Gaius Publius: How Climate Change Could Cause an Ice Age in Europe

Lambert here: NC has flagged this risk before: As global warming progresses, the melting of polar and Greenland ice will lower ocean salinity, which will slow or stop the Gulf Stream, on which Europe depends for its temperate, relatively mild climate. The Pacific Northwest, which benefits from a less pronounced gulf stream effect, is also at risk.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and contributing editor at AmericaBlog. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook. Originally published at AmericaBlog

So far, the progress of global warming and climate change has been relatively smooth, a gradual decline in livability marked by a gradual increase in increasingly catastrophic events. Yes, catastrophic events — but a gradual increase in their number and degree. Key word, gradual.

We assume, perhaps to comfort ourselves, that the (so far) slow and gradual decline in the livability of the planet will remain … slow and gradual.

But there’s no reason to assume that there won’t be sudden collapses as well, sudden discontinuities, the way a steady dribble of small chunks of ice might fall from a Greenland glacier into the sea, then suddenly a piece the size of Ohio splits and floats away, lost, never to come back. A discontinuity, a break from the gradual.

Discontinuities work in the social sphere as well, in the sphere of confidence and panic. As I’ll show you shortly, the first major (white) American city to end its life forever following a Haiyan-sized hurricane — Miami, for example — will cause a collapse in American confidence in the future that will never return. That loss of confidence and the panic that will result is a collapse as well, a discontinuity, fear the size of Ohio breaking the population from its safe assumptions and presumed security.

Here’s another discontinuity. The Gulf Stream, the warm-water current that starts in the Gulf of Mexico and terminates in the Atlantic north of Scotland, also has collapse potential. Because of the Gulf Stream, northern Europe is moderate in climate. What if the Gulf Stream collapses and stops warming Europe? (To jump to the bottom line, click here. But you’ll be missing some interesting graphics.)

What is the Gulf Stream?

What’s the Gulf Stream and where does it flow? Here’s a look at surface temperature in the western North Atlantic, from Wikipedia:

Surface temperature in the western North Atlantic. North America is black and dark blue (cold), the Gulf Stream red (warm). Source: NASA

Surface temperature in the western North Atlantic. North America is black and dark blue (cold), the Gulf Stream red (warm). Source: NASA

Study the graphic by first finding North America on the left, and the coasts of Florida and Cuba. The rest is water, of varying temperatures. Note the suggestion of a current traveling north. The Gulf Stream is, in fact, an actual plottable current, like a river within the ocean, that carries warm water from west of Florida — yes, west — through the water that divides Florida from Cuba and into the North Atlantic.

The following is also from Wikipedia; note that the Gulf Stream splits at some point and warms both Europe and West Africa.

The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates at the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The process of western intensification causes the Gulf Stream to be a northward accelerating current off the east coast of North America. At about 40°0′N 30°0′W, it splits in two, with the northern stream crossing to Northern Europe and the southern stream recirculating off West Africa. The Gulf Stream influences the climate of the east coast of North America from Florida to Newfoundland, and the west coast of Europe. Although there has been recent debate, there is consensus that the climate of Western Europe and Northern Europe is warmer than it would otherwise be due to the North Atlantic drift, one of the branches from the tail of the Gulf Stream.

Again from Wikipedia, here’s the same image as the one above, with Europe and Africa shown, as well as the Gulf Stream itself. Click to see a very large and detailed version of this image.

Evolution of the Gulf Stream to the west of Ireland continuing as the North Atlantic Current

Evolution of the Gulf Stream to the west of Ireland continuing as the
North Atlantic Current

To orient yourself, start by finding the North American coast, then locate Spain and the British Isles. Then click to study the image if you like (it opens in a new tab). Keep Scotland in mind as you watch the video below — the unnaturally warm western Scottish climate puts in a surprising early appearance in the program.

The Gulf Stream isn’t a one-way flow; it’s a loop with an underwater return

What’s not apparent from the images above, nor from the Wikipedia link, is that the Gulf Stream is a loop, not a one-way water flow.

As you’ll see in a minute, the current holds together as a “stream” because it’s both more salty (thus more dense) and more warm (thus staying on the surface) as it is driven north by the Trade Winds. When the Gulf Stream stops being more warm — because it’s now further north and has given up its heat to the air and the ocean — it’s still more salty (still more dense) than the Atlantic water around it, so the salt current sinks to the ocean floor, still as a current, and returns south as part of a giant chain of surface and submerged oceanic currents.

At some point the global underwater currents warm, rise to the surface, enter the Gulf of Mexico and repeat the cycle. You can see the Gulf Stream part of this in the following three stills from the video’s animation. The first image shows the surface Gulf Stream current (taken from about 12:00 in the video). Note the cooler water entering the Gulf from the south, being warmed, and then driven north.

