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We need a little global warming

Climate has been changing for the last 
four billion years. Long-term weather 
forecasts are anyone’s guess

On Sunday, January 5, I went out mid-morning to get a shot of fresh air — and it was fresh. The mercury thermometer on the garage stops at 40 below, which we all understand. The mercury was nearly curled up in the bottom: -37 C. Much of Canada and the northern U.S. has experienced a few good old 1950s style winters lately. The No. 1 news item is the extreme and unusual cold. To a 73-year-old it is not that unusual.

So, it seemed to be the right time for me to take another crack at global warming. Let it be known I have my farm hat on — I have no academic expertise in climate science.

The long-term view

My Christmas holiday reading this year included a book entitled Climate Through the Ages by C.E.P. Brooks, a prominent British meteorologist.

Brooks wrote about the several glacial and inter-glacial periods and the many possible reasons why they occurred. Of carbon dioxide, he had this to say: “Carbon dioxide can never have been an important factor in climatic variations.”

Brooks tabulated numbers of “great storms, floods, heavy rain or wet summers” in Europe for successive 50 year time periods. From AD 1000 to 1500 there were as many as 28 such events in a 50-year period.

Brooks’ book was published in London in 1926. It was book No. 27,923 acquired by the University of Saskatchewan library. We still need libraries. I make great use of internet access to information, but stumbled on this book while looking for similar titles.

It appears that global warming actually ended about the turn of the century. The Global Warmers are making excuses and telling us it is a pause in an uphill trend. One thing that puzzles me: What thermometers do they average to come up with a “global” average temperature? I have asked several and have yet to receive an answer.

But, much of the research agenda is still driven by “mitigating” global warming. Most research proposals stand a much better chance of funding if they include the magic words.

One thing we can all agree on — droughts will return. Tree ring counters warn us that past droughts have made the 1930s look like a cakewalk. We also have a lot of research on “mitigating” drought. The only serious way I know to mitigate drought is to irrigate.

If we in Saskatchewan are worried about future droughts — and we should be —then irrigation projects from Lake Diefenbaker should be built NOW. A wet cycle is when irrigation should be built so it is available for the drought when it comes.

The one that really makes me angry is the business of tying a bag on both ends of a cow to see how much gas they expel. What in the name of common sense do they think the millions of buffalo did?

From the Manitoba Co-operator website: Global warming turned anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas into a promoter

The data

It is a well-established fact that any global warming that has taken place on the Canadian Prairies happened only in the months of January to March. July, if anything has been cooler. We grow crops in the summer. In fact we have cool July to credit for at least part of bumper canola crops in recent years. The graphs of Swift Current data from 1886 to 2007 were presented in this column in February 2010. They clearly show January to March as the months that drive the annual average higher or lower over time. So, when a yearly average is computed it is skewed by the much bigger range of winter temperatures.

Historical Saskatchewan weather charts

Click image for full view

I recently stumbled on a 1964 report of the then Water Studies Institute at the University of Saskatchewan. They analyzed historical temperature data from four Saskatchewan stations. They also reported that the spread between high and low for January (about 5 C) was much more than the spread between high and low in July (about 1 C). The data from the four stations is shown in Figure 1.

From the time the sod was broken to the Second World War there was a general increase in temperatures, followed by a sharp decrease in the cold and wet 1950s. As late as 1977 the annual meeting of the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists had the theme “Dealing with a Colder Climate.”

The Swift Current 10-year moving average for mean annual temperature (Figure 2) shows where we are at now. It shows the sharp temperature increase through 70s and 80s and more or less flat since mid 90s.

So, why is the world in such a flap? Climate has been changing for 4 billion years. To Mother Nature 100 years is but a flick of the eyelash. I think mankind flatters ourselves greatly when we think we have much influence.

The increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is much more consistent and seems to carry on. Guess what our major plant nutrient is? Carbon. And we access it as CO2 from the atmosphere. How much of our huge 2013 crop is credited to the increased CO2 in the atmosphere?

Forecasts: Kudos to Environment Canada

Let us end on an upbeat note. As recently as 10 years ago weather forecasts were not taken too seriously. But, I am sure many readers have noticed the improvement in recent years. Farmers now plan the next few days based on the forecast — particularly temperature. Rain/snow is harder but the forecast of general pattern of precipitation is very much improved.

This COLD winter the temperature forecasts have been very close as much as five days out. But, please do not try to tell me that long-term predictions are anything more than a crap shoot.

Editor’s note: While of course Les Henry is correct, we still need libraries, the full text of C.E.P. Brooks’ book “Climate Through the Ages” can be read online at home for free at www.archive.org. At that site, search for “Climate Throuch the ages” — (yes, search with “through” misspelled to find it quickly.)

About the author

Columnist

Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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