Green Sahara, Environmental and Climate News

Eric Kiehn (Alaska's Northwest Incident Management Team 10)/Alaska Division of Forestry's photo: airplane dropping water on the Clear Fire. (Anderson, Alaska) (July 6, 2022) via AP/Chicago Sun-Times

Glancing at my news feed this month, I’ve noticed that Europe is burning, California is ablaze, and Alaska has caught fire. All because of climate change.

Blazing California suburbs have been routine summer news for decades.

European and Alaskan wildfires, not so much. I’ll grant that this has been an unusually fire-prone year.

Scott Adams' 'Dilbert.' Dogbert's Good News Show. (April 30, 1993) used w/o permissionOn the other hand, I won’t “trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries” over the doom and gloom presumably facing us all.

Trying to pretend that Earth’s climate doesn’t change — or shouldn’t, at any rate — doesn’t make any more sense than jumping on the gloom wagon. Not to me.

Neither does believing that we’re in the secular equivalent of End Times.


We’re Not Doomed?!

BBC News illustration for Climate Doomism article (May 23, 2022)

Why is climate ‘doomism’ going viral — and who’s fighting it?
Marco Silva, BBC climate disinformation specialist, BBC News (May 23, 2022)

“Climate ‘doomers’ believe the world has already lost the battle against global warming. That’s wrong – and while that view is spreading online, there are others who are fighting the viral tide.

“…Climate doomism is the idea that we are past the point of being able to do anything at all about global warming – and that mankind is highly likely to become extinct.

“That’s wrong, scientists say, but the argument is picking up steam online….

“…Climate scientist Dr Friederike Otto, who has been working with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says: ‘I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend that climate change will lead to humanity’s extinction.’…”

Marco Silva’s piece was in BBC News, blogs, BBC Trending two months back now.

When I read it, I’d hoped that maybe I’d start seeing fewer headlines like these:

Maybe BBC News has been toning down its ‘climate change doom’ rhetoric. But I’m still seeing headlines like these.

It’s not all bad news, though. Marco Silva didn’t get fired, although I’m not sure whether going from climate disinformation specialist to Climate Disinformation reporter is a move up, or down, or a lateral promotion.

And BBC News apparently still checks facts before publishing. For me, that’s very good news indeed. I’ve become accustomed to shoveling through attitude on my way to the occasional nugget of fact.

On the other hand, I’ve long since had my fill of warnings against conspiracies: both old-school communist conspiracies and today’s big oil/tobacco/burger/whatever conspiracies.

It’s a Plot?

Industrial pollution. Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.

The audacious PR plot that seeded doubt about climate change
Jane McMullen, BBC News (July 23, 2022)

Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting — between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius — forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.

“…Big Oil v the World

“Drawing on thousands of newly discovered documents, this three-part film charts how the oil industry mounted a campaign to sow doubt about the science of climate change, the consequences of which we are living through today….

“…Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)….”

I don’t doubt that E. Bruce Harrison earned a reputation in the environmental PR field, that he gave a sales pitch to assorted business leaders in 1992, and that as a result the Global Climate Coalition paid him to present their view of climate change.

Despite their name, the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) doesn’t, to my knowledge, consistently and ardently support Climate Clock, Earth Liberation Front, Extinction Rebellion or Greenpeace.

GCC represents oil, coal, auto, utilities, steel, and rail industries. For at least some, I suspect that puts them on a par with Hoggish Greedly, Verminous Skumm, Looten Plunder and other vile villains featured in Captain Planet and the Planeteers.

As for this “audacious PR plot” — I don’t assume that “big oil” or any other sort of business must surely exhibit all that is noblest and purest in humanity.

On the other hand, I don’t assume “big oil” is in league with Doctor Blight and Zarm. Or even that those Eco-Villains represent real individuals, cabals, or clandestine conspirators.

I do think that public relations and advertising is something most if not all businesses do, which doesn’t mean that I think Ronald McDonald1 is part of a “big burger” plot.

Another Viewpoint

Nathaniel Gonzales's photo: burned land and fiery sky in Yosemite national park during a forest fire. From Shutterstock, via California Globe, used w/o permission. (July 25, 2022)

Maybe I’d wonder if “big oil” was secretly plotting to subvert our minds, if the only message I saw was ‘don’t worry, buy our products.’

And maybe I’d live in fear of “big green,” if all I heard and read was ‘California Burns While Subversive Elements Spread Lies.’

But ‘climate change doom’ isn’t the only media message. Here’s something from Monday’s news and views:

Yosemite Oak Fire Burns as Left Claims Climate Change is Culprit
“Environmentalists sued to halt critical forest thinning as California is on fire again”
Katy Grimes, California Globe (July 25, 2022)

“…In 2020, Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher wrote at the Globe about the left’s claims that because of climate change, California needed to immediately begin, ‘shuttering all natural gas plants, converting all houses from gas heating to electricity, and electrifying our ports.’ Gallagher concluded:

” ‘The bottom line is California has done the most to reduce carbon emissions at great cost to its citizens. It is estimated that our carbon policies are already costing the average Californian $1,235 a year. Doubling down on these policies is the wrong approach.’

