Friday, July 17, 2015

Mini Ice Age in 2030: the new anti-science meme?

Image from Gallup

The past decade has seen some truly clever media tricks being used against climate science. The most successful one was the so-called "Climategate" scandal of 2009. You can see its effects on the Gallup poll, above.

Climategate was a very successful "meme", a term created by Richard Dawkins in analogy with "gene" - a meme is a reproductive unit in the mediaspace. It works like a virus, and, as a virus, it tends to lose its potency when the system develops ways to fight it. So, the climategate meme lost potency in a few years after its introduction and the Gallup curve started going up again.

2012 saw the birth of a new and powerful anti-science meme: the "climate change has stopped" one, created by David Rose with an article in the Daily mail. The effect was less pronounced than that of the Climategate meme, nevertheless the idea of the "pause" went viral and it is probably the origin of the drop/stasis in the Gallup curve from 2013 to 2014.

But also the "pause" meme has lost potency; with 2015 on track to become the hottest year ever recorded, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain that climate change has stopped. So, with the Paris conference on climate approaching, it is probably the right time for a new anti-science meme appearing in the media.

Not surprisingly, the media is all abuzz with the idea of a"mini ice age" that should occur at some moment in the 2030s. Look at the results of a "Google Trends" search. Remarkable, indeed!

This avalanche of Internet hits was triggered by a presentation by Prof. Valentina Zharkova of Northumberland University at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in early July. Even without going into the details (but, if you are interested in a critique of Zharkova's ideas, look at this link) it is clear that we are discussing about something that might happen in two decades from now on the basis of an untested model, not even published in a refereed journal. And that should stop us from doing something against global warming, that's happening right now? Come on......

The question is, rather, whether the "mini ice age" idea will be a good anti-science meme; maybe affecting the results of the Paris conference, in December. Of course, we have to wait and see, but it seems unlikely. The mini ice age meme is weak. Compare it with the "climate change has stopped" meme. One of its powerful features was that David Rose had positioned it as a conspiracy, with scientists in the role of the bad guys trying to hide the truth from the public. And a meme that involves bad guys works almost every time. Then, how many times have you been questioned by someone absolutely sure that climate change had stopped? To answer, you had to explain to him/her (most commonly him) that no, it had not stopped, that it had only slowed down, that the heat had gone into the oceans, etc. It never really worked.

But the "mini ice age" meme has no bad guys to blame, and that makes it weak from the start. And then, picture yourself facing someone who states "they say that in 15 years from now there will be a new ice age". It should be enough to look at him (maybe her) with an appropriately skeptical expression and say, "are you sure?"

It looks like climate denialists are going to have a hard time. And that's exactly what they deserve!


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)