Gulf Stream showing surface flow (from "The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age")

Gulf Stream showing surface flow (from “The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age”)

The second still image shows the start of the underwater return current along the floor of the Atlantic (12:45 in the video). The view is from underwater. The cooler, but still dense and saltier, light blue stream is now diving to the bottom, having given up its heat. The “cliff edges” you see in the background are the underwater portions of Norway and the British Isles:

Gulf Stream showing the start of "thermohaline"underwater return flow (from "The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age")

Gulf Stream showing the start of “thermohaline” underwater return flow
(from “The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age”)

And here’s that dense salt water, “thermohaline circulation,” returning south along the Atlantic floor. The red images near the top of the graphic are warm surface currents flowing north, toward the “camera.” The lighter blue current near the bottom of the image shows the “return flow” as it moves south and away from the camera.

Gulf Stream showing the "thermohaline"underwater return flow heading south along the Atlantic floor (from "The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age")

Gulf Stream showing the “thermohaline”underwater return flow heading south along the Atlantic floor
(from “The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age”)

There’s more about the global thermohaline circulation here, along with a nice map and a NASA-produced video (if you watch, be sure to full-screen the animation).

So what would happen, do you think, if the Gulf Stream part of the global mid-ocean circulation stopped, was interrupted? That’s what this video is about.

The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age

This video considers the Gulf Stream, what it is, how it works, what drives it, and what happens when it’s interfered with, as it appears to have been in the past. The program is well produced — a NOVA-quality production — but to my knowledge has never been broadcast in the U.S. It appears to be a co-production of a U.K. video house and a French one.

Please watch, and if you like it, watch a second time, perhaps in the evening using your Chromecast or whatever. (When the video starts, click the “gear” icon to turn off annotations and increase the resolution.)

Here’s a quick rundown of the show’s main sections to help you navigate:

(Start) A vision of frozen Europe, then after the titles, an exploration of the effects of the Gulf Stream on the climate of western Europe, starting with Brittany and Scotland. (The Scottish segment at 5:30 is striking — Australo-Asian plants? Really?)

(7:30) Information about the Gulf Stream itself, starting with its discovery by Ben Franklin. The animation in this section provided most of the still images in this piece.

(13:25) Effect of the Gulf Stream on the availability of marine life for fishing and food supplies, especially cod.

(18:20) A discussion of the science — how the Gulf Stream could be interrupted and a look at paleo-climate. Core samples show there’s evidence of just this kind of interruption in the past 20,000 years.

(26:00) The bottom-line explanation — sudden influx of much fresh water from melting glaciers dilutes the high-density saltiness of the Gulf Stream and dissipates it in the surrounding fresh water. This prevents the stream from sinking and returning as a stream. The return flow from the North Atlantic stops and the return starts much further south.

(29:30) Information about global warming itself — where we are and where we’re going.

(39:30) Report of a Pentagon paper that warns in detail about the destabilizing effects of global warming, region by region.

(48:10) We may have “another ten years” … sound familiar?

Finally, a view of the animation showing Europe with the northern part of the Gulf Stream switched off. The extent of the glaciation (down to just before the Pyrenees) is not a guess. (To orient yourself, find Spain near the bottom, then look north to find the British Isles.)

Glaciation in Europe with the northern Gulf Stream "switched off" (from "The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age")

Glaciation in Europe with the northern Gulf Stream “switched off”
(from “The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age”)

Dramatic? These cooling events have occurred before, often starting suddenly from periods of warming, lasting as little as a few decades, then reversing. The cause of sudden glaciers in Europe following periods of warming is still being discussed. But the interruption of the natural Gulf Stream flow one of the most likely candidates.

How does this relate to today?

It is believed that this dynamic, sudden glaciation of Europe, happens as a result of a global warming event that melts enough fresh-water ice in the north Atlantic to desalinate (dilute the dense salt content of) the surface part of the northern Gulf Stream. Because the surface current is no longer heavier than the surrounding ocean, it fails to sink when cooled. This causes the surface current to terminate further south than before, never reaching Europe.

The mechanism at issue is the same as the one we’re watching today — global temperature increase. We’re already at +1°C from the pre-Industrial norm, which is also the norm of the last 10,000 years. Prior to industrial times, the whole of the last 10,000 years never saw a global temperature variation outside of ±½°C. We’ve already exited the climate of the Holocene, the climate of the past 10,000 years. What awaits us?

Whatever that future is, our ability to be “civilized” in the modern sense depends on our ability to farm. Prior to studying the Gulf Stream, I had assumed that many major farming regions would be lost to heat, monsoon, flooding or drought, but that many growing regions would be preserved. The regions lost would include the California Central Valley, much of the American Midwest, the Northern Plain of China (its breadbasket), Ukraine (another breadbasket), almost all of Africa, most of India, and so on.

