For Terry Hughes of Fort Pierre, now a professor emeritus of earth sciences and climate change at the University of Maine, the way to answer the question of whether human activity is driving climate change isn’t with a “yes” or “no.”
He prefers to answer: “It doesn’t matter.”
It doesn’t matter, Hughes said, because global warming is good – far preferable than global cooling.
A glaciologist’s view
As a glaciologist, or one who studies glaciers, Hughes didn’t need to be convinced that climate change is real.
“I never doubted it for an instant. The Earth has not always been like this,” Hughes said.
Hughes even agrees that human activity probably have something to do with it.
“It may have given it a nudge,” Hughes said. “But there are so many natural events that swamp that out, for example, the eruption of Vesuvius, or Krakatoa. The industrial revolution was more gradual, over decades.”
As recently as the 1970s, Hughes recalls, his colleagues feared for another ice age.
Hughes says a number of his colleagues at places such as NASA and the University of Maine “have urged me to march in lockstep with Albert Gore, the drum major in the parade denouncing global warming as an unmitigated disaster.”
But Hughes – who returned a few years ago to live in Fort Pierre now that he has retired – has demurred
“It’s human nature for them to pound the panic drum,” said Hughes, but added he isn’t convinced global warming won’t be as bad as feared.
“In fact, it’s going to be a big plus, in the balance.”
Eight reasons why
Here’s why Hughes thinks that way.
Assuming that global warming is caused by CO2 – which has greatly increased in the past 18 years with no corresponding global warming, Hughes contends – more atmospheric CO2 would greatly increase agricultural production.
Global warming would thaw permafrost, opening lands in the arctic and subarctic to a boom in economic development in Alaska, Canada and Russia. For example, Hughes said, 18 to 24 hours of summer sunshine would deliver two agricultural harvests per year.
Thawing permafrost would increase by one-seventh Earth’s landmass open to extensive human habitation. That would be a new frontier in the same way the New World was, and on a similar scale. At the same time, the portion of Earth open to two annual harvests would increase by two-sevenths, Hughes calculates.
Melting sea ice would open the Northwest Passage and the Northeast Passage to year-round shipping. The cost and time to travel between the West and the Orient would be cut in half. New cities and seaports would spring up to service the sea traffic.
Melting sea ice and the rising sea level, if the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt, would open new fishing grounds that could join in the boom in ag production to feed the planet.
If the sea level did rise, there would be a global economic boom. Jobs would be needed worldwide to relocate coastal cities and re-design port facilities. Examples might be floating port facilities like those along the Amazon.
Science, technology and engineering would undergo a massive revolution as humans worked to meet the new challenges.
Changes in climate and sea level would encourage more cooperation between countries to handle the redistribution of population, manufacturing and commerce.
Hughes, in an as-yet-unpublished academic paper, argues that the other frightening alternative to global warming is global cooling.
“We know that endgame: A sheet of ice thousands of feet thick from south of the Great Lakes across the North Pole almost to the Mediterranean Sea, the situation only 18,000 years ago,” Hughes wrote. “Why is that scenario never stated? Would reductions in atmospheric carbon dioxide trigger that calamity?”