A small butterfly, resting atop a tree in the rain forests of Brazil, suddenly spreads its silk-like wings and takes flight. As it does so, the
force of its wings against the air around it sets off a chain reaction, culminating two months later in the form of a hurricane along the eastern
coasts of Florida.
The "Butterfly Effect," is a term commonly used to imply that, "a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects
elsewhere" (WordNet). The exact location of the butterfly and the effect its actions will have vary from story to story, but the general premise is
the same: That the flight of a small butterfly is somehow to blame for a major storm half-way across the globe. Peter Dizikes of The Boston Globe,
however, points out that most people interpret the theory all wrong. Dizikes states, "The larger meaning of the butterfly effect is not that we can
readily track such connections, but that we can't. To claim a butterfly's wings can cause a storm, after all, is to raise the question: How can we
definitively say what caused any storm, if it could be something as slight as a butterfly?" ("The Meaning Of").
At this time, the popular scientific opinion is that we, human beings, are mostly to blame for the phenomenon known as global warming ("Humans
Blamed For"). While it is widely accepted that the planet has been going through a recent period of warming, some scientists have found good reason
to doubt the claims that humans are at fault. These scientists point out that there are other variables, such as the Earth's long history of climate
change, the irrelevance of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and the influence of the sun's solar cycles on our climate, that are equally
deserving of serious examination. With these factors and others taken into consideration, it becomes clear that we are neither truly responsible for
the warming, nor, in any way capable of preventing it.
Research has shown that throughout its history, Earth has undergone many numerous and dramatic periods of climate change. According to the EPA,
"The Earth's climate has changed throughout history. From glacial periods (or 'ice ages') where ice covered significant portions of the Earth to
interglacial periods where ice retreated to the poles or melted entirely - the climate has continuously changed" ("Past Climate Change"). Of key
interest here is the fact that, "ice retreated to the poles or melted entirely" during interglacial periods. So, what exactly is an interglacial
period? According to AbsoluteAstronomy.com, "An interglacial is a geological interval of warmer global average temperature that separates glacial
periods within an Ice Age" ("Interglacial") For the last 11,400 years, mankind has been enjoying life within the warm and cozy confines of an
interglacial period known as the Holocene ("Interglacial"). Perhaps then, based on what we know about past interglacial periods, it shouldn't be
so surprising that the polar ice caps are currently melting. Even within this relatively stable interglacial period, however, there have been
instances of sudden climate change. The EPA cites that during the last two-thousand years, there have been three recorded changes in the Earth's
climate: The Medieval Climate Anomaly, The Little Ice Age, and, of course, the current Industrial Era. The Medieval Climate Anomaly, which occurred
around 900-1300AD was a warming period and the Little Ice Age, which occurred around 1500-1850AD was a cooling period ("Past Climate Change"). So
what could have caused these periods of global warming and global cooling?
According to presently prevailing theories about our current warming trend, carbon dioxide, or CO2, released into the air from the burning of
fossil fuels, coal and other industrial processes is the primary cause of global warming (O'Driscoll and Vergano). Scientists point out that since
the start of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels in the Earth's atmosphere have quickly risen from 275 parts per million to 383 parts per million
(McKibben). Certainly, the industrialization that has occurred over the last thirty plus years has contributed its fair share towards this rise.
