Back in the 1970s, scientists predicted Nuclear Winter was coming. In the 1990s, the threat become Global Warming. Today, we're back to the Big Chill. Scientists are predicting a giant pool of fresh water that has been growing in the North Atlantic for the last seven years will divert the Gulf Stream and cause global cooling. A drop of up to 10° F is predicted, and it could happen any day.
As columnist Dave Barry might say, I am not making this up.
I hear you snickering out there. You've heard so much junk science over the years, you don't believe anything any more. Can't say I blame you. But this threat seems real.
Here's the problem: Raymond Schmit Jr., senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass., explains that a huge mass of fresh water - reaching south from Greenland to just off the coast of the Carolinas, covering 15 million square miles - could impede the flow of the Gulf Stream.
Because fresh water is lighter than salt water, it doesn't sink, thereby blocking the warm Gulf Stream from reaching the East Coast, England, and Europe. Without the Gulf Stream, scientists say average winter temperatures in the Northeastern U.S. and Western Europe could drop by 10° F.
If you live on the East Coast, from Maine to Florida and as far inland as, say, Pennsylvania, you might be looking at winters just like 2002-2003. Snow covered the ground from Thanksgiving until April, 10-ft. snowdrifts clogged highways, and bitterly cold temperatures played havoc with plant operations.
A United Nations committee on global warming pooh-poohs the idea, saying such a phenomenon is not likely until 2100, but John Gagosian, head of Woods Hole, says it may already be happening. "In just the past year, we have seen ominous signs that we may be headed toward a potentially dangerous threshold," writes Gagosian. "If we cross it, Earth's climate could switch gears and jump very rapidly into a completely different mode of operation."
One ominous sign is that a Scandinavian glacier is growing, while other glaciers around the world are in retreat. Andrew Weaver, a scientist at the University of Victoria, B.C., says it may be the result of less warm air reaching that corner of the North Atlantic.
Scientists believe changes in the Gulf Stream may have caused the Little Ice Age, which began in the 15th century and ended in 1850.
Unlike global warming, which some scientists believe we can control, nothing can stop global cooling. Weaver says trying to stop it would be "like one person standing on a railroad track trying to stop a train."
One direct effect of global cooling probably will be a run on heat tracing systems, heated enclosures, and other winterizing devices, as process plants in Europe and the South scramble to protect lines from freezing up in the colder winters to come.
Process and control engineers may have to re-tune control loops to handle prolonged periods of cold ambient temperatures.
Stock market analysts, energy experts, and hedge-fund gurus have been following this problem for several years because of the effects such a Big Chill can have on the economy. Michael Brush, a writer for MSN Money (www.msn.com), says financial analysts are worried. He lists a litany of problems that could impact manufacturing plants, including harbors and shipping lanes clogged with ice, increased demand on energy supplies, and higher prices for natural gas and oil.
If financial analysts and energy experts have known about this for years, why haven't we heard anything about this until now? I didn't learn about it, for example, until I read a column by Brock Yates in Car & Driver magazine.
The answer is simple: Global cooling goes against the politically correct global warming theory, so the liberal news media doesn't cover it. The Kyoto Protocol, which calls for the U.S. and Western Europe to cripple their industries with crushing environmental laws, is a favorite of "Ozone Al" Gore, tree huggers, and other liberals.
If the media told the world about global cooling, some might question the need to spend trillions of dollars on equipment designed to stop global warming. Instead, engineers might suggest we do exactly the opposite: increase global warming to offset the effects of global cooling.
Fortunately, the global warming people have already given us a blueprint to accomplish this. All we have to do is the opposite of everything they say is wrong: Tune controls to create more ozone and CO2; use more hydrocarbon-based fuels; burn more coal. And, as Brock Yates suggests, buy an SUV.
A really big one.
E-mail Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org.