Climate Change over 20,000 years, fact and fiction

{Warning; your mouse will get tired with the scrolling but please scroll to the end, even if your mouse dies.]


I was very fortunate to carry out field work as an exploration geologist in the Richtersveld a remote part of Cape Province in South Africa. It was a fascinating time and I was tie 3rd geologist to work there, following Rogers who went there on horseback in 1914 and de Villiers and Sohnge who spent several field seasons there in the 1940s. I was sent in by Falconbridge of Africa and Dr Alfred Kroner came up from the Precambrian Research Unit of the University of Cape Town.


The Richtersveld consists of a massive sequence of late Pre-Cambrian sediments lying on top of old basement (c2.400my). The lower part of the sequences are mostly sandstones and other clastics and are about the same age as the Torridonian Sandstone of NW Scotland. The top was Numees tillites and associated strata named after Numees, wher a Capt Alexander developed a small copper mine in the 1830s. He gave the name of Alexander Bay at the mouth of the Orange River, where there are alluvial diamonds, The Numees tillite is a variable sequence of diamictites with stones and boulders in a dirty sandy matrix. At the time its glacial origin was question but I did find some varves including some with drop-stones deforming the varves. In the 70s the jury was out on the galcial nature of these sediments, but no more and some suggest a Snowball Earth at that time  (c600-580my). [tillites are a general term for ancient glacial deposits)

Also in South Africa were the Dwyka tillites of Permian age (c290my), but I never looked at them. Along with them are the late Ordovician tillites (c445my), some of which can be found in the Howgills near Sedbergh in Yorkshire. Finally the recent Ice Ages began about 2 my ago. I studied these in North Wales as a result of researching the work of Buckland and Darwin in 1841 and 1842. (I wrote this up for the PGA (Preceedings of the Geologists Assoc in 2012.) Later in 1997 I found an example of moraines from a mini-glacier in the Savoie alpes in France , which most like dated from the Little Ice Age – i.e. 1600-1800. I also intrigued by changes in climate since the end of the last Ice Age. Hence as a geologist I could see that the earth’s temperature had fluctuated over geological time, and for some time could not see that changes today were significant.

I have to confess that this made me sceptical of Global warming in the 90s, but only sceptical in the sense of questioning and not denial. My sceptism was dealt with in 1998 as I kept meeting Sir John Polkinghorne at meetings – including one at a Creationist church – when he explained changes in the last 100,000 years. I think I was converted to global warming in the creationist church!!

I was a good converts and devoted half a chapter to evanglicals and global warming in my book Evangelicals and Science (2008), where I was critical of those who denied Global Warming eg the Cornwall Institute of Calvin Beisner and others. I dealt with further in a chapter I wrote for Religion in environmental and Climate Change (2012 ed Gerten and Bergmann). In that I was critical of the GWPF of Lord Lawson and also Peter Forster, bishop of Chester.

Thus I was good believer in Global Warming, or rather, not a bleiever, but one who accepted the scientific arguments. In the last few years I have been annoyed by simplistic arguments from climate activists, who seem more concerned with activism than truth. I found some of the more apocalyptic claims too far fetched. These seem to give a secular alternative to the evangelical Left Behind nonsense. I reckon they undermine both the scientific basis of Climate Change AND, more seriously, bring the need to address Climate Change into question. In fact, Climate Change Deniers (not Sceptics) can use this to avoid action as holes can be picked in Climate alarmist claims. By questioning Climate Alarmism some devotees have concluded falsely that I am a denier.

Recently this A Timeline of earth’s Average Temperature has done the rounds on social media. It simply does not do justice to what has happened in the last 20000 years. It portrays steady gradual changes in temperature in that time, but a sudden rapid rise since 1980. The Younger Dryas of 10,000 years is hardly a blip, yet it was a sudden cooling for a thousand odd years and then a sudden warming. The drop in temperature of c 1300 is smoothed out as is the Little Ice Age.

You can whizz down this and pick up my comments later. Temperature Timeline

As I am a very bad boy and refuse to impose self-censorship, I read stuff from any perspective and actually found this denialist blog “wattsupwiththat”  helpful in comparison! To some my credibility will have gone, but it’s no worse than alarmist guff.

He presented a cartoon by Javier, a molecular biologist, to correct the cartoon above. This is a far more accurate presentation of changes in temperature and records sudden changes. (As I am not an expert I cannot be sure how accurate it is, but it is in more accord with all I have read including John Kingdom’s wonderful New Naturalist  volume Climate and Weather, which traces out the climate (and temperature) in Britain from the 1st Century BC until today)


And then finally there is this blog which traces out climatic changes in the last 18000 years.

Figure i is especially useful and can be found here.  It does NOT smooth things out with a hockey stick at the end

And more humorously there is this. 

What are we to make of all this?

We need to be aware of superficial stories flying around whether from Climate Alarmists or Climate Deniers. In a sense they feed off each other.

The first cartoon simply is wrong as it presents climate change for 20,000 years as slow and gradual until the end of the 20th Century. That is simply false. It may be good for propaganda purposes but it is ultimately deceitful and undermines any concern for the problematic Climate Change of the present time. As with the porkies of anti-frackers this type of thing can only result in disillusionment.

The second two are more accurate , but the conclusion of the third saying that the Modern Warming is “nothing unusual” is simply wrong and dangerously so. As are the three projections in red ink. It is as daft as Patrick Moore twitter; @EcoSenseNow , an early member of Greenpeace, who argues that even higher CO2 concentrations will be a good thing. I consider that irresponsible.

It is tragic that the argument over Climate Change has got so polarised, but much of that has been due to extreme views of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Bill Mckibbin. They have been effective in convincing others to see everything in an apocalyptic way. This is seen in demonising all fossil fuels, making them the Great Satan. This prevents any realistic transition away from coal, through gas (fracked!) to something better in the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s