However, such an increase should neither be completely unexpected nor blamed entirely on mankind. As stated previously, the Earth is currently in an
interglacial, or warm, period. Interestingly, the EPA finds a correlation between interglacial periods and rising CO2 levels:
The heating or cooling of the Earth's surface can cause changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. For example, when global temperatures become
warmer, carbon dioxide is released from the oceans. When changes in the Earth's orbit trigger a warm (or interglacial) period, increasing
concentrations of carbon dioxide may amplify the warming by enhancing the greenhouse effect. When temperatures become cooler, CO2 enters the ocean and
contributes to additional cooling. During at least the last 650,000 years, CO2 levels have tended to track the glacial cycles...that is, during warm
interglacial periods, CO2 levels have been high and during cool glacial periods, CO2 levels have been low. ("Past Climate Change")
One of the most commonly used tools scientists have utilized for determining past climatic changes is ice core data. Ice core samples are used
for collecting a wide range of statistics about past climates, including atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Ice core samples have their limits however,
and may be providing scientists with an incomplete picture or even false data. Christopher Readinger, of CSA, writes, "The primary sources of ice
cores have been the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets due to their immense size, extreme thickness, and relatively undisturbed ice. Their thickness
makes them ideal for extracting long cores representing time spans that can exceed 100,000 years before the present in Greenland and 400,000 years in
Antarctica" ("Ice Core Proxy"). While 400,000 years sounds like a very long time, it is actually quite the opposite with regards to the Earth and
climate change. For example, no data collected from ice core samples has ever shown CO2 levels above 300 parts per million ("Past Climate Change").
This number is commonly used to point out that the current level of 383 parts per million is unprecedented and a cause for alarm ("Climate Fear
As"). However, ice core samples dating back more than 750,000 years simply don't exist. Considering the fact that Earth is estimated by geologists
as being around 4.5 billion years old, ice cores leave a lot of questions unanswered (Alden). Some scientific studies using fossils and quartz
sandstone deposits have put estimates for atmospheric CO2 levels at amounts up to twelve times that of current levels, with no resulting increase in
global temperatures (Hieb). Other research calls into question the accuracy of the CO2 levels measured using ice core samples. Lawrence Solomon, of
the National Post, cites Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski:
'The IPCC relies on icecore data -- on air that has been trapped for hundreds or thousands of years deep below the surface,' Dr. Jaworowski
explains. 'These ice cores are a foundation of the global warming hypothesis, but the foundation is groundless -- the IPCC has based its
global-warming hypothesis on arbitrary assumptions and these assumptions, it is now clear, are false'. ("The Ice-Core Man")
As quoted by Solomon, Jaworowski goes on to say:
'Ice, the IPCC believes, precisely preserves the ancient air, allowing for a precise reconstruction of the ancient atmosphere. For this to be true,
no component of the trapped air can escape from the ice. Neither can the ice ever become liquid. Neither can the various gases within air ever combine
or separate. This perfectly closed system, frozen in time, is a fantasy. Liquid water is common in polar snow and ice, even at temperatures as low as
-72C...and we also know that in cold water, CO2 is 70 times more soluble than nitrogen and 30 times more soluble than oxygen, guaranteeing that the
proportions of the various gases that remain in the trapped, ancient air will change. Moreover, under the extreme pressure that deep ice is subjected
to -- 320 bars, or more than 300 times normal atmospheric pressure -- high levels of CO2 get squeezed out of ancient air. Because of these various
properties in ancient air, one would expect that, over time, ice cores that started off with high levels of CO2 would become depleted of excess CO2,
leaving a fairly uniform base level of CO2 behind. In fact, this is exactly what the ice cores show'. ("The Ice-Core Man").
All of this attention being placed on carbon dioxide might lead some unsuspecting people to believe that it makes up a large part of the Earth's
atmosphere, thus having a tremendous impact on the greenhouse effect. Not only that, but we as humans must be responsible for the fact that there's
so much of it up there. According to Monte Hieb of GeoCraft.com, they couldn't be any further from the truth:
Of the 186 billion tons of CO2 that enter earth's atmosphere each year from all sources, only 6 billion tons are from human activity. Approximately
90 billion tons come from biologic activity in earth's oceans and another 90 billion tons from such sources as volcanoes and decaying land
plants...At 368 parts per million CO2 is a minor constituent of earth's atmosphere-- less than 4/100ths of 1% of all gases present. (GeoCraft.com)
What all of this indicates, is that the cause and effect relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels and global temperatures is likely being
looked at incorrectly by those who believe that an excessive level of CO2 can cause global warming. Chances are, CO2 levels are merely a symptom of
climate change, not the cause. So what is the cause?
