I know that 1980 snowstorm got no coverage because back then weather events were just weather events - bad luck and not a way to generate votes for a presidential candidate. No one said anything about global warming then and an Ice Age was jeered - but maybe they were right on that last one after all.
It isn't just this storm that makes me think an Ice Age is coming. Global warming means more Antarctic ice, according to the Associated Press, so why can't global warming mean more ice everywhere? I am not alone in my thinking. The most important scientist in the world, President Obama's science czar Dr. John Holdren, predicted it when I was a kid - in "Global Ecology: Readings Towards a Rational Strategy for Man", with fellow Doomsday prophet Paul Ehrlich (1). They wrote:
“The continued rapid cooling of the earth since World War II is also in accord with the increased global air pollution associated with industrialization, mechanization, urbanization, and an exploding population, added to a renewal of volcanic activity.”Well, that makes some sense, we knew that if enough people wrote about it on the Internet, we would solve this global warming thing. But that's actually bad. Yes, some climate scientists are annoying prats but they're still right on the basic physics - more pollution is bad for us and once Americans started producing a lot less CO2, with coal emissions down to early 1980s levels and energy emissions overall at early 1990s levels, global warming took a dive. (2) But there may be a downside to Americans stopping the global warming trend. In modern history - geologically speaking - 90,000 of every 100,000 year cycles have been Ice Ages. and it's been 12,000 years since the last one. Yoiks, we are overdue by 2,000 years. Thanks, Christianity!
Okay, maybe we can't give Christians all the credit. Scientifically, both your Hummer and environmentalists may share some kudos for keeping us out of an Ice Age 40 years after Holdren and Ehrlich said the science was settled. They were worried about an Ice Age because Nature (the bitch, not the magazine) doesn't care what we think about growing wine in new places and just does what she wants regardless of what a grad student's numerical model says about the future. The 1970s were an era of oil embargoes, high gas prices and industry leaving the United States - that was bad for keeping us warm because we suddenly had fewer emissions yet a big ozone hole letting out heat. But then clean energy alternatives, like nuclear power, were driven out of the U.S. and we relied more on coal, which produced CO2. And CFCs were banned, which stopped the hole in the ozone from spreading so more heat stayed in. Thus, we stayed warm. Thanks environmentalists, for making us more fossil fuels - you really helped us dodge an Ice Age bullet there.
But environmentalists weren't solely responsible for keeping us out of the next Ice Age, you may also get to feel good about doing your part. OPEC had to be nervous that President Ronald Reagan didn't trash the 'synthetic oil' research program begun under President Carter during the oil crisis. Just like the commies thought with "Star Wars", there was concern synthetic oil might be crazy enough to work. So OPEC kept dropping the price of oil, confident some day Mao would die and the Chinese people would all buy cars and then oil prices would go up again. Eventually the price of real oil got so low a Democratic Congress canceled the alternative oil program and the "Dallas" TV show was canceled - a hard thing on Republicans, who loved science back then as much as progressives hated it.
With cheap oil we went back to driving cars the size of the Moon. The Ice Age was averted again.
Then the economy lost about $17 trillion in 2009, American emissions went back to 1995 levels, and we stopped buying Hummers and started buying subsidized Priuses and stuff. Acid rain from Prius batteries is nice and all but that pollution isn't enough to offset the lower CO2 emissions from America - Kyoto established that American cars cause global warming while Chinese, Mexican and Indian cars do not - and our warm future has been a tailspin since then. But has anyone noticed?
Since traditional science media is too busy writing about miracle vegetables and Republicans being anti-science to notice the Ice Age problem, I have compiled some timeless indy science media tips for surviving your future Snowpocalypse. Since there are no people around from the last Ice Age we can't just ask them.
Yet science can basically ask trees.
Not all conifer and pine trees in the same area have the same ancestors, it turns out, even in areas that were sheets of solid ice, like in Scandinavia. Professor Eske Willerslev of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen did a study analyzing the DNA of modern spruce - which clearly portrays two Scandinavian types - and compared those to the composition of pine and spruce DNA in sediments from ancient lake-core samples. Then they examined other ancient DNA and the remains of macrofossils to determine that some trees survived the last Ice Age just fine, even in the worst conditions.
So what can science and trees tell us about surviving the next Ice Age?