” ‘More importantly, not one of these solutions will stop a devastating wildfire from occurring. The 2018 fires alone emitted 45 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, nine times more than we reduced carbon emissions over the past few years.’

“He and Congressmen Tom McClintock have long advocated for increased investment in forestry management as their districts are heavily forested….”

I don’t know enough about California’s situation to have an informed opinion. All-electric houses and ports may be a good idea. Insisting that everyone pay for instant conversion, maybe not so much.

I do know that Minnesota is not like California.


Minnesota’s Weather, Earth’s Climate

Brian H. Gill's photo: Sauk Centre in July, 2022.
(The view from my front door. (July 2022))

Brian H. Gill's photo: Sauk Centre in July, 2021.
(The view from my front door. (July 2021))

“Minnesota doesn’t have climate, we have weather” is an old joke around here. It’s not entirely accurate, since we do have four seasons: autumn, winter, spring and road work.

Our snow falls mostly during winter, winter rains aren’t common, and we don’t always have droughts like last year’s. But sometimes we do.

Minnesota’s climate is of the humid continental persuasion, so on average we have cold winters and hot summers. Since we’re in the Upper Midwest, that’s a statistical average.

The latest Minnesota snowfall, officially, was on June 4, 1935: 1.5 inches at Mizpah in Koochiching County. The earliest official snow was a trace on August 31, 1949, at the Duluth Airport.

There’s a persistent rumor that we had snow in July in 1859, or maybe 1909. Or during some other year. The last I checked, historians haven’t found solid documentation for any of our July snowfalls.2

The point I’m making is, basically, that living in Minnesota doesn’t predispose me to expect each year to be pretty much like the last, weather-wise.

That said, I think Earth’s climate is changing. And has been for a very long time.3

Change Happens

Global Warming Art project's 'Phanerozoic Climate Change' graph. (ca. 2000 A.D.) From Dragons flight, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.

I see dark humor in today’s sound and fury over climate change.

Given knee-jerk responses and apparently-hardwired beliefs of my youth, I might have expected fossilized conservatives to insist that Earth’s climate has never changed. And that changes over the last century or so are a sure sign of the coming apocalypse.

Instead, we’ve got conservatives saying that change happens, while liberals say that Earth’s climate is changing and it’s our fault. Big oil’s fault, at any rate, or big-something’s.

And yes, that’s a vast oversimplification.

I also think that, although I’m quite sure Earth’s climate has been and will continue changing, no matter how many regulations California legislators impose: I’d be surprised if we haven’t been affecting our home’s climate.


Dominion, Not Ownership

Apollo 17 crew's 'The Blue Marble' photo of Earth, taken on their way to Earth's moon; about 29,000 kilometers, 18,000 miles out. (December 7, 1972)I’m also convinced that taking care of our home makes sense.

This is not a new idea. Leviticus includes a “sabbath” rule for vineyards: letting the land rest every seventh year.

Agricultural techniques have changed over last couple dozen centuries or so, but giving cropland a break at regular intervals is still a good idea.

Crop rotation, recycling, waste management and all the rest are part of our job, as sketched out in the Bible. (Genesis 1:2628, 2:5; Leviticus 25:3; Deuteronomy 22:67, 25:4 …)

Like it or not, we have “dominion” over this world.

That’s not even close to the 19th-century upper-crust notion that rich folks can do whatever they like with natural resources. And with not-wealthy folks, for that matter.

We are in charge, with authority to make reasoned use of this world’s resources: for ourselves and for future generations. And the responsibility that goes with that authority. Our “dominion” doesn’t mean we own this world. We’re like stewards, or foremen.

Part of our job is taking care of the place. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 16, 339, 356-358, 2402, 2415-2418, 2456)


Making Sense and Other Alternatives

The Century Magazine's page 325 illustration of 'The Monitor,' used for hydraulic mining in California. (January 1883) from the United States Library of Congress, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission
(From Century Magazine, via the United States Library of Congress, used w/o permission.)
(“The Monitor” — hydraulic mining in California. The Century Magazine (January 1883))

Environmental awareness got traction during my youth.

At the time, I thought that pouring toxins into water we were going to drink didn’t make sense.

I also thought that some ardent environmentalists had more zeal than sense.

But, again, I thought that cleaning up the mess made after the Industrial Revolution was a good idea. And I figured that the process would mean changing some of what had become business as usual.

Environmental awareness didn’t pop out of the 1960’s cultural maelstrom, by the way. Its roots go back at least to the early 19th century.

Illustration from a review of 'The World Without Us', by Alan Weisman: 'New York City 15,000 years after people.' (2007) from urbanghostsmedia.com, used w/o permission.Climate angst was part of America’s culture during my youth, too: although not to the degree I’m seeing today.

And back then, it was the coming ice age that would surely mean the end of civilization as we know it.