But I had also assumed that areas near or north of latitude 45°N (roughly Portland, Oregon, and Paris, France, etc.) were far enough north to remain or even improve as growing regions. These would include much of Canada, much of Europe, and all of Scandinavia. But glaciers in Europe, despite warming elsewhere on the planet, would make almost the entire north European continent unfarmable. Is northern Russia farmable today? I don’t think so, but research will tell us for sure.

Bottom line: The future may not be the ride we want it to be. Is it time to consider initiating a Zero Carbon regime voluntarily and interrupting most of the worst of these consequences? I still think we have a 5–10 year window.

If this stuff concerns you, tell everyone you know that Zero Carbon Now is the way out — and the only one. Education is our first task at this point, since the other side is selling us hard the wrong way. ”Carbon neutral” is just another trick for keeping David Koch in walking money. Even “lying pantsuit lady” — the Exxon spokeswoman — probably knows that. After all, she’s cashing those checks too; just smaller ones.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. JL Furtif

    The argument is nicely made, except for one point : such a disaster would occur “… as a result of a global warming event that melts enough fresh-water ice in the north Atlantic to desalinate (dilute the dense salt content of) the surface part of the northern Gulf Stream”.
    Problem is, there is nowhere enough fresh-water ice to be found for such an event.
    And before you shout ‘Greenland’, be aware that Greenland is already melting fast (>70 cubic kilometers of ice disappear each year), but that for topological reasons, it cannot melt and dump the water into the ocean. It is enough of a worry on its own (6-7m of sea-level rise, whatever we do to revert global warming), but on much longer timescales.
    I still fear that a slow devolution will turn us in. Australia was until recently a rice-exporter (60 000 tons/year IIRC), but lost it all. Both it and California are getting dryer and dryer, and suffering more burns every year.
    Live will slowly become more difficult for more and more people, as first the trailer parks will have to run without drinking water, and then even the golf courses and swimming pool of the rich will have to do without.

    1. vlade

      Australia is an interesting country in this respect. I tend to say that Oz is a great water exporter, which gets people scratching their heads and wondering what do I smoke. Only when I note that their main exports – agri and mining are super water-intensive industries (WA wheat growing is really the largest hydrophonic operation on Earth) they start to understand a bit..

    2. Vatch


      first the trailer parks will have to run without drinking water

      That’s okay. People in trailer parks have made bad choices, so they deserve what will happen. It’s the morality of cause and effect.

      then even the golf courses and swimming pool of the rich will have to do without.

      Oh, that’s not good. The rich are the Job Creators. If they’re inconvenienced, we’ll have to take effective action, so that the benefits can trickle down to the rest of us.


    3. Crazy Horse

      The Gulf Stream shutdown is a hypothetical event well worth consideration but very difficult to predict in timing and resulting impact. Because it would affect the European home of white man’s industrial civilization most severely it provides a perfect platform for sensationalism, and I’m afraid the author strays slightly in that direction.

      Perhaps we should focus more on a rarely considered result of increased atmospheric CO2 that is very measurable and predictable, already underway, and if continued will result in ocean species extinction and elimination of one of the entire human population’s primary food sources. The ocean food chain rests upon a base of phytoplankton and zooplankton which depend upon a very narrow range of ocean PH for producing their rudimentary skeletons. Should they die out the entire ocean food chain, from the smallest fish to great white sharks and humpback whales will die with them.

      “Ocean plankton provide 50% of the oxygen that we breathe. Due to Global Warming, that capacity to provide oxygen and support the fundamental food chains of the ocean has decreased by 6% over the last three decades.—Left unchecked Ocean Acidification could trigger a Great Mass Extinction Event. Growing evidence suggests that four of the five Great Mass Extinctions have been associated with rapidly acidifying oceans – due to spikes in the concentration of atmospheric CO”

    4. washunate

      “…first the trailer parks will have to run without drinking water, and then even the golf courses and swimming pool of the rich will have to do without.”

      FYI, I know what you mean by this quip, but it gets at a common misconception in talking about water in particular. What we think of as water intensive activities – like golf courses and swimming pools – are not the main story.

      Rather, the main issues with water are agricultural usage, industrial usage, and pollution.

  2. vlade

    While glaciation in Europe is definitely one of the possible impacts, I very much doubt it would be as extensive as the last picture shows (pretty much all the way to Pyrenees etc.)

    UK, Scandinavia, northern Germany, Poland and parts of Benelux/France would suffer, as well as northern Italy from Alpine glaciation. But the more east you move, the less impact it would have, the more continental weather there is, with less and less impact from the Stream (which can be seen by the wide temperature variations unlike UK for example). Say Prague which in the picture is very white would like stay outside the glaciation, as it did over the last few glaciation maximums in Europe.

