Was Past Climate Warmer Than Believed?

So this story has been floating around for a couple of days now and I wanted to offer my thoughts. According to reports, German researchers relying on tree ring data have established (for now) that the world was warmer in the past than we had believed, and that the globe has been cooling for the past 2,000 years. Here are the opening paragraphs from the Daily Mail’s version:

A study suggests the Britain of 2,000 years ago experienced a lengthy period of hotter summers than today.

German researchers used data from tree rings – a key indicator of past climate – to claim the world has been on a ‘long-term cooling trend’ for two millennia until the global warming of the twentieth century.

How we get from local conditions in Britain to assumptions about global climate isn’t exactly clear to me, but then again, I don’t care. Now if you happen to be the type who’s all wrapped around the Global Climate Change debate axel, then this story is a big deal to you. But I’m here to argue that it shouldn’t be a big deal, any more so than you would consider any similar study about, say, new findings on the extent of known human settlements, or the recent story that maybe the Clovis people weren’t the first inhabitants of the Americas to be a big deal. Interesting yes; a big deal, no. Here’s why I say this:

 (1) Global Climate Change has become a political game. I’m sure many think it much more serious than a game. Many think it life and death. But if you understand politics, if you have observed and studied politics as I have, you know that this is a game being played by those seeking power, privilege, and personal fortune. If it ever was serious, it is serious not for the consequences Global Climate Change may wreak on our environment and planet, but rather because of what the politics of it may do to our economy and institutions and our relationship with government.

(2) We don’t understand the entirety of the global climate. There are as yet many, many mechanisms, interactions, drivers and relationships involved in the global climate that we do not yet understand. We don’t really even understand with certainty the carbon cycle. Anyone who tells you that they know absolutely and can predict with certainty what may or may not happen with the global climate is dishonest. Look, the role of science is to inform, and the scientific process is one of challenging assumptions and testing hypotheses. Science is not about offering statements of absolute moral authority. That’s why science and faith are understood as two separate spheres of human study.

(3) Having said all that, it really shouldn’t matter. It does matter, because of our current mania with establishing a huge regulatory apparatus to deal with Global Warming that may or may not have significant adverse consequences to the economy, our standard of living, and our lifestyles. But really, Global Climate Change, regardless of where you stand on the issue, should not matter. Here’s why:

Because we ought not to be pumping as many chemicals into the air as we do not, and we similarly ought to be striving to reduce our reliance on the production of energy, agriculture and manufacturing, and transportation that systems that result in pollutant compounds being expelled into the atmosphere.

As we’ve stated here before, our belief is that we ought to approach our relationship with the environment, or with the planet if that suits you better, by asking the right question: What is the right thing to do? We understand that our every endeavor has an impact on the planet. We accept that. But with this understanding should come the wisdom to seek ways to reduce our impacts, not only for ourselves, but for others around us, and for future generations. To me, this means that we should be reducing our reliance on carbon-emitting industrial outputs, such as coal fired energy, because wisdom leads us to this understanding. The debate about Global Climate Change should be nearly inconsequential. This ongoing debate should be informative, we should consider it, but it should not form the basis of our course of action.

If we wait to act until there is a crisis, which is how Global Climate Change is being presented to us, then we have failed. If we need a life- and planet-altering excuse before doing what is right, then we have failed. We have neither wisdom nor understanding. This is my disagreement with the Global Climate Change debate: it is being argued from the wrong baseline, the wrong foundation. It is being argued that we must reduce emissions because of Global Warming. No. We should reduce emissions because we know it’s the right thing to do. Because we can. Because we have wisdom.

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