The Next Big Thing among Eco-Apocalyptics?

by Steven F. Hayward

Several months ago, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens offered up a column noting the inexorable collapse of the climate campaign and wondering what new eco-apocalyptic scare would be ginned up to replace it; he offered a steak or gourmet burger lunch to the reader who submitted the best idea. I suggested shifts in the earth’s magnetic field; Bret e-mailed back to say that several people had suggested this idea. (I’m not sure whether he ever declared a winner and served up the burger.)

The idea has been percolating among earth scientists for quite a while now. This NASA story from 2003, for example, shows how much the magnetic north pole has moved over the last 150 years. Looks like the idea is starting to catch on with the media, which means the popular imagination won’t be long in catching up. Maybe it already has: The first Hollywood movies about asteroids came out in the late 1990s, after astronomers began warning of their potential danger, and we’ve already had a couple of movies, such as The Core, that relate to the root cause of magnetic shift — changes in the hot molten-iron core of the earth. Trouble is, a complete collapse or sudden shift in the earth’s polarity might spell “game over” for life on planet earth (though this is in dispute).

This story suggests that changes in the earth’s magnetic fields are causing, or will cause, an increase in “super storms.” The initial problem for the eco-apocalytpics here is that it offers an alternative explanation for climate change. But that’s not a bug — it’s a feature. All the eco-apocalyptics need is some semi-plausible way to allege human causation for the erratic magnetic fields. Surely before long we’ll hear some Gore-like figure claim that the world’s growing electricity grid, along with all our artificial metal buildings, airplane flights, and so forth, are “confusing” the planet. It’s even better than greenhouse gases. It will require us to shut down virtually the whole of advanced civilization and return to the 17th century — the Unabomber would love it — because even windmills and solar panels won’t save us.

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