    It would still be a massive problem (in the last glaciations forest were pretty much only in south Europe, rest of Europe was steppes and pretty arid), the whole area would be closer to Siberian tundra/taiga than anything else, but still not glaciers. In fact, the real problem would be, paradoxically, the aridity of the region, not the cold.

  3. Ed

    Use of carbon was the main ingredient behind the Green Revolution, and the increase in global population fro 2.5 billion to 7 billion in just a few decades. Zero carbon condems most fo the world’s popuation to starvation. For this and other reasons, I don’t think climate change will ever be seriously addressed. The decision makers would rather roll the dice and hope that the science is wrong, than to take measures that will certainly destroy the global food supply.

    1. Vatch

      This is exactly the reason why the promotion of effective family planning should be one of the top priorities of every government on the planet. Population stabilization by itself won’t solve the problem, but when the s**t hits the fan, there will be far less suffering.

        1. Vatch

          It’s true that better educated women are less likely to have large numbers of children, but it seems that this would be a very expensive way to promote family planning. Bangladesh is a very poor country in which few people of either gender have access to higher education, yet they have made very good progress in recent years. Their population is still unsustainably high and growing, but their total fertility rate has dropped to 2.3 from around 6 in the 1970s. See:

          Clearly they have work to do, but they’re on the right track.

    2. Oregoncharles

      Actually, organic methods reach the same overall yields while sequestering carbon in the soil, where it adds to fertility. Nobody says it’s easy, and it’s nowhere near as profitable for Dupont and Cargill, but it does work.

      The Green Revolution was always primarily a way to sell fertilizer and pesticides, and to make 3rd-world farmers as dependent on global markets as 1st-world farmers. One result is a huge wave of farmer suicides in India. Why would that be, if it’s such a great way to grow food?

          1. Vatch

            I think it is caused by debt, and much of the debt is worsened by GMOs. The farmers can’t save a portion of their harvest to plant next year’s crop.

      1. Crazy Horse

        Right you are Oregon. The Green Revolution has always been a Monsanto Revolution, the purpose being to create monopoly markets for chemicals and patented crop varieties. Labor intensive small scale organic farming not only equals but exceeds the productivity per acre of chemical/industrial farming. And bio-aquaponic indoor food cultivation produces 5x the vegetables pus fish protein from the same acreage.

  4. Lyle

    The illustration shows ice worse than happened in Europe during the recent ice ages: A link to a picture of that:, Note from the picture its the UK, Scandinavia, north Germany, Poland east as well as mountain glaciers in the alps and other mountain chains. The illustration shows France as ice free as well as a stretch of central Germany. The illustration on this post claims more ice than during all the Pleistocene glaciations, which casts the whole article into doubt. While the limits of the last glaciation would be bad enough the article claims something closer to the Cryogenian period of 750 million years ago or slushball earth, when the earth came close at least to freezing over.

    1. vlade

      Absolutely. That’s something I really really dislike.
      Overdoing it (even with good intent) is often worse than not, as it gives the opponent chance to shoot down the whole edifice which still can have important and good bits.

      Even glaciation not even as bad the last maximum would cause massive problems in Europe as I mention elsewhere. Why then overegg the whole thing? Of course Europe turning into arid cold desert is less sexy then being covered in ice…

    2. Gaius Publius

      Thanks, Lyle, but the last glaciation wasn’t necessarily the one of greatest extent. There are glacial boulders in Spain as well. I meant what I wrote about the glacial extent, and the video is not that poorly researched. For a taste of what that means (my emphasis):

      Earlier peak for Spain’s glaciers

      Summary: Over much of the planet, glaciers were at their greatest extent roughly 20,000 years ago. But according to geologists, that wasn’t true in at least one part of southern Europe. Due to local effects of temperature and precipitation, the local glacial maximum occurred considerably earlier, around 26,000 years ago.

      The last glacial maximum was a time when Earth’s far northern and far southern latitudes were largely covered in ice sheets and sea levels were low. Over much of the planet, glaciers were at their greatest extent roughly 20,000 years ago. But according to a study headed by University of Pennsylvania geologist Jane Willenbring, that wasn’t true in at least one part of southern Europe. Due to local effects of temperature and precipitation, the local glacial maximum occurred considerably earlier, around 26,000 years ago.

      The finding sheds new light on how regional climate has varied over time, providing information that could lead to more-accurate global climate models, which predict what changes Earth will experience in the future.

      Willenbring, an assistant professor in Penn’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the School of Arts and Sciences, teamed with researchers from Spain, the United Kingdom, China and the United States to pursue this study of the ancient glaciers of southern Europe.

      “We wanted to unravel why and when glaciers grow and shrink,” Willenbring said.

