Climate change activists are right. We are in for walloping shifts in the planet’s climate. Catastrophic shifts. But the activists are wrong about the reason. Very wrong. And the prescription for a solution—a $27 trillion solution—is likely to be even more wrong. Why?
Climate change is not the fault of man. It’s Mother Nature’s way. And sucking greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is too limited a solution. We have to be prepared for fire or ice, for fry or freeze. We have to be prepared for change.
We’ve been deceived by a stroke of luck. In the two million years during which we climbed from stone-tool wielding Homo erectus with sloping brows to high-foreheaded Homo urbanis, man the inventor of the city, we underwent 60 glaciations, 60 ice ages. And in the 120,000 years since we emerged in our current physiological shape as Homo sapiens, we’ve lived through 20 sudden global warmings. In most of those, temperatures have shot up by as much as 18 degrees within a mere 20 years.
All this took place without smokestacks and tailpipes. All this took place without the desecration of nature by modern man.
The stroke of luck that’s misled us? The sheets of ice in whose shadow we made a living for two million years peeled back 12,000 years ago leaving a lush new Garden of Eden. In that Eden we invented agriculture, money, electronics and our current way of life. But that weather standstill has held on for an abnormally long amount of time. And it’s very likely that this atypical weather truce shall someday pass.
Why? What’s the real cause of the Earth’s norm—a climate that rocks back and forth from steamy tropical heat to icy freeze? A climate that deposits fossilized seashells on mountaintops and makes dry land into seas and swamps?
The Earth is a traveler. Its angle as it sweeps around the sun produces the massive weather flips we call seasons—the dance from summer to winter and back again. But there’s more. Our planet has a peculiar wobble—its precession. And that precession produces upheavals in our weather, weather alterations we cycle through every 22,000, 41,000 and 100,000 years. This is called the Milankovich cycle, named for the Serbian engineer and geophysicist who discovered it.
But the wobbles in our trip around the sun are just a start. The sun is a traveler, too. It circles the black hole at the galaxy’s core every 226 million years. And it takes its tiny flock of planets with it. That means us. The result?
The journey around the galactic core is fraught with dangers. For example, every 143 million years we pass through a spiral arm of the galaxy, an arm that tosses tsunamis of cosmic rays our way. Those rays produce massive climate change. Then there’s the innocent-sounding stuff astronomers call galactic "fluff," massive clouds of cosmic dust lurking in our solar system’s path that also cause dramatic climate change.
Meanwhile, the sun itself is going through a cycle from birth to death. As a result of its maturation, good old reliable sol is 43% warmer today than it was when the Earth first gathered itself into a globe of planetesimals 4.5 billion years ago.
The bottom line? Weather changes and the occasional meteor have tossed this planet through roughly 142 mass extinctions since life began 3.85 billion years ago. That’s an average of one mass extinction every 26.5 million years. Where did these mass die-offs come from? Nature. There were no human capitalists, industrialists or cultures of consumerism to blame.
We do not want to be the victims of one of these extinctions. Nor do we want to see whales, elephants and pandas go the way of trilobites and dinosaurs. We need to prepare for far more than just the changes we think we make. We need to prepare for the challenge that forced us to evolve into our modern, highly adaptable form. We have to realize that nature tosses us tests, and that we grow by outwitting her. We have to prepare for fire and ice. And we have to realize that Mother Nature is not nice.
Mr. Bloom is the author, most recently, of "The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism," published last month by Prometheus Books. He is also founder and head of The Space Development Steering Committee.