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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Arctic Warming: Not Just Another Natural Cycle This Time

In late October 2013, research was published on the average summer temperatures over time in the Canadian Arctic. The scientists found from analyzing deep ice samples and moss only recently freed from the grip of ice that the average temperatures in the twentieth century were the highest going back at least 44,000 years to 120,000 years. The most significant warming did not begin until the 1970s and is particularly striking in the 1992-2012 period. The most significant implication of the study is that the argument that we are merely seeing another natural cycle underway can finally be put on ice.
"The key piece here is just how unprecedented the warming of Arctic Canada is," Gifford Miller, one of the study’s scientists, said. "This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."[1] Particularly striking is the phrase, “outside of any kind of known natural variability.” We are in unchartered waters made possible only by melting glaciers. In other words, we could really get blind-sided.
To get some perspective on how long the moss had been encased in ice, our species reached Australia approximately 45,000 years ago. Another 25,000 years earlier (50,000 years after 120,000 years ago!), homo sapiens underwent a cognitive revolution, which resulted in the “fictive mind.” The sapiens brain had via development from natural selection become capable of apriori imaginary realities or ideas. Story-telling in the hunter-gatherer bands (i.e., small groups) no longer be bound to observable (i.e., empirical) phenomenon. After the agricultural revolution based on permanent settlements in place of the nomadic life of the hunter-gatherer, the imaginary ideas of the fictive mind would enable homo sapiens to get past the lack of any “hard-wiring”(via thousands of years of natural selection) enabling members of the species to live in close proximity with many strangers. Larger, more complex social living groups (e.g., cities, kingdoms, and eventually even empires) could be formed and maintained through inter-subjective imaginary ideas.
Perhaps then the question is whether the human fictive mind will be able to harness enough coordinated effort and invention to compensate for the non-natural roller-coaster ride in the twenty-first century.    

[1] Douglas Main, “Arctic Temperatures Reach Highest Levels in 44,000 Years, Study Finds,” The Huffington Post, October 24, 2013.