I'm worried about climate change. Not the man-made warming kind, a la Al Gore. That would be too easy. That would be something we could fix if we just got our act together. No, I'm worried about something far more ominous and way beyond human control—global cooling.
Sounds strange, doesn't it? No one is talking about the coming ice age, except a few Russian scientists and a handful of others, including my husband, Eric. Eric's an amateur scientist and he's got a thing about sunspots, or the current lack of them—he's convinced that their absence may signal an impending period of cooling.
At the moment, it's not politically correct to challenge the prevailing global warming orthodoxy. After all, Al Gore won the Nobel Prize for his efforts to warn humanity about the dire consequences of warming. But, given the extreme winter weather we've been having in many parts of the northern hemisphere, this might be a good time to consider the possibility that Al is wrong and that we really should be worrying about sunspots and cooling.
Simply put, sunspots are magnetic storms on the surface of the sun. They normally occur in cycles of approximately eleven years, during which the number of sunspots increases and then decreases before beginning to increase again, signifying the start of a new cycle. But occasionally, sunspots don't increase as expected. This happened notably during a period known as the Maunder Minimum, when from 1645 to 1715, very few sunspots were observed. Not to worry you, but this period is also known as the Little Ice Age.
Back to the present—currently, we're stuck at a sunspot minimum. The last cycle ended about a year-and-a-half ago and we're still waiting for any significant increase in sunspots. How long this minimum will last is anyone's guess, but it certainly makes me wonder whether our current extra-cold winter might be due to the lack of sunspots, since low sunspot activity historically correlates with global cooling.
Although Eric is the only one I know personally who's talking about sunspots, he does have venerable company—The Old Farmer's Almanac, which has used sunspot levels as an important part of its annual forecasts since 1792, correctly predicted a “numbing” winter for 2008-2009, with below-average temperatures for at least two-thirds of the country.
For a worrier like me, this controversy represents a win/win situation, or should I say a worry/worry situation. I'll keep worrying just a little about global warming and all those poor polar bears, but at the same time, I'm bracing for the cold and seriously worrying about my future heating bills.