Then the weather started getting warmer, on average, and global warming became the bogeyman: presented in ways that remind me of diatribes against “communist plots.”4

Marketing and Menaces

Brian H. Gill's 'Totally Depressing News Network' logo. (2018)I think “climate change” is more effective than “global warming.” From a marketing viewpoint, that is. Mainly because it always reflects current conditions.

Whether this year is warmer or cooler than the last, wetter or dryer, it’s “climate change:” a consistent label that arguably helps keep folks frightened and in line.

Now, I think there really was a “communist menace” back in my day. But the frothing anti-communist rants I grew up with made it hard to take seriously. After all, these were the same folks who stalwartly opposed rock music, Catholicism and other ‘Satanic’ plots.

On the ‘up’ side, their antics started me on a path that eventually had me becoming a Catholic, and that’s another topic.

Wrenching myself back to climate change and using our brains: I think placing reasonable limits on how much smoke gets dumped into the air, for example, is a good idea.

So is learning whether and how our activities affect weather and climate: and using that knowledge for the common good.

Thinking: It’s Worth Considering

Cover of HRH The Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper and Emily Shuckburgh's book; 'Climate Change' (2017) The Ladybird Expert Series, via BBC News, used w/o permission.But, and I know this very likely won’t happen, I wish that news editors, politicos and activists would turn the hysteria down a notch or two.

I don’t think England and Florida are about to sink beneath the waves, or that humanity is surely doomed to die horribly: along with all the cute animals.

I do think we should learn more about how our world works. And that we’d be better off if folks were encouraged to think, not feel motivated by emotional responses.

Of course, I also assume that climate changes may be in progress which might hurt some folks; and that there’s something we can do about the situation.

If, in fact, there is no potential climate-related danger, then inspiring a state of despair and panic in the general public may be useful for other reasons. Like influencing us to do something stupid. Which I don’t think is the case. I hope not, at any rate.


Climate Change: Little Ice Age and a Green Sahara

Juan C. Larrasoaña, Andrew P. Roberts and Eelco J. Rohling's Figure 4. Reconstruction of North African vegetation during past green Sahara periods,' from 'Dynamics of Green Sahara Periods and Their Role in Hominin Evolution,' PLOS ONE (October 16, 2013) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission
(From Juan C. Larrasoaña et al., used w/o permission.)
(Wooded grassland (light orange) of the Sahara, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago (top) and 122,000 to 128,000 years back (bottom) from Juan C. Larrasoaña, et al. (2013))

One reason I take climate change, as an idea, seriously is what we’ve been learning about humanity’s long story.

Thomas Wyke's Frost Fair on the River Thames near the Temple Stairs,' detail. (1683-1684) from Thomas Wyke/FT magazine, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permissionTake a cold snap that lasted from the 13th to the 17th century, for example. Or maybe it was 15th to 17th centuries. When it started and ended depends on who’s talking at the moment.

François E. Matthes called it the Little Ice Age in 1939, and the name stuck.

Whatever marker’s used to define the Little Ice Age’s span, it was an unpleasant contrast to the Medieval Warm Period: good times from the mid-10th to mid-13th centuries.

The cold, dry weather was a generations-long crisis, but there were occasional bright spots. Londoners, for example, held their River Thames Frost Fairs whenever the ice got thick enough: which wasn’t often, except in the mid-17th century.

Meanwhile, British legislators passed Witchcraft Acts in 1542, 1563, 1604, 1649 and 1735.

The 1563 and 1649 Acts were Scottish, the rest English, and all of them arguably were fallout from Henry VIII’s decision to be head of his very own state church.5

But I suspect that incidents like the North Berwick witch trials, where one of the charges involved alleged conjuring of storms, reflected anxiety over what we call climate change.

Crisis at the Dawn of Civilization?

Avantiputra7's map of the Indus Valley Civilization, Early Phase. (3300-2600 B.C.) Data from 'The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives,'Jane McIntosh (2008); background from Demis.nl; via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permissionFolks like Herodotus (440 B.C.) and Strabo (23 A.D.) mentioned traveler’s tales of a greener Sahara.

But European scholars didn’t take their accounts seriously.

After all, the Sahara’s name means “the Greatest Desert.”

Then, in 1850, an explorer found petroglyphs in the Murzuq Desert: which showed everyday life in a pleasantly wooded savanna. Not today’s desiccated hell in southwestern Libya.

Folks found more petroglyphs with non-desert themes, László Almásy wrote about a Green Sahara in the 1930s, and paleoclimatology became an increasingly solid science.

I’ve read that ancient Egypt’s civilization probably got started when folks who had been living in the Sahara savanna experienced epic climate change.6

That would have also have been around the time, roughly, when the Indus Valley civilization got going. I talked about the Indus Valley’s story last week.

I’ll be getting back to how we’ve been dealing with Earth’s changing climate — another time.

For now, here’s stuff that’s not entirely unrelated to climate change, doomsayers, science, history and taking care of our home:


1 Assorted advocates:

2 Minnesota is not California:

3 Climates of days gone by:

4 Activists and eras:

5 Recent(ish) events:

6 Sahara: savanna to desert:

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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