Climate Change Made Simple

The Phantom Menace? Wampas: The Phantom Menace?

"Weather isn't climate."

Now that we're once again in the grips of Polar Vortex or Arctic Blast or whatever we're calling it this time, you're going to hear that refrain a lot.

"Weather isn't climate."

And that's true, of course -- until it isn't. Over a long enough timespan, weather IS the climate. If your tropical beachfront property has had a century of temperate seasonal weather, complete with snowstorms and summer dry spells, it would probably be a mistake to keep calling it tropical. Things change. Climate typically changes slowly, but it does change. There are ancient tropical ferns and palm trees buried under the ice of Antarctica. So of course the climate changes, and expecting stasis on a planet where the continents move around is insanity. Even our sun is somewhat variable, going through periods where it emits more light and heat, and periods of less.

So before we go around signing bad deals with bad men (oops -- too late!) a few questions need to be answered, in order.

• Is the change detrimental or beneficial to the human habitat?

• Do we understand the how and the why of climate change?

• Do we have the technical means and knowhow to make things better instead of worse.

If climate change is beneficial, you can skip the rest, pop open a beer, and plan how to make a killing growing oranges in Alaska.

Republican and early Imperial Rome flourished during a warmer period, able to bring in enough crops from Tunis and Egypt to feed one million inhabitants. A cooler period brought smaller harvests -- and Germanic invaders from the north, seeking warmer climes because Germania had cooled, too. There was a period in the Middle Ages when Rome's population had declined to a scant 10,000 -- one one-hundredth of its imperial peak. The reasons for that had to do much more with politics than with the climate, but many of Rome's bad policies were the direct and indirect results of global cooling. So it would seem that warming -- to a point -- would be beneficial to humanity, and that cooling would be bad. But this is still a question in need of answers.

If we're just going to jack up energy prices to make ourselves feel good in the name of "doing something," fuggidaboudit. Cheap energy promotes production, it promotes trade, it promotes mobility -- three of the keys to American prosperity. Any permanent "skyrocketing" of energy prices would condemn millions, perhaps billions of people to lives of continued poverty. Or condemn them to death.

Assuming we can safely determine that the coming climate change would be bad for us, we then move on to the question of how and why the change is coming. Is it due to sun cycles? Carbon emissions? Hyperintelligent Wampa terraformers from ice planet Hoth? Some combination of factors? This is a vital question, and the models only provide answers based on the untested assumptions of the programers.