      In the study site in central Spain, it is relatively straightforward to discern the size of ancient glaciers, because the ice carried and dropped boulders at the margin. Thus a ring of boulders marks the edge of the old glacier. … [etc.]

      I appreciate the fact-check and agree that these things are important to get right. But glacial extent is easily found, and there have been many glacial (and inter-glacial) periods.


      1. vlade

        Inner Plateau in Spain is about 600-700m above mean sea level, so glaciation there is something entirely different fom glaciation in sea-level France – say Normandy (which wasn’t there…). Even then, most of Spain wasn’t glaciated over – it was more akin to Alp glaciations, not a glacier extending all the way from northern Sweeden to Spain.
        During none of the European glaciations of the last 150k years was the extent of the “nordic” glaciers much beyond south poland/mid germany.
        A good resource is

        Again, that’s not to say that the Europe was a nice place to live at the time. Cool, yes, but not nice.

        1. MarcoPolo

          That inner plateau is glacial till left from the alpine glaciers that came from the mountains in the north at elevations of 2500 meters.

  5. jfleni

    RE: Climate Change Could Cause an Ice Age

    Boston & New York like Labrador, Dogpatch-DC nearly as bad, a two or three month navigation season in the Great Lakes versus seven or eight now (not to mention the dreadful effects on Europe): Possible even if less severe than the most dire forecast.

    Who would be to blame? Poison-dwarf-bros and their oil? Moron politicians? Buffet and his oil trains? Canuck PM Harper? Actually none of them or their billions would survive but that would be no consolation to the rest of us.

    If we ignore competent scientific conclusions now we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

    1. different clue

      Which “we”? Us “we”? Or the people who rule us “we”? This could be just exactly what the global overclass is hoping on and counting on. A global warming ice age which will exterminate us while leaving them alive. After long enough they will come out of hiding and be the New Adams and Eves on their New Earth . . . all to themselves. With none of us left to spoil their beautiful picture. Why exactly did Bill Gates and other oligarchs support founding the Doomsday Seed Vault at Svaalbard Island? And who for . . really?
      Not that it will work out as planned. But is there any reason to think this is not the overclass plan all along?

  6. Eeyores enigma

    The constant extreme low temperatures and high volume of precipitation during those lows required to “ice” over europe or form glaciers is simply not possible unless the planet shifts and europe becomes the north pole and even then with AGW even the poles are not forming more glaciers. We could have a massive volcano go off and have a brief “Ice Age” but thats the only possibility.

    Gulf stream and jet stream are well understood and modeled and yes the climate will change in europe, the PNW and everywhere and it could get very cold for a while here and there but the overall trend is warmer.

    This is a hack job post that only serves to muddle the issue making people question is it AGW or is it Ice Age? Oh NO!! I guess we just can’t know so I will just not decide. BULL$h1t.

    1. GusFarmer

      Unfortunately, the narrator did over-dramatize it. The key details are serious enough without his exaggeration; those came when Stefan Rahmstorf talked about, and, more crucially, showed the maps of his study (Actual paper and his maps in movie form available here.) The first several centuries will warm immensely b/c of the CO2 we’ve already pumped into the system. Only late in this millennium does the cooling effect from Gulf Stream shutdown actually start taking over. By then, civilization will be toast, and the farmability of places like the UK and Scandinavia won’t mean much unless a large number of people have concentrated along the Arctic shores (which might become one of the few habitable places if the more severe AGW projections are accurate). I’d guess that by 3000 (the end of his study), global population will be vastly smaller, with some of the survivors being neo-Bedouin nomads while most live along the coasts wondering about the sanity of the ancient people who built giant crumbling towers in the ocean.

  7. Tenney Naumer

    It would be nice if NC would refrain from posting such non-scientific drivel.

    The current situation bears almost no resemblance to ancient times when the Thermohaline Circulation (THC) in the northern Atlantic shut down.

    We are not going to have any Heinrich or Younger Dryas events.

    Our current situation is driven by CO2 (and its equivalents) in the atmosphere, not orbital changes.

    In case you have not noticed, permafrost all over Siberia is thawing, which decomposition is releasing methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than CO2. (You can view the continued extremely anomalous heat on top of it, right now, at: ; and you can run the model — chose “Northern Hem.,” then “Temperature Anomalies,” here: — be sure to pour yourself a stiff drink first.)

    The combination of our increasing emissions of CO2 and this new methane source will raise temperatures such that no shut down of the THC is going to bring a new ice age to Europe.

    This is not to say that there will be no non-linear fluctuations in average surface temperatures over Europe.

    We can certainly expect “weather” to become even more unpredictable and capricious.

