Farmers Cause Ice Age Postponement

September 12, 2018

by John McClaughry

Dr. Ron Bailey, the science editor at Reason.com, has an intriguing headline on his recent post: “If You Hate Ice Ages, Thank a Farmer. Chopping down forests and irrigating rice paddies boosted greenhouse gases enough to prevent the onset of a new ice age.”

Bailey reports that University of Virginia climatologist William Ruddiman concluded after studying 2.6 million years of climate cycles, that global average temperatures of our current interglacial period—the Holocene—should be dropping, and glaciers should now be growing in northern Canada and Siberia. But they’re not.

Ruddiman hypothesized that an increase in greenhouse gases that began 8,000 years ago was keeping the onset of a new ice age at bay. He calculated that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels should have fallen from their post-deglaciation peak of around 268 parts per million to around 240 ppm by 1800. Instead, pre-industrial carbon dioxide concentrations were actually around 285 ppm. What was the cause of these higher-than-normal concentrations of greenhouse gases?

Farmers: carbon dioxide sequestering forests were chopped down to grow crops, while the rotting of vegetation in rice paddies boosted global methane concentrations.

Ruddiman finds that without the increase in greenhouse gases caused by farming, current global average temperatures would likely have been about 1.3 degrees Celsius lower than they were in 1850. The Earth is now about 2.1 degrees Celsius warmer than it would otherwise have been. So thanks, farmers, for staving off the next ice age.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Robin J Chesnut-Tangerman September 16, 2018 at 1:37 pm

John, This is really grasping at straws, similar to standing in the path of Hurricane Florence and exulting that, “At least we aren’t having a drought!”
If we accept these conclusions, then human activity has contributed enough greenhouse gasses to raise temperatures 3.4˚ C. from where they would otherwise be. Considering that even a 1˚ C. change begins to disrupt growing seasons, food supplies, mating seasons, pest populations, storm intensity, wildfire frequency, and so on, your report is even more alarming.

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