Wednesday, March 27th 2013, 4:19 PM EDT
The bitter Arctic conditions continuing to hold Europe and North America in a vice-like grip have killed thousands of people so far, with no sign of a let-up, and in the UK at least March is shaping up to be the coldest in 100 years.
It’s now the fifth winter in a row that’s broken cold records, and scientists are beginning to talk about the elephant in the room: are we actually at a tipping point to get colder, rather than warmer?
In New Zealand, there’s been huge media coverage of one hot summer drought as evidence of climate change in action, yet summers for the previous two years were wet and cool and no-one in the media batted an eyelid. Conversely in the northern hemisphere, with each winter apparently worse than the last, media coverage has studiously avoided the obvious – until now.
“Mentioning the lethal “100-year, record-smashing” spring cold and snow spreading across Europe over the past month has for the most part been avoided like the plague by Germany’s mainstream media. The silence over the record cold and frost, which has killed thousands and cost billions, has been ear-ringing,” writes commentator Pierre Gosselin.
“Yet some leading dailies are breaking ranks, and have begun to examine the phenomenon critically and openly. For example veteran journalist Ulli Kulke at German flagship daily Die Welt today has stunned the rest of the German mainstream media with a piece titled Scientists warn of ice age.”
The essence of the “ice age” warning stems from some Russian research suggesting we are going to get colder. Tie that in with a massive drop in sunspots and solar magnetic activity in what NASA scientists are comparing to the cold spell of the Dalton Minimum, and confirmation by the UN IPCC climate change convenor Rajendra Pachauri (reported in The Briefing) that there has been no significant global warming since the 1990s, and you can see why some are seeing a frigid future.
“As the snow of the coldest March since 1963 continues to fall, we learn that we have barely 48 hours’ worth of stored gas left to keep us warm, and that the head of our second-largest electricity company, SSE, has warned that our generating capacity has fallen so low that we can expect power cuts to begin at any time. It seems the perfect storm is upon us. The grotesque mishandling of Britain’s energy policy by the politicians of all parties, as they chase their childish chimeras of CO2-induced global warming and windmills, has been arguably the greatest act of political irresponsibility in our history,” wrote commentator and author Christopher Booker last weekend.
To get an idea of this half-decade of frozen record breakers, let’s revisit some headlines from years gone by.
The human cost of Britain’s worst winter for 30 years has been laid bare as figures show the first signs of a sharp rise in the death rates, especially among the elderly.
Deaths leapt by up to a fifth amid the longest spell of bitter weather in recent years, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Undertakers have reported the busiest winter for several years, with some even forced to take on extra staff to cope.
It comes in the wake of an outcry over the deaths of an elderly couple from Northampton, whose bodies lay in their freezing home, unnoticed for several days.
Then in 2011:
An estimated 40,000 more people die between December and March in the UK than would be expected from death rates during other times of the year.
More than half the deaths are due to heart attacks, strokes and circulatory problems and a third from lung disease. When the temperature suddenly plummets, as it has this weekend, the danger is even more acute.
Professor Sian Griffiths, president of the Faculty of Public Health, which sets and maintains professional standards in public health, said: “A high proportion of preventable illness and deaths in the UK is caused by people living in damp and cold housing.
“If we see much more of the cold weather of recent days, it is likely that as many as 50,000 people will die unnecessarily over this winter. This is a tragedy in terms of human life and also creates a huge – and preventable – strain on the NHS.
“The UK remains one of the worst countries in the world at coping with unseasonable low temperatures. Although the Government has shown commitment to tacking the problem, it has not given sufficient priority to such an important public health issue and its approach remains far too uncoordinated.
“All of us must be vigilant at the moment to look out for family, friends and neighbours who may be suffering. Often fatal illnesses develop two or three days after a cold snap has finished.”
It is estimated that there are 8,000 extra deaths for every one degree Celsius the temperature is below the winter average.
Fast forward to this winter, and its extension into the first full month of spring, and the headlines are just as grim:
The extreme cold is thought to have killed thousands of elderly people with a possible total death toll of around 30,000, it emerged yesterday.
Around 2,000 more deaths than normal were recorded in the first two weeks of March and last month 3,057 extra deaths were registered in England and Wales.
All of this frozen ‘global warming’ might be just “the new normal”, as climate change activists call it, except that a recent study of how Earth ended up in the Little Ice Age shows it took only 25 years of colder temperatures to trigger 500 years of frigidity:
“Most glaciers and ice caps reach[ed] their maximum dimensions of the past 8 ka during the Little Ice Age (LIA), prior to widespread recession during the 20th Century [Miller et al., 2010],” noted the study authors.
In plain English, the glaciers we all know and love around the world reached their largest size in the past 8000 years, during the Little Ice Age that ended around 1850. Since then, they’ve been melting, naturally, because the frozen temperatures of the Little Ice Age have gone. Until now.
The warning from the study is that change, when it happens, happens quickly:
“Here we present precisely dated records of ice-cap growth from Arctic Canada and Iceland showing that LIA summer cold and ice growth began abruptly between 1275 and 1300 AD.”
As researchers at Utah’s Geological Survey (UGS) division have noted, Earth has experienced rapid natural climate change:
“One of the more recent intriguing findings is the remarkable speed of these changes. Within the incredibly short time span (by geologic standards) of only a few decades or even a few years, global temperatures have fluctuated by as much as 15°F (8°C) or more.”
The UGS has published graphs showing that modern temperatures have not yet reached their usual natural peak between ice ages (interglacials).
Simplified chart showing when the five major ice ages occurred in the past 2.4 billion years of Earth’s history. Modified from several sources including Dynamical Paleoclimatology: Generalized Theory of Global Climate Change, 2002, by Barry Saltzman
Four fairly regular glacial-interglacial cycles occurred during the past 450,000 years. The shorter interglacial cycles (10,000 to 30,000 years) were about as warm as present and alternated with much longer (70,000 to 90,000 years) glacial cycles substantially colder than present. Notice the longer time with jagged cooling events dropping into the colder glacials followed by the faster abrupt temperature swings to the warmer interglacials. This graph combines several ice-core records from Antarctica and is modified from several sources including Evidence for Warmer Interglacials in East Antarctic Ice Cores, 2009, L.C. Sime and others. Note the shorter time scale of 450,000 years compared to the previous figure, as well as the colder temperatures, which are latitude-specific (e.g., Antartica, Alaska, Greenland) temperature changes inferred from the Antarctic ice cores (and not global averages).
In themselves, the graphs show that the rise of modern temperatures may have far more to do with Earth coming back into balance from the Little Ice Age than CO2 emissions, but the question now is why have the temperature increases stopped? Is it the drop in solar activity? What happens if the cold feeds on itself as it has in the past in just a short space of time and if so, are we about to be plunged back into a new, cold, dark age?
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