that water never comes down.
Cities from Flagstaff to Denver have drawn on their water tables so far beyond the replacement rate that nearby agriculture is in a state of panic trying to supply basic operations. Ask anybody in rural Colorado, say the remote San Luis valley, about Denver and you will hear a series of expletives ending with the word “water.” A joke about Denver damming the Maroon Bells wilderness for a reservoir nearly caused a riot because people honestly couldn’t tell that it was a joke. If we have another war between the states it will concern water rights.
We can deal with the rest. But like I said above petrol is the beating heart of our modern civilization. Water, while a more localized problem, promises to provoke some major fun when climate change dries out some already arid areas that have had morons in charge of their water budgets for far too long.
If we are dealing with one of the first cycles of crisis being peak oil, I don’t like our chances as Americans much. Our failure to do much planning of any kind for ever-increasing consumerism and cheap energy has rendered much of the country effectively uninhabitable in a prolonged energy and food crisis. We also as a population lack the fundamental skills and social flexibility needed to weather a severe, sustained crisis.
I have little sympathy for those who flock to neo-libertarian enclaves for low taxes and cheap land with no consideration for the environment or their fellow citizens. It will just be a repeat of boom-bust cycles that we’ve seen many times before in American history. The only hope for these places is some groundbreaking new technology, probably in energy, but this is hardly guaranteed, and life there will eventually become much more expensive.
I bet Detroit will make a strong comeback around the time that Phoenix fails. Also, invest in Canadian farmland.
That site’s perspective on our chances (nil) was incredibly depressing. It made me glad I’m still taking my anti-depressants because otherwise I might never get out of bed again.
I’m living in a northern city on the Great Lakes and whenever I hear or read worries about our declining population, I think, “not for long.” I’m thinking we’re maybe ten years from people actively moving north to escape the heat and drought.
It’s not just the southwest. Florida is also profligate with its water resources and is in the midst of yet another drought. They keep saying “Come on down and play golf.” They think they’ve found the answer to unlimited development: toll roads. When sinkholes force closure of the interstates, things will get very interesting.
Bob In Pacifica
It was around this time that humans began settling the Channel Islands near present-day Santa Barbara. And about this time the pygmy mammals inhabiting the island became extinct. There actually is no proof that the Native Americans hunted them, but rather that the mammoths died out and within a thousand years man settled there and mostly fished and collected shellfish.
The oldest human bones found in North America were two thigh bones found on the Channel Islands.
Flourescent lights aren’t about saving the planet, they’re about lowering your electric bill. And of course, the lamps themselves outlast incandescent ones by a factor of several times.
Just as higher SEER cooling, more efficient appliances, and better insulation are about lowering your energy costs.
Nobody buys insulation to save the planet. They buy it to save their wallets. Same with flourescent lights. Same with high-mileage cars (cough my Civic). I am looking out for my most immediate and obvious interests. It just so happens that the planet’s interests and mine are in cahoots.
While I don’t much care about “neo-libertarian enclaves” running out of water per se, I do worry about where all those yahoos, who have sufficient other resources, try to move. And I worry more about the disappearing Ogallala aquifer, which has sustained a major chunk of U.S. food production and is rapidly going away.
Silly, the earth is only 6000 years old. How could this have happened almost 13,000 years ago?
Well Gus, since you seem to believe that the earth is just 6000 years old, I’m sure you’ll accept this time-tested answer to questions such as yours: a wizard did it.
Comets and asteroids aren’t the same thing, and neither is a meteoroid, although either a meteoroid or asteroid can generate a ‘meteor’ on contact with the atmosphere. I don’t know whether a comet can technically become a meteor. I bet it hurts regardless.
Such a profligate display of astronomical ignorance renders the entirety of the rest of your argument moot! Of course, by some astronomical adaptation of Hartman’s law, I’m probably wrong.
Tim, I know you know what you’re talking about, but it’s not helpful to refer to a comet as an “asteroid.”
Ha! My aggregator is faster than Gary’s.