Dang ... I missed Earth Day

April 23, 2003
Lorne Gunter

Dang.

Tuesday was Earth Day, and I missed it. And I had such wonderful plans to mark the occasion, too.

I was going to rearrange the solar panels on my roof in the shape of a peace symbol, and make everyone in our household bathe in the same tub full of water, then scoop out a big pot and boil it for soup -- reduce, reuse, regurgitate, I always say.

I was going to implant microchip transmitters in the squirrels in our spruce trees to harness the energy from their scampering to power the grow lamps over my organic sprout garden. And I was going to while away the afternoon listening to world music on my hand-cranked CD player. (If you don’t know what world music is, think Peruvian herdsman playing the recorder superimposed over sperm whale mating calls.)

I was going to read an ode to Gaia, the Earth spirit, while our children danced around holding candles they had formed themselves from the honeycombs of free-range bees. And I was going to collect the sparrow guano from underneath our winter bird feeders to use as fertilizer in our Victory garden -- victory over red-meat consumption, genetically modified foods, and corporate agribusiness, that is!

Drat, now all that is going to have to wait until next Earth Day. I only hope my wife -- sorry, co-equal life partner -- will forgive me for not buying her those woollen tights and Birkenstock sandals she’s been wanting.

Thank god -- sorry -- thank goddess, Edmonton’s main celebrations won’t take place until May 4. That’ll give me time to handcraft all my presents and wrap them (in recycled newspapers I’ll decorate myself with native-berry paints, of course).

Actually, I did commemorate Earth Day the best way possible -- by reading yet another scholarly study that debunks the notion our current climate is unusually hot, and getting hotter due to manmade greenhouse emissions.

The latest study, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (www.cfa.harvard.edu), carries the vernacular title 20th-Century Climate Not So Hot. Co-authored by Smithsonian astrophysicists Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon, Craig Idso and Sherwood Idso of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, and David Legates of the Center for Climate Research at the University of Delaware, it notes: “20th Century temperatures were generally cooler than during the medieval warmth.” The 20th century, contrary to the alarmism of environmentalists, was neither the warmest century in the past millennium, nor the one marked by the most severe weather. Belief that the globe is warming faster than ever before, and so fast that the rise threatens the environment, is the result of examining variations in temperature over too short a time span.

The Medieval Warm Period, from approximately 800 to 1300 AD, was as much as 4 degrees C warmer on average than today, worldwide, nearly as warm as the upper extreme of UN climate projections for the coming century. And the natural world did not implode, far from it. Greenland sustained agricultural colonies through much of this period. The seas teemed with fish. Wars were less common in Europe than during the later Middle Ages, in part because harvests were plentiful and less pressure existed for campaigns of conquest to acquire new lands and resources. Cathedral construction on a grand scale (a sign of relative affluence) boomed across Europe. Mesoamerica also flourished.

Remarkable in the Harvard-Smithsonian study is the depth of analysis it contains of the historical temperature record and its finding that the Medieval Warm Period was global, not merely confined to the North Atlantic region as some have argued.

The study, funded in part by NASA and the National (U.S.) Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- two organizations known for their enthusiastic support of the manmade warming theory -- examined the results from more than 240 scientific reports on temperature “proxies,” biological, cultural, and geological fingerprints that indirectly reveal temperatures centuries, millennia or even eons ago.

“For example, tree-ring studies can yield yearly records of temperature and precipitation trends, while glacier ice cores record those variables over longer time scales ... Borehole data, cultural data, glacier advances or retreats, geomorphology, isotopic analysis from lake sediments, ice cores, peat moss, corals, stalagmites” and fossils, even dust and pollen, can provide clues to past climate, even sometimes very detailed indicators.

No study to date has been as thorough or wide-ranging as the Harvard-Smithsonian study, and few have taken as much advantage of the “research advances in reconstructing ancient climates” that has occurred in recent years.

Why then do other scientists and environmentalists claim temperature records of the past century-and-a-half show such potentially catastrophic warming? Because the Little Ice Age followed the end of the Medieval Warm Period. This nearly 600-year-period of abnormally cold climate was ending just as modern, reasonably scientific weather records were beginning.

If 1850 is used as year zero -- as the baseline against which current temperatures are compared -- it is going to look dramatically warmer today than a century ago because the Little Ice Age was just ending in 1850. But if 1850 is seen for the anomaly it is, and the past 1,000 or more years are placed in context, then today’s heat is hardly that striking, and certainly not cause for alarm.


Lorne Gunter is a columnist for the Edmonton Journal, in which this article appeared on April 23, 2003. He also is a member of the editorial board of the National Post. His email address is lgunter@shaw.ca.

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