I am a geologist by training and for the past several years I have been studying the technical literature about atmospheric chemistry, recent climate change, and the actual net climate effect of policies such as subsidizing the creation of ethanol from corn. In the process I also studied the literature about the history of geologic discoveries regarding climate change. The Whole Story of Climate is my attempt to explain both what we know of the temperature record and how distorted is part of the public discussion regarding climate. Essentially, I think that we need to collectively come to grips with the fact that Earth’s climate is always changing and that natural climate change is often rapid, not slow – as had been assumed by scientists until quite recently. We also have much to gain by addressing matters like unwanted coal fires around the world.
While the recent work of climate scientists has added greatly to our understanding of the fragility of climate, the public rarely hears from geologists – even though geologists have been studying climate change for almost 200 years. While the typical American has the impression that climate would be stable if it weren’t for industrialization and the production of greenhouse gases from smokestacks and cars, geologic history in fact reveals a ceaselessly changing climate running back into the time thousands of years before the modern economy. As The Whole Story of Climate explains, several long, cold spells have been punctuated by short, warm ones. We are, in fact, currently living in one of the short, warm periods that the Earth has seen many times before. There is even a serious hypothesis worth exploring that if it weren’t for the greenhouse gases created for millennia by agriculture we would today be headed back into a time of bitterly cold temperatures worthy of the mastodons and mammoths many of us read about as children.
I hope that The Whole Story of Climate represents a new voice in the public debate and that learning about the geologic perspective on climate change will enrich your own views of one of the most serious public issues we face.
I believe that once we come to grips with the fact that climate is bound to evolve, we will see it is past time to start new conversations not predicated on the framework of somehow holding climate static through the sacrifices of carbon taxes or caps. We can adopt what carbon policies we choose, but we also surely had better invest in tools for climate adaptation and mitigation. It’s time we begin to think about how we will try to cope with sharp changes in weather patterns, those that could be either in the direction of warmer or colder conditions. The simple truth is that if we think of climate change as our enemy, we will always be defeated. For change is coming, and it will reshape our world. Our goal cannot be to hold climate static, but to understand its menacing and manic moods – and adapt as nimbly as we can to changes in whatever directions and at whatever rates they arrive.