Thursday, October 15, 2009

Time Travel Google News Archives Shows Climate Change Shift From Ice Age to Global Warming

Just in time for Blog Action Day, my discovery of Google News Archives lets me time travel through climate change in the media. The news archives show how, in just a few short decades, stories about climate change shifted from an upcoming Ice Age to imminent Global Warming; A polar-shift sea-change in a very short time. How did this happen?

World Getting Colder
Not that long ago, during the 1970s and 1980s, media reports about the coming Ice Age flourished that energy-crisis era. (See Google news archives -- St Petersburg Times, Los Angeles Times, Sydney Morning Herald, Toledo Blade and hundreds more.

Severe winter storms, early onset winter and longer lasting cold spells were cited each year. Scientists and researchers expounded at length about why, how and when the next Ice Age would be upon us.

I was busy raising kids during much of that era, and didn't keep up on the news as well as I should have. But I really don't like cold weather, and the media stories about a new Ice Age stuck with me.

World Getting Warmer
Yet gradually over the next decade, reports of the next Ice Age faded from print, and a new dire warning began to creep in. The same media (e.g. Toledo Blade) began publishing stories about the links between smog and global warming, the depleting/depleted ozone layer and global warming, and how aerosol cans were killing us all.

Every time a new global warming report was released, I wondered, sometimes aloud, "What ever happened to that coming Ice Age we were all warned about?" No one knew. Some looked at me like I was a little weird (Ice Age? In this era of Global Warming Climate Change?).

Travel Back in Time
Now with Google News Archives, I am able to go back to the newspapers of that era and confirm my memory is not faulty. I did not dream those dire global chill articles.

In a fairly short time span, the environmental crisis has shifted from Way Too Cold to Way Too Hot. And Way Too Hot is where we are today. Non scientists  can be forgiven for being confused with the mixed messages from a multitude of climate-change, global-warming experts.

At the turn of the 20th century, Antarctic exploration was full steam ahead (News items), alerting the world to a new continent with lots of ice, at least most of the time, as warming incidents were noted at that time. A hundred years hence, at the turn of the 21st century, researchers are exploring the depths of the Arctic, reporting fossils that document its jungle, rain forest past and present receding ice sheets. Antarctica scientists continue to document that continent's melting ice shelves. Both north and south warn of rising sea levels and the impact they will have on humankind.

Climate Change, Environmentally-, Eco-Friendly
New buzzwords crept into our vocabulary : Climate Change, Environment, Eco-Friendly and more. A few more decades of media reports convinced us that pollution was bad, recycling, reusing and reducing were good, and now most of us regular folks are on the Save Our Planet bandwagon.

Yet governments, activists and businesses are often at odds with how to implement environmentally friendly policies and programs, dragging their feet while sea levels continue to rise, food supplies are in peril, and extreme weather batters the planet. Can we really work together and change this path to destruction we are told we are now on?

Ice Age, Global Warming
Ice Age or Global Warming: That Earth's climate has changed over the course of its history, and that it will continue to change is a given, and it doesn't much matter which way it goes, as far as I am concerned. Too much cold, and too much heat ultimately end at the same point: Where will we all live, and what will we all eat, how will we all grow our food, and where.

Dealing with Climate Change
For me, the bottom line is not, "How can we stop or at least slow down climate change?" but, "How do we deal with climate change?" I, for one, am looking to governments to stop setting and postponing and opting out of time deadlines for dealing with climate change. They should cooperate on a global plan for what we need to do NOW in order to be able to feed and house ourselves short term and in the future, as our climate continues to change.

Initiatives like the COP15 in Copenhagen in December are well and good, but forgive me for being cynical. Climate change initiatives (Rio, Kyoto) come and go, and it seems we are no closer to any workable global plan. Yes, we (or at least a lot of first world countries) stopped using leaded gas, paint and 'bad' aerosols, stopped dumping raw sewage into waterways, overfishing, clear cutting forests. We embraced fluorescent lights, energy-efficient cars and appliances. Are these enough?

Stop Climate Change, Stop Polluting
Pollution and climate change are so closely linked in the media that the words are often used as synonyms. But are they? I don't think so. That we as a people are polluters who are wasting the planet's resources, fouling the air and defiling the oceans, and generally a self-serving, greedy lot is a given. This we can change, and should change. That our polluting ways are exacerbating climate change is probably true.

But can we stop climate change?
Likely not. Earth will do whatever it is Earth does, IMHO. It has earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, continental drifts, elaborate circulating ocean currents, ice ages and warm periods, and millions of species that come and go as climate and evolution dictate. From time to time, it gets hit by meteors and comets, and has to deal with its place in the solar system. It's the height of human conceit to think we can alter any of those climate-changing forces, especially in a few decades. Especially since we don't fully understand them.

Climate Change Practical Government, Global Solutions
In 1948, the publication of Fairfield Osborn's Our Plundered Planet launched the environmental movement. Osborn has a new book out this month, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, in which he outlines practical actions for governments to take now. Let's hope those attending the UN Climate Change conference in Denmark in December will have read it.

Travel Now, While We Can
How and where we travel or don't travel in the future is likely going to be radically different from how we travel today. Are enormous airplanes and gigantic cruise ships helping the planet as large scale public transport, or are they simply large scale polluters? Should we all stay home, and virtually travel to distant lands on the internet? We do that now, and it's no substitute for the real thing.

So while I wait to see how the world's governments will deal with climate change, I'll plan my next trip, and try to keep my polluting ecological footprint as small as possible. In my own small way, I'll try not to hurt the planet too much.

And be aware that we are all one cold and cloudy summer away from reverting to Hunter-Gatherers.