Monday, September 01, 2008

Forget Global Warming. Should you be prepared for a Deep Freeze?

Apparently we have just gone through the first month without solar sunspots in a century (Dailytech). A competing theory to recent global warming has been that solar sunspots indicating activity on the surface of the sun have been on the rise for the last 60 years (BBC). That is, until this past year.

What's also somewhat disconcerting is that some of the research was initially rejected for being "too controversial": "In 2005, a pair of astronomers from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson attempted to publish a paper in the journal Science. The pair looked at minute spectroscopic and magnetic changes in the sun. By extrapolating forward, they reached the startling result that, within 10 years, sunspots would vanish entirely. At the time, the sun was very active. Most of their peers laughed at what they considered an unsubstantiated conclusion."

The potential implications now that their earlier predictions have come to pass?

In the past 1000 years, three previous such events -- the Dalton, Maunder, and Spörer Minimums, have all led to rapid cooling. On [sic] was large enough to be called a "mini ice age". For a society dependent on agriculture, cold is more damaging than heat. The growing season shortens, yields drop, and the occurrence of crop-destroying frosts increases.
So what does it really mean? Broad socio-economic impact. It's at least something to keep an eye on but look for even higher food prices (though productivity yields are getting higher because of current food prices), energy prices to rise. I suspect the west will be far better suited to this change in conditions given our reliance more on natural gas for heating whereas places in Asia tend to use more electrical radiators because of a lower need for heaters. It's not like Asia will stop developing and so the need for resources will continue to be needed but the energy costs to do so will likely rise.

Update (Sept 4): A rebuttal (though not related to recent sunspot activity) that discounts the effect that sun spots have on world climate. Personally, I think that there's still so much we don't know, and rather than plan for an outcome that may or may not happen spending trillions of dollars, we should be trying to ensure we have the wealth and ideas to cope with climate change.

No comments: