Ice Age fears: don’t believe the hype

Russia Today on July 12 announces breathlessly: "Earth is facing the prospect of a 'mini ice age' this century, with our sun's activity projected to fall 60 percent in the 2030s, British astrophysicists say, based on the results of new research that they claim allows exact predictions of solar cycles." The scientists in question are a team from Northumbria University led by a Professor Valentina Zharkova. While the lead researcher's nice Russian name must be appealing to RT, there are other aspects of the story that doubtless make it even more irresistible. We smell Putin propaganda to allow him to go on exploiting Arctic oil without having to worry about contributing to global warming. Why have we seen this reported in few sources other than the unreliable (and state-controlled) RT? 

Among those few other sources are Britain's (conservative) The Telegraph, which quotes Zharkova saying of her findings on an imminent reduction of sunspot activity: "We predict that this will lead to the properties of a 'Maunder minimum.'" That was the period of low sunspot activity that coincided with the coldest period of the so-called Little Ice Age between 1645 and 1715.

A very similar study was also picked by the UK's (conservative) Daily Mail in 2011. This one was by Frank Hill of the US National Solar Observatory. He likewise saw signs that the current 11-year sunspot cycle, which started around 2009, "will be the weakest in a century." Note the barely disguised glee in this passage:

There are questions about what this means for Earth's climate. Three times in the past the regular 11-year solar cycle has gone on an extended vacation—at the same time as cool periods on Earth. 

Sceptics of man-made global warming from the burning of fossil fuels have often pointed to solar radiation as a possible cause of a warming Earth, but they are in the minority among scientists.

Earth has warmed as solar activity has decreased.

Mr Hill and his colleagues wouldn't discuss the effects of a quiet sun on temperature or global warming.

'If our predictions are true, we'll have a wonderful experiment that will determine whether the sun has any effect on global warming,' he said.

So Zharkova's claims aren't even that new. And Discover magazine's sober if chronically sarcastic Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait called out the Daily Mail's hed of "Earth facing a mini-Ice Age 'within ten years' due to rare drop in sunspot activity"—saying it "isn't even within a glancing blow of reality."

So are we headed for a new Ice Age, Plait asked? 

The answer—spoiler alert!—is almost certainly "no". I want to make sure that's clear, because I will bet essentially any amount of money that some climate change denial sites will run with this story and claim that we don’t need to worry about global warming. That's baloney, and what follows is why.

In essence, Plait states that while the Little Ice Age coincided with the Maunder Minimum of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, it was partially sparked by other factors such as volcanism and jet stream irregularities, and "and it's not at all clear a minimum will lead to an ice age without them. You can't make a one-to-one connection between a lack of sunspots and an oncoming ice age." And the study's prediction of a new sunspot minimum is also "possible, but not a sure thing." And the jet stream factor is why Europe was disproportionately affected by the Little Age, and such variables would likely be at play in a future cooling period. So: "Even if a weak cycle occurs and it does affect us, the effects would be relatively contained. It would suck for those who got hit by it, but the Earth itself would weather through it." (Pun intended, we assume.)


And let's not forget the elephant in the room: the amount of cooling we'd see from this even if it all came together would still be less than the global warming we've been experiencing since the 20th century. It might slow things down for a while, but the climate change we're seeing now—and it's real, folks—is more than enough to take on a little temporary cooling, especially local cooling.

So Zharkova's claims aren't only not new—they are also dubious.  

We've noted before the paradoxes of the leftist love affair with Russia Today. And we've also noted the paradoxical Ice Age paranoia as the planet heats up. But what's especially ironic is that while Putin and his petro-oligarch pals are peddling this prattle as propaganda to perpetuate their own profligacy, they are actually avidly hoping for global warming to go full rip to keep open the new Northwest Passage that is allowing them to exploit previously ice-locked oil.

And with global sea ice in rapid decline, we should indeed be hoping for a new Little Ice Age—but not to allow us to keep spewing carbon into the atmosphere! We should be hoping for a new Little Ice Age to buy us a little time to get the hell off the carbon economy before it's too late.

C'mon, folks. Really.