We should hope for the best and prepare for the worst

On global warming or colding, our planet

has long demonstrated a mind of its own


By Carl Dow


Back on the farm we ten year-olds absorbed the wisdom of our elders. One gem was: “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” There was also, “Just between you, me, and the gatepost.”


There were many others, too politically incorrect to repeat here, to tease the imaginations of naïve young parrots. But one that was well within the observational experience of a ten-year-old farm boy was, “A dog doesn’t (defecate) on its own doorstep.”


It’s on this premise alone that I support the efforts of those who are crying alarm about global warming. There is no question but that for reasons of need and greed the human race has been polluting our environment at an ever-increasing rate and intensity since the industrial revolution kicked in about 250 years ago.


But world geological history cautions us not to panic. For millions of years before we trotted forth with our industrial obsessions our planet had known global warming and colding in the extreme.


The latest glaciation — most of us call it ice age — was the Wisconsin. It got that name because while it covered almost all of Canada and a large section of the north-central and northeastern United States, its southern most point was in what is now known as Wisconsin.


The Wisconsin was the last of four major glaciations that covered the region during millions of years that saw the ice advance and retreat.


At its peak about 15,000 years ago, where the innocent cities of Montreal and Ottawa now thrive, there was an ice cover two kilometres high. This gigantic ice pack included other parts of the world such as northern Europe as far south to where Germany lies today


Taking the earth as a whole the deep freeze involved 30 million cubic kilometres of ice that required freezing the equivalent of the top 70 metres of all the world’s oceans. You can imagine what that did to shorelines everywhere.


Back home, the weight of the Wisconsin ice depressed the surface of what is known as the St. Lawrence River Lowlands that includes the Ottawa Valley.


After the ice cap began to recede about 10 to 12,000 years ago the location that included both Montreal and Ottawa was inundated at first by fresh water from the melting ice and then later by salty sea water from the Atlantic Ocean that flooded into the basin.


For 2,500 years Canada’s parliament hill was under 200 metres of water with whales throwing their weight around in what is called the Champlain Sea. As time went along, the surface of the land, no longer burdened by the weight of the ice, began to rise and the basin began to empty. A process that is still going on today, including the Great Lakes.


Before being hit by a series of ice ages there was a relatively super hot period of millions of years when dinosaurs roamed the prairies. Aside from southern Alberta’s dinosaur remains, fossils of other animals usually found in sultry climates have been found above the Arctic Circle.


The point is that long before we came along to contribute to global warming and colding, the earth, one might say, had a mind of its own. And I suggest that it still does.


The hue and cry about burning fossil fuels and creating a blanket in the atmosphere that will warm us to distraction should be tempered by the realization that there is a finite amount of coal, oil, and natural gas that we can dig or pump up.


The booming economies of huge-population countries like India and China will take a gigantic slurp of the world’s oil and natural gas resources during the next 50 to 100 years. (The Wall Street Journal is even more pessimistic. It recently predicted that the globe’s oil wells will go dry within 40 years.)


This phenomenon, together with increasing use by the highly developed or developing countries of Europe, North and South America, will bring to an end such sources of energy.


The problem of pollution will have ended all by itself as if our planet was to say, “That’s it, that’s all. Now go and find some other way to amuse yourselves.”


Some scientists contend that the cycle of cold and heat is a pattern of our planet’s behaviour that has nothing to do with our relatively miniscule, puny machinations.


They argue that a warmer-than-usual period always precedes the return of an ice age.


One might think then that the most cautious among us, aside from cheering on the environmentalists who warn of pollution and global warming, would prepare for either hot or cold or both one after the other.


In other words, hope for the best while preparing for the worst.