    More “real” information on the THC can be found on a “real” scientist’s website (that of Stefan Rahmstorf, one of the top climate researchers in the world):

    1. Oregoncharles

      I have no idea how it balances out, nor does anyone else, but I think you miss the point somewhat: this is pointing to a counter-intuitive RESULT of the global cooking you describe. Even if it doesn’t produce as much ice as shown because overall temperatures are warmer, it would drastically destabilize the climate in western Europe. Remember, Madrid is roughly as far north as NYC. Europe corresponds to Canada, not the US. And thawed or frozen, Canada is mostly tundra and taiga.

      1. Tenney Naumer

        If you are surprised to see counter intuitive results from climate change research, then you have not been paying attention.

        In fact, with just a little elucidation, a colder Europe resulting from THC slowdown is hardly counter intuitive.

        Weather is already going haywire over most of the Northern Hemisphere. We can expect to see little else in our lifetimes.

  8. Cal

    Bad disaster scenario. Most of “white” Miami can emigrate somewhere else. The majority of the rest of them have nowhere else to go :-).

    1. Cal

      That is, pick a major city with more native Floridians. Or, is the reference to the financial mass speculation that has built Miami starting with the Flaglers and the Seaboard Coast Line?

  9. Goupil

    You forgot the Coriolis force. Western Europe might be very wet but the gulf stream wont stop, it may slow however.

  10. Oregoncharles

    A minor correction:
    Last time I looked, 45 degrees N. (about 20 miles from here) corresponds to Madrid, not Paris – which tells you a lot about how far north Europe sits and the impact of the Gulf Stream.

    It’s doubtless in the video, but the changeover would be shockingly quick – just a few years before the ice started to accumulate. The real point is that Europe would become largely uninhabitable, certainly for modern civilization. The wave of refugees would be vast.
    N. America has been glaciated, too; I wonder how much impact there would be in, say, New York?

    1. Robert Dudek

      Excuse me, but much of Canada is habitable, and aside from mountains you have to go very far north to find permanent glaciers. E.g. Whitehore has pleasant summers.

  11. dutch

    I have previously complained here (in vain) about discussions of climate science (sic) on what is ostensibly an economics blog. But now I see that my objections were ill considered. Climate science and economics have a lot more in common than I originally thought: both employ plausible assumptions used as a launching pad for endless speculation.

    1. Vatch

      Yes, this blog focuses on finance and economics. But the economy is heavily influenced by the climate. I think it makes good sense to occasionally investigate something that has such a great effect on economic events.

    2. LY

      Because this blog is also political, and considers the political and economic implications of science.

      Though, I’m wondering “science” websites you’re looking that don’t take global warming seriously…

    1. Tenney Naumer

      Berto, do you not get that we will have no paradise where weather is unpredictable and extreme? There will be no way for farmers to cope with the rapid changes. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor and this means, as we have already seen, incredible deluges that wash away the soil and crops and destroy infrastructure like bridges and roads and even ports. How much money do you think there is to go around to rebuild resilient infrastructure? We are not even that far away from temperatures during the summer where in the southwest it is too hot for airplanes to take off because they can’t get enough lift.

  12. Andrea

    This ‘new’ ice-age for Europe argument is ancient fare:

    E.g. *A new European Ice Age?* Natural Science, Nov. 1997.

    The arguments seem to be pretty much the same as in the post?

    Now that does not mean the prediction is to be summarily dismissed, or not based on serious analysis (etc. etc. what do I know) but so far supporting facts and other take ups of this conjecture are afaik VERY slim on the ground.

    1. washunate

      Great comment.

      Our long, slow train-wreck of mismanagement has been going on for so long now that it’s like having the same conversation from decades ago.

      A child can look at a map and note that London is approximately the same distance north as Calgary. The issue isn’t our general knowledge base or the particular risks posed by GHG emissions; it is our ability to replace the looters with good management.

  13. impermanence

    I am not sure than anything [more clearly] demonstrates the poverty of the human intellect than does prognostication.

  14. Luke The Debtor

    It wasn’t but a few days ago that this site published a post which criticized Paul Krugman’s reliance on “models”. Clearly, climate change models have a great deal of uncertainty. I hear that the oceans will rise, there will be a “European” ice age, massive droughts, increase equatorial glaciation, etc. Many of these predictions seem to be in conflict with one another.

    I wonder, if in this case, it is best to ignore the models and just pay attention to the data.

    1. different clue

      Or see which models have shown predictive power and which haven’t. Every model should itself be viewed as a prediction experiment. Perhaps such models could be run on datasets from 40 years ago to 20 years ago . . . and then see if they correctly “predict” events 20 years after 20 years ago.

