In a previous post I reflected on the Cumbria Floods and went on to talk a little about Global warming and to look a little at some of the issues around the possible interactions between a human influenced global warming trend and the Solar Cycle. As I pointed out in that post there are those who argue that the Solar Cycle is a much more significant driver of climate than any man made contribution from Global warming gases.
I had pointed out that that I had been reading that the solar cycle is aparently currently approaching a minimum but I didnt in that article give any reference to the data on that. Partly for my own reference and in case anyone else is interested I have a found what looks like a reliable reference site for the Solar Cycle . The graphs presented there show the predictions for the coming phase of the Solar 24 Cycle.
Interestingly they are predicting that the next Solar maximum will be sometime in 2013 but also that it will be "below average in intensity". Now if my understanding is correct then this provides an interesting scenario. If the effects of human activity on climate have been suppressed recently due to the Solar minimum then we should see a warming trend kick in clearly as the Solar maximum is reached. if the Solar cycle is the key factor in any warming trend then warming is also likely but we should not expect this to be very significant if the expected Solar maximum is indeed "below average intensity".
In other words in both scenarios some warming greater than recently seen should be expected. The stronger the warming signal between now and say 2014/15 ( allowing that some delay in solar maxima effects may occur) then the stronger the signal that human influenced Global Warming is at play.
So of course we do nothing in the meantime and just wait and see then eh?
If only it were that simple. If we delay taking action to change our dependancy on fossil fuels for five years this means that either a) we may not then have the time to stop any warming trend that had become fully established and/or b) the time to take effective action has by then become so reduced that taking action would have a massive impact on our economies because they had less time to adjust.
If it turns out that we take action now and the human influence on climate change proves to be less than we currently think then what are the consequences? Well the earlier we make changes the less radically people will feel those changes because they will occur over a longer period of time. Jobs in "old" technology industries will have time to be adapted to "new" technologies in renewables. We will have extra time to make changes to our infrastructure eg possibly moving to electric forms of transport and the infrastucture to support this. We will also have massively reduced our dependancy on fossil fuels many of which come from those parts of the world which are highly volatile or even unfriendly.
Of course other data continues to come in and waiting to see the influence of the solar cycle is not the only game in town. There is for example regular monitoring of Arctic Sea Ice ( also here) and Antarctic Sea Ice. ( Select Monthly>Antarctic >concentration trends for the best illustration of trends.)
The Sea Ice information is interesting because it shows a very marked downward trend in Arctic Ice ( most Arctic ice is Sea ice) and a relatively flat to slightly positive trend in Antarctic Ice cover. ( It is worth recalling that changes in Sea Ice have no impact on sea level - changes in ice cover over Greenland and faster Glacier loss to the sea will impact sea level. Check out this study of glacial changes for example. )
There will be costs but also benefits if we act firmly and act soon. If we do nothing and wait then the potential downside is enormous. It's a gamble either way of course but in strategic decision making terms this is really a no-brainer. Hopefully the US and China are beginning to recognise this.