Tip #1: Find A Refuge
This seems like a no-brainer but it has to be said. Just like an oasis in the desert, an oasis in the glacier could be essential if you don't have the money to move some place warmer. Basically, if you can't afford organic food and a Chevy Volt now, you are not part of the 1% and you're going to be stuck in a terrible location and have to make the best of it. Scandinavian trees couldn't move either, but they were able to survive on the top of nunataks, the ridges and peaks of mountains jutting out from glaciers, and in sheltered areas closer to the coast where the more temperate conditions of the Atlantic Ocean made things more tolerable.
So if you don't live on the beach, find a nunatak.
Your optimal Ice Age home if you don't live on the beach - a nunatak. Credit: Nicolaj K. Larsen, Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University
Tip #2: Learn To Hunt
The good news for an Ice Age is it will clear what we can call our Cultural Asset And Liability Columns. Way over in the bad part of any cultural asset/liability sheet is going to be activists. They complain a lot and basically never contribute anything. All they do is raise money so that they can pay themselves to keep on raising money. If you are a progressive, I know my example bothers you, so you can change activist to 'arbitrager on Wall Street'.
What suddenly has value again are people who can hunt rabbits and fish - history tells us those have done pretty well in Ice Ages whereas free range, organic chickens are going to be cleared out rather quickly.
Growing seasons are going to be a lot shorter and Whole Foods won't exist, so you can enjoy real organic food, rather than imported conventional food from China that has an 'organic' sticker slapped on it.
Tip #3: Vacation More
Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house. In the next Ice Age she will be able to walk there. As the Ice Age progresses sea levels will actually drop, so outstanding science journalists like former CNN newsman Miles O’Brien won't rely on movies like "The Day After Tomorrow" to understand climate models, they can rely on "One Million Years B.C." instead.
Londoners will also be able to walk to Paris for a decent meal. Australians can walk to New Guinea but I don't recommend that at all, because the food is no better.
Do not expect to vacation in New York City. Manhattan residents are convinced the swath of America between the Hudson River and San Francisco is some sort of "Fallout 3" post-apocalyptic wasteland and they will get to live there and find out because Times Square will be under a glacier.
Tip #4: Don't Sweat Genetic Diversity
Neanderthals were around for some 200,000 years yet still did not survive to see this last warming period. Thinking you will just head south to a warm area is not a great idea, because a whole lot of people are thinking that too. I mean, we live in a world where Columbia University was able to sell a 2-year program in 'Environmental Journalism' for $80,000. People are that dumb.
Neanderthals died out in the Iberian peninsula so just moving south is not enough. Since people will be huddled in pockets you may also be worried about genetic diversity.
Ecosystem diversity, species diversity and genetic diversity are subjected to the same processes but that doesn't make them congruent. And a new refugium by a small subgroup of a species may lead to positive evolutionary changes, like happened with modern humans and neanderthals after they were separated in the past. Professor Curtis Marean, of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University says Pinnacle Point in South Africa was a sort-of "Garden of Eden" for our ancestors 200,000 years ago or so. If humans were down to a few hundred people, as he claims, it might explain why humans have 'less genetic diversity' than some other species.
Foxes in Iceland were knocked down to 1,300 total before rebounding and there is no evidence of a genetic bottleneck now. So, no, Ice Age inbreeding will not lead your descendants to become so dumb they pay $80,000 for a two-year Environmental Journalism program at Columbia University.
Tip #5: Learn How To Dress
In Halloweens of the new Ice Age, you will need different choices than Sexy Witch or Sexy Nurse. Let's face it, Sexy Cossack Dressed In Winter Clothes is not all that appealing but it sure is practical. Since many of you may have forgotten how to dress for weather, this microbiologist can teach you how.
Discovery has a nice game you can play while you get ready.
Is this really a pressing problem? You betcha. Some studies say CO2 is delaying natural patterns of glaciation and we only have another 1,500 years to fix it before the damage is irreversible and we never have an Ice Age again. We must act now. Please remove the modern muffler from your car and replace it with glasspacks before it is too late.
(1) At a book signing in Menlo Park, one of the attendees asked me if I had sent a copy to Ehrlich for review. No, I replied, the book is pretty hard on him in the instance he is mentioned, but the instance is brief because the book is about science.
And he was just capitalizing on popular tripe, since world temperatures had been falling since about 1940. Those two never found a disaster scenario they couldn't hype into a book, or at least an essay.
(2) We can't just pick on the Obama administration. During the Nixon administration Science magazine was on the global cooling bandwagon too. See "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate" DOI: 10.1126/science.173.3992.138. The National Science Foundation also.