Harm de Blij (pronounced duh BLAY) doesn't believe mankind should be blamed for the phenomenon known as global warming. He is pretty sure mankind is too feeble to truly affect something as powerful as Mother Nature.
But weather is cyclical and the world's temperature will go up and down. De Blij discussed global warming Feb. 1 before a sellout crowd of about 200 at the Boca Grande Community Center. Here are excerpts of his hour-long talk.
Question: What is global warming and should we be doing something about it?
A sellout crowd once again showed recently for Harm de Blij's benefit talk for the Royal Palm Players on global warming.
Answer: Global warming has become a shorthand. There is no such thing. There is such a thing as climate change and that's far more terrifying than anything we could do. Mother Nature can literally change our climate overnight.
Q: Are we in a warming period now?
A: To say we're in a warm period doesn't mean we're safe from one of these climate reversals. It used to be much worse than it is now. Nature is abrupt and frightening.
Harm de Blij at a glance
Residence: Boca Grande
Family: Married 34 years to wife, Bonnie with daughter and son.
Occupation: John Hannah professor at Michigan State University
Degrees: Ph.D Northwestern Universityy, master's degree Northwestern, bachelor's degree University of Witwatersrand with six honorary degrees.
History: Seven years geography editor on ABC's "Good Morning America. In 1996 he joined NBC News as geography analyst. Writer and commentator for the original PBS Series "The Power of Place."
Author: More than 30 titles
Travel: More than 100 countries
Hobby: amateur violinist, Cubs fan.
Q: So we could revert to an Ice Age at any time?
A: Scientists would say we are in an Ice Age. For the past 35 million years our planet has been in an Ice Age. It just used to be much worse than it is now. There were times the planet was completely frozen.
Q: Has it ever been warmer than this on Earth?
A: Most scientists agree the weather was pretty good during the Jurassic Period. There were no ice caps on the mountains. Land was green virtually from pole to pole.
Q: Glaciers once covered much of North America. How long ago was that?
A: The extent of Northern Hemisphere glaciation during the Pleistocene Period covered land with ice in a line extending across the United States from Seattle to Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and New York. This was not millions of years ago. It was 15,000 years - a virtual eyeblink in time. When global warming began 15,000 years ago, for whatever reason, all that ice retreated miles a day. You could chase after it. But we weren't around to blame it on.
Q: Do we know what makes the planet warm up?
A: We do not know. No matter what anybody tells you, we do not know why.
Q: So man can't affect the atmosphere with pollution?
A: We're certainly having an impact. I'm not trying to belittle that. But it's worth remembering that even without us global warming can take a terrible turn.
Q: How do you know for certain what happened with weather so many centuries ago?
A: We know this stuff because we have learned to read the ice core. They can describe a day that happened 400,000 years ago with the same detail as we can describe today.
Q: Will the ice core help us find Darwin's missing link?
A: There is no missing link. The tree of evolution is so complex we will never find out all its branches.
Q: So we have no clue as to what causes global warming?
A: Let me suggest to you that the axis of our globe's rotation is one key to what we're experiencing climatically. Our planet wobbles through its orbit with an axis that varies in its rotation from 22.1 to 24.5 degrees. It creates an imbalance. If you have more land facing the sun, you'll have a hotter period.
Q: What do you think of Milutin Milankovic, the Serbian geophysicist and civil engineer best known for his theory of ice ages, suggesting a relationship between Earth's long-term climate changes and periodic changes in its orbit, now known as Milankovitch cycles?
A: People don't want to mention him anymore but Milankovitch was the scientist who figured it out. He called it obliquity. He figured out we ought to have warming spells every 41,000 years. There's a second issue here: precession. The axis moves in two different ways. These two forces sometimes work cooperatively and sometimes work against each other to change the climate.
Q: What role does the sun play in global warming?
A: It's astonishing how little we know about the sun. We know virtually nothing about solar radiation. Here's where the heat or lack of heat comes from. Here's something fascinating. Every nation that I saw on the record in Kyoto, Copenhagen and Cancun discounts the sun as an issue.
Q: Do global orbit changes between the sun and Earth explain the Little Ice Age from 1640 to 1710?
A: It was nice and warm and then all of a sudden it got colder in 1300 A.D. There was a calamitous drop and glaciers came charging out of the mountains. In Europe from the 1400s to the 1800s it was darn cold with a particular period from 1640-1710 where it is frigid. Iceland and Greenland reached the coast of Portugal. It was incredible.
Q: What role do you think the sun played then?
A: At its lowest point, seven consecutive cycles failed to produce a sunspot. It's just amazing to me we can discount the effect of solar radiation in global warming. The sun was at a radiation minimum. But it is interesting the coldest time when we were taking notes was when the sun failed to produce sunspots. Global warming has a downside but it also has positives. It's better than a return of the glaciers.