      At the crudest most basic level the AGW theory seems to have several of its before-the-fact predictions come out as predicted. It was predicted that Arctic/Subarctic would warm faster than the midlatitudes and it has. It was predicted ice would start melting back all over the nonHigh Latitudes. It was predicted that Life Zones would start creeping poleward and/or upward in elevation.
      If it can be actually proven by a literature search that climate scientists predicted jet stream wandering and wilder weather extremes beFORE those things started happening, then those are good predictions too, supporting the usefulness of the basic theory.

      1. Tenney Naumer

        Indeed they did predict that the jet stream would move north long before it happened.

        They also predicted that precipitation events could become more extremed, that areas of drought could become even hotter and drier, and that storms could become more intense (and Sandy is a fine example).

  15. The Dork of Cork

    I slept on too many Scottish bogs for far too long.
    Scotland is f$%king cold and has always been cold with that bloody damp getting into your bones and joints.

    “ever wonder what hell looks like – come here in December
    “Its almost worth it”

    Zero Carbon Now ?
    What utter Bollox.

    You should try to cut peat all day mate.
    It may help to free your mind from its urban cage.

    1. Crazy Horse

      Dork,I agree. You have slept in too many Scottish bogs and it has mildewed your capacity for logical thought . How does the dampness on the particular bog where you chopped peat have anything to do with climate change, the effects of atmospheric CO2, or the form of inquiry called science vs quasi-religious belief systems and self-delusion?

      1. allcoppedout

        You have to cut the peat to make the fire for the still that makes the Malt. The world burns but Dork goes out in bliss, cooled by the mists rising from the bog and blaming the EU. Or so he dreams. After the ‘yes vote’ we Scots intend a more severe border and passport control. The EU will throw us out on independence and the Irish cease the right to usurp the domicile of our bogs. Once again, the EU thwarts Dork. Or so it seems. For I know a secret way in and would subject the banking troops of Euroland to a Gaelic rush myself.

      2. The Dork of Cork

        @Crazy Horse
        3 months at a time spent in the hills grounds your thoughts somehow.
        Have you any idea what zero carbon means boy ?

        You will wipe out billions of people to prevent a possible future that may never come.
        Even if you wipe out these people a ice age may come regardless.

        A viable future is the simple turf fire and the release of carbon.

        Look up the history of Gaelic islands be it the Irish Blaskets or Scottish Mingulay near Barra.
        Their extreme tides and lack of a pier kept them away from the Tudor monetary vice for many hundreds of years.
        It was a hard life but at least they farmed their own animals and were not farmed by landlords who claim that they own all carbon based lifeforms.

  16. Bangere

    Not so sure about that scenario–it has some merit but the situation is to complex to predict. The point is we ought to work towards zero emissions but without a major cultural change it simply is a pipe-dream. It’s not going to happen unless we see really major disasters where millions die. We will have to ride this out in the next few decades.

  17. different clue

    The global overclass does not consider global warming to be a problem. They consider us to be their problem. They consider global warming one of several solutions to their “us” problem.
    But meanwhile, if some of “us” wish to discuss solutions to the carbon skydumping problem, we might start looking at ways to increase and restore the ability of plant/soil systems over millions of square miles to suck down and sequester more carbon than they currently do.
    I have skim-read a provocative book called Cows Save The Planet. It is disussing the work of different people and groups at re-greening forcibly-desertified land to the point of restoring that re-greened land’s ability to re-suckdown skycarbon and re-sequester it into plant/root/soil carbon.
    One may well think of range as a natural tree-free permaculture and pasture as an artificial tree-free permaculture with livestock properly deployed as a skycarbon-suckdown root-soil sequestration management tool. Then too, permaculture as Mollison understands it may itself perform skycarbon suckdown. Then three, various commercial farmers are claiming carbon buildup in/under their landsurface. Their work and claims are detailed in Acres USA. Surely it can be measured.
    If soil restoration/ regreening articial deserts etc. can downsuck the skycarbon as claimed,
    then it should be encouraged in the teeth of overclass efforts to prevent it. If land based carbon resuckdown can be increased above carbon skydumping, then the skyload can be re-lowered to whatever ppm level we wish to end up at and then it would be easy to stay at NET Carbon Zero, which could be achieved with enough plantland-driven carbon resuckdown. Simply saying Gross Zero Carbon Skydumping is irreal. The carbon cycle IS a cycle and skydumping will proceed until society settles on low-carbon sources of modern process energy. But we can begin raising plantmade skycarbon suckdown NOW.

  18. allcoppedout

    As Andrea says, this is an old story. And now I will never be able to cuddle a bit of Scottish bog again without wondering it Dork has been there and proclaimed it ‘forever Ireland’.