The sun, which has a diameter that is 109 times the size of the Earth and a volume equal to that of 1.3 million Earth's, has a definite, if not
completely understood, impact on our climate (Cain). A mixture of hydrogen and helium, the sun is like a giant nuclear reactor whose energy warms the
earth, controls our seasons, and provides the energy needed for life on our planet (Arnett). Research has proven that the sun goes through regular
changes, or solar cycles, that effect the amount of energy it puts out (Dr. Hathaway). Similarly, research has shown numerous links between these
cycles and changes in the Earth's climate. Although it is the opposite of what we're seeing now, historical data on solar minimum cycles show just
what kind of impact the sun can have on our climate. Dr. David Whitehouse, science editor for BBC News, writes on the findings of a research study
conducted by scientists at the Institute for Astronomy in 2004:
In particular, it has been noted that between about 1645 and 1715, few sunspots were seen on the Sun's surface. This period is called the Maunder
Minimum after the English astronomer who studied it. It coincided with a spell of prolonged cold weather often referred to as the "Little Ice Age".
Solar scientists strongly suspect there is a link between the two events - but the exact mechanism remains elusive. ("Sunspots Reaching 1000")
Further acknowledging the idea that a solar minimum cycle may have been responsible for Earth's last major cold spell is NASA's Dr. David
Early records of sunspots indicate that the Sun went through a period of inactivity in the late 17th century. Very few sunspots were seen on the Sun
from about 1645 to1715. Although the observations were not as extensive as in later years, the Sun was in fact well observed during this time and this
lack of sunspots is well documented. This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the "Little Ice Age" when rivers
that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes. There is evidence that the Sun has had periods of inactivity
in the more distant past. The connection between solar activity and terrestrial climate is an area of on-going research. ("The Sunspot Cycle")
The other side of this relationship, is that, intuitively, it would stand to reason that if a reduction of solar activity could lead to lower
temperatures on Earth, the opposite would also hold true: that an increase of solar activity could lead to warmer temperatures on Earth. Solar
activity during the Medieval Climate Anomaly seems to reinforce this. Randy Russell, of Windows to the Universe at the University Corporation for
Atmospheric Research, states:
There have also been periods of enhanced solar activity in terms of greater sunspot counts. The Medieval Maximum lasted from about 1100 to 1250, and
roughly corresponds to an extended warm period of Earth's climate called the Medieval Warm Period that lasted from the 10th to the 14th
century...further fueling speculation about possible links between solar activity and Earth's climate. (Windows to the Universe)
With that in mind, the same study previously cited by Dr. Whitehouse, also concluded that, "the Sun is more active now than it has been at
anytime in the previous 1,000 years" and that, "over the last century the number of sunspots rose at the same time that the Earth's climate became
steadily warmer" ("Sunspots Reaching 1000"). Further strengthening the theory that the sun has a strong impact on global warming is the fact that
many other planets in the solar system have been heating up right along with Earth (Than). Perhaps most interestingly, Mars has seen a reduction in
the size of its polar ice caps for three consecutive years (Ravilious). This information was the basis for an article written by Kate Ravilious, of
National Geographic, regarding the studies of scientist Habibullo Abdussamatov. In her article, Ravilious writes on Abdussamatov's findings, saying:
Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun's heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets. Mars and Earth,
for instance, have experienced periodic ice ages throughout their histories. 'Man-made greenhouse warming has made a small contribution to the
warming seen on Earth in recent years, but it cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance,' Abdussamatov said. ("Mars Melt Hints")
Ironically enough, we may soon find ourselves wishing we had spent less time arguing overglobal warming, and more time finding a way to
