Saturday, May 19, 2007

Environmentalist Bugaboo Loses Support

For years, the environmentalists have been trying to have it both ways, claiming that in the midst of the global warming that they allege, Europe might suffer an ice age. According to this scenario, ships would sail through an ice-free Arctic Ocean but be unable to unload their cargos in the ice-bound ports of Northern Europe.

What was alleged to produce a European ice age at the very time that the world as a whole was warming was the destruction of the Gulf Stream, which brings warm water from the Equator to the coast of Northern Europe. Melting ice from the Arctic would allegedly overwhelm the Gulf Stream and leave Europe defenseless against the onslaught of frigid air streaming down from the Arctic, the same frigid air that explains the much colder climate of Eastern Canada. Eastern Canada lies at the same latitude as Northern Europe but does not have the benefit of the Gulf Stream.

Warmth from the Gulf Stream is necessary to keep Europe temperate in the face of cold from the Arctic. It is not necessary when the frigidity of the Arctic disappears. The environmentalists chose not to recognize the distinction. They took a position equivalent to that of a deranged person, who possibly might confuse the consequences of his not wearing his overcoat in July with the consequences of his not wearing it in February. It is one thing if the Gulf Stream were to disappear in the climate conditions the world has become accustomed to. It is something very different if it were to disappear in the conditions of an Arctic so warm that most of its ice melted.

The environmentalists and their stooges in the media were not, and are not, concerned with logical consistency. That requires holding the context and making distinctions between different contexts. What they are concerned with is whatever can be used to strike fear in people: warming, freezing; flood, drought; it’s all the same. If it provokes fear, their tactic is to use it and play on it.

Well, this particular bugaboo may no longer serve. A story in The New York Times of May 15, 2007, titled
“Scientists Back Off Theory of a Colder Europe in a Warming World” explains why. (The story appears on p. F3 of The Times’ Metropolitan Edition of the same date.)

The “backing off” is not based on any recognition of the inherent contradictions in the argument, but on evidence that the Gulf Stream is not easily destroyed and also is not the only source of warming for Europe; prevailing winds and other factors are now recognized as being more important than the Gulf Stream.

Don’t expect this “backing off” to mean an actual abandonment of claims of a European ice age. So long as the world is full of people credulous enough to be frightened by this story, environmentalists will continue telling it.

This article is copyright © 2007, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.