Premature Predictions Of A New Ice Age

Those on the anti-science right have been jumping on junk-science news reports of a new ice age. Typically they get excited by any news report, regardless of how weak the evidence, which could be used to deny climate change, while ignoring all the scientific evidence which contradicts their opinions. Today’s excitement is over reports that the earth may be entering a new ice age.

The story, like many stories distorted by the right wing, does have a grain of truth to it. The sun appears to be going into a cycle  with decreased solar activity, possibly an absence of sun spots, and possibly even some cooling. The major changes are expected to involve changes in the sun’s magnetic field and ionizing gas, not in heat. Sci-Tech Today includes this report on the impact on climate change:

Skeptics of man-made global warming from the burning of fossil fuels have often pointed to solar radiation as a possible cause of a warming Earth, but they are in the minority among scientists. The Earth has warmed as solar activity has decreased.

Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria, said there could be small temperature effects, but they are far weaker than the strength of man-made global warming from carbon dioxide and methane. He noted that in 2010, when solar activity was mostly absent, Earth tied for its hottest year in more than a century of record-keeping.

Hill and colleagues wouldn’t discuss the effects of a quiet sun on temperature or global warming.

“If our predictions are true, we’ll have a wonderful experiment that will determine whether the sun has any effect on global warming,” Hill said.

This will be an interesting experiment which might lead to some changes in predictions, but is not likely to change the major problems related to climate change. Recent models of reduced solar activity predict that the effect will be to lower temperatures by 0.3 degrees C at most. In other words, the benefits are likely to be a less severe heat wave at best, not a new ice age.

When combining the effects of  natural phenomenon, including this change in solar activity, with man-made effects, it would not be surprising if there will be minor adjustments in current models as new evidence is available. That is how science works–not by jumping on whichever newspaper stories provide the prediction you want. Even if this should result in a greater reduction in global warming than expected, the prudent course remains to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and achieve greater energy independence.

The anti-science right, always alarmists over plans to reduce our use of fossil fuels while ignoring the evidence for the necessity, have an advantage in the debate. Not caring about the facts, right wing media can make noise about a new ice age coming, while scientists would prefer to take more time to study the data before making predictions. Understanding this problem, some climate scientists have released arguments as to why the predictions of a new ice age are unlikely.

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  1. 1
    klem says:

    “. Recent models of reduced solar activity predict that the effect will be to lower temperatures by 0.3 degrees C at most.”

    Um, did I miss something along the way here? For years climate science has maintained that solar activity has no affect on climate or global temperatures at all. None. CO2 was claimed to be the only factor, they ruled out the sun entirely. Now you’re saying that climate models actually indicate that the sun has a small effect. Something major has changed in climate science over the last couple of years regarding solar ativity. It has gone from none to some. This is major, they say solar activity has a small role but this is the thin edge of the wedge. In few years that will be bumped up to a bigger role. I’d say anthropogenic climate change is truly dead.


  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Yes, you did miss something. Climate scientists have demonstrated that the right wing claim that recent warming is due to solar activity and not human activity is false. Climate science has NOT maintained that solar activity has NO effect.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    For example, here’s an article from ten years ago on the small (but not zero) effect of solar activity.

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