accelerate or amplify it. Per their press release, in January of 2009, the Space and Science Research Center sent a letter to, "President-elect
Barrack Obama’s nominated science adviser Dr. John Holdren and nominated NOAA administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco clearly stating that '…global
warming is over; a new cold climate has arrived' " ("Obama Climate Change"). John Casey, directer of the SSRC, explained the need for a press
There can no longer be any doubt that the Sun has entered an historic period of dramatically reduced activity which will bring us many long years of
deep cold weather. This was predicted by me and a few other scientists around the globe but of course we were not taken seriously because of the
politics of global warming and the refusal of many media outlets to print or telecast alternatives to the now discredited man made global warming
concept. According to national and international sources that monitor the Sun, what is happening on and in the Sun is nothing short of record setting,
astounding, and at the same time worrisome. The solar wind is at its lowest level in fifty years. The surface movement on the Sun has slowed to record
rates and according to NASA’s previous announcements is ‘off the bottom of the charts.’ Most telling is the current prolonged lack of sunspots
between the normal 11 year solar cycles 23 and 24 which is about to set a one hundred year record for time without sunspots. NASA also has long since
forecast that cycle 25 will be ‘one of the weakest in centuries.' All of these events in combination leave little doubt that a ‘solar
hibernation’ lasting several decades
delivering the coldest weather in over two centuries has in fact arrived. ("Obama Climate Change")
There's something almost romantic about blaming the butterfly for the hurricane; to think that something so small and insignificant can have an
effect on something so huge and so powerful. Both realistically and scientifically, however, most people would agree that there are much larger, more
meaningful forces at work than the butterfly. Yet, with regard to global warming, we seem ready to discard all of the information that points to
forces much larger than ourselves. Interestingly, it would seem that we actually want to be responsible for global warming. This idea puts us in
control of the situation, a prospect far less frightening than the alternative. After all, if we are the ones at fault, we can simply make some
changes and the problem will go away. Unfortunately, it appears more likely that we are no more responsible for global warming than a butterfly is
for a hurricane; and equally incapable of doing anything to stop it.
Alden, Andrew. "Earth's Formation In A Nutshell." About.com. 3 March 2009.
Arnett, Bill. "The Sun". NinePlanets.org. 25 Jan 2009. 2 March 2009
Black, Richard. "Humans Blamed For Climate Change." BBC News. 2 Feb. 2007. 1 March 2009.
Brown, Paul. "Climate Fear As Carbon Levels Soar." The Guardian. 11 Oct. 2004. 3 March 2009.
Cain, Fraser. "Interesting Facts About The Sun." UniverseToday.com. 1 March 2009.
Dizikes, Peter. "The Meaning of The Butterfly." The Boston Globe. 8 June 2008. 1 March 2009.
Dr. Hathaway, David. "The Sunspot Cycle." NASA. 12 Feb. 2009. 2 March 2009
Dr. Whitehouse, David. "Sunspots Reaching 1,000 Year High." BBC News. 6 July 2004.
2 March 2009 .
Hieb, Monte. GeoCraft.com. 19 Sept. 2006. 4 March 2009.
"Interglacial." AbsoluteAstronomy.com. 2009. 3 March 2009.
McKibben, Bill. "Remember This: 350 Parts Per Million." The Washington Post. 28 Dec. 2007. 3 March 2009.
O'Driscoll, Patrick and Dan Vergano. "Fossil Fuels Are To Blame, World Scientists Conclude." USA Today. 1 March 2007. 4 March 2009.
"Past Climate Change." EPA. 24 March 2008. 3 March 2009.
Ravilious, Kate. "Mars Melt Hints At Solar, Not Human, Cause For Warming." National Geographic. 28 Feb. 2007. 2 March 2009
Readinger, Christopher. "Ice Core Proxy Methods For Tracking Climate Change." CSA. Feb. 2006. 2 March 2009
Russell, Randy. Windows.ucar.edu. 19 April 2007. 4 March 2009
Than, Ker. "Sun Blamed For Warming Of Earth And Other Worlds." LiveScience. 12 March 2007. 2 March 2009. .
"Obama Climate Change Advisers Holdren and Lubchenco Are Told Global Warming Is Over Time to Prepare the US for the New Cold Era." Space and Science
8 Jan. 2009. 4 March 2009 .
WordNet. 1 March 2009. .