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The Great Climate Flip-flop
“Climate change” is popularly understood to mean greenhouse warming, which, it is predicted, will cause flooding, severe windstorms, and killer heat waves. But warming could lead, paradoxically, to drastic cooling — a catastrophe that could threaten the survival of civilization
by William H. Calvin
The online version of this article appears in two parts. Click here to go to part two.
The Atlantic Monthly Looks Ahead to the 21st Century ONE of the most shocking scientific realizations of all time has slowly been dawning on us: the earth’s climate does great flip-flops every few thousand years, and with breathtaking speed. We could go back to ice-age temperatures within a decade — and judging from recent discoveries, an abrupt cooling could be triggered by our current global-warming trend. Europe’s climate could become more like Siberia’s. Because such a cooling would occur too quickly for us to make readjustments in agricultural productivity and supply, it would be a potentially civilization-shattering affair, likely to cause an unprecedented population crash. What paleoclimate and oceanography researchers know of the mechanisms underlying such a climate flip suggests that global warming could start one in several different ways.
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