    The stupid exploitation of this planet by you humans, and believe me you are so stupid I can tell you this, is not as stupid as it seems. You see, it’s our plan. We like things hot, preferably with a fair touch of nuclear fallout. We had a good relationship with the dinosaurs. Then there was that cock-up with the asteroid we were importing and we had to hide in the sea. Those dolphins certainly knew how to party on puffer fish extract. When we came out again, you guys were about. It’s amazing how much terraforming we get you to do with a bit of dope, mobile phone gadgets and divide and rule. We’ve had to give you a lot of technology to achieve our ends. A more intelligent species might turn this on us, but let’s face it, human intelligence is an inter-galactic pejorative. We have a triple on with the Andromedans that we can get away with another world war you blame on the Germans. It will all start in Iran. We tested the ground with the British-Soviet invasion in the Forties. USUK will do our bidding this time. Amazing how easy it is to bribe you bribe you guys with oil considering you don’t drink the stuff. Anyone any ideas on how we can get you to blame the Germans again and win our bet? We’ll award cages in our survival dome to the three best answers. You humans sell each other out faster than a crack-head in cold turkey. Just blog your answers to someone else. NSA-GCHQ pass it all on to us. Don’t worry your pretty little heads on global warming. The thermonuclear holocaust you create to reduce ‘carbon footprints’ will get you first.
    Joe Alien

  19. Podargus

    The chance of an imminent ice age in Europe would be rather remote given the warming which is already built in thanks to the stupidity of Homo Saps.
    The one essential fact is this – we don’t know exactly what is going to happen as a result of burning fossil fuels for 200 years with no respite in sight.But we sure as hell know that the result will not be favourable for 7+billion of said Homo Saps.This is not going to be change for the better.
    Get used to it brothers and sisters – you aint got no choice.

  20. The Dork of Cork

    Just to be clear I posted the Mingulay kayak video to convey the impression of real scale for urban machine people who lack real context in their lives.
    Modern machines prevent yee guys from understanding the size of this planet , never mind the solar system !!!

    You look up at huge cliffs but Mingulay is a tiny island with a max sustainable carrying capacity of 100 ~ people.
    These historical island villages have much to tell us about sustainable trade between other island systems however large or small.
    Technological carbon reduction drives require a increase in the scale of global operations – but remember folks , the globe is a sphere.

  21. washunate

    “Whatever that future is, our ability to be “civilized” in the modern sense depends on our ability to farm. Prior to studying the Gulf Stream, I had assumed that many major farming regions would be lost to heat, monsoon, flooding or drought, but that many growing regions would be preserved. The regions lost would include the California Central Valley, much of the American Midwest, the Northern Plain of China (its breadbasket), Ukraine (another breadbasket), almost all of Africa, most of India, and so on.”

    I think this paragraph is worth following up on in some detail. The sensationalism remarked upon elsewhere in the comments really stands out here.

    First, what is the deal with quoting civilized and using modern three words later? Human civilization has been dependent upon farming since long before GHG emissions became an issue.

    Second, why would one assume that many farming regions would be lost? Wouldn’t it be best to explore the issue rather than make assumptions?

    Third, that is a massive claim to make that half a dozen major farming areas would be lost. Yet, there is no discussion of this, no evidence, no logic, no risk assessment of various possibilities, merely a passing comment that just reduced the human population from billions to millions. Let’s take the two US cases to focus a bit:

    In California’s Central Valley, there is no meaningful native agricultural industry (think about that for a second if this sounds surprising). It is not a major farming region due to the local environment. Rather, it is a major farming region because massive amounts of water (and energy and transportation and all the other parts of civilization) are imported into the area. This is such a fundamental premise that to not even mention it suggests that the author isn’t actually familiar with the issues described. California’s Central Valley will be a major farming region for as long our system of political economy decides to provide the necessary inputs.

    The American Midwest, meanwhile, is a huge geographic area that is notable perhaps for having no single defining characteristic. It is not one farming region, but many. In the west (the Great Plains), rain water is supplemented by imported water like in the Central Valley. But unlike the Central Valley, water doesn’t come from the north – it comes from underground, a resource extraction that will run out just like any other deposit, from oil to gold, regardless of GHG emissions. I really recommend a little time on the google with the word aquifer. Ogallala is a word that most people west of DC and east of LA have heard of (see, that’s making assumptions; I have no idea if that’s true…).

    But that’s not all. There is also a lot of farming in the Midwest that occurs near renewable water sources, in particular irrigation from rivers and direct rainfall. The main threats to much of this farming, again, isn’t GHG emissions per se. Rather, it is more localized pollution, the monoculture promulgated by IP law and fossil fuel subsidies, and habitat destruction. We are literally paving productive farmland for pointless shopping malls and using Big Government to drive small farmers out of business.

    We should certainly be aware of the possibility of nonlinear shocks to our ability to feed ourselves. But the likely issues are not a catastrophic collapse of North American food production. Rather, they are the issues of inequality we are dealing with right now caused by massive mismanagement, malinvestment, waste, fraud, and so on.

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