I have a feeling that somebody on the White House staff is going to be sitting down for a little holiday chat with Obama science advisor Eric John Holdren. (Not to be confused with Eric Holder, but that’s another story.) The official Assistant to the President for Science and Technology held an online Q&A where he fielded questions submitted by the public. The former professor at both Harvard and Berkeley read one question about whether or not climate change was the result of the activities of man or the natural cycles of the planet. In this video supplied by MRC TV, Holdren toes the line of human caused global warming, but tosses in some Mr. Science fun facts at the end which the administration likely won’t appreciate.

“We know beyond any reasonable doubt that humans are the main cause of the warming of the earth’s climate that has been measured over the past few decades. The warming is unequivocal.

“While the climate of the earth has changed over the millennia as a result of natural factors – principally changes in the tilt and orientation of the earth’s axis and rotation, and in the shape of its orbit around the sun – those changes occur far too gradually to have noticeable effects over a period of mere decades. In their current phases, moreover, they would be gradually cooling the earth – taking us to another ice age – if they weren’t being more than offset by human-caused warming.”

It’s rather unpopular in the Circle of Believers to bring up anything which paints industrial activity as other than evil, so this won’t go over well. But Holdren does do us a favor by raising a subject which doesn’t get nearly as much air time when this topic is debated in the media. No matter what you think about the viability of various climate models predicting the effects of various atmospheric agents on the biosphere, there has always been a long term question about what mankind will do when (not if) the next ice age comes. Rather than looking at hockey sticks for global temperature trends in the 20th century, a more alarming picture comes into focus when you look at our track record for the last half million years.

VostokTemp

The relatively pleasant weather we’ve enjoyed throughout mankind’s rise across the globe is, traditionally, a fleeting thing. Eventually the glaciers come back and that’s something which our biggest brains have no clue how to stop once they start their southward march. Once the process starts, it happens pretty fast, too. (At least “fast” in geological time frames.) It might not spell the actual extinction of the species, but there wouldn’t be room for many people in the habitable areas. There are also theories out there which suggest that a sustained rise in temperatures can actually trigger a faster onset of glaciation. So when you’re done arguing about what to do when the ocean levels rise and swallow Miami, you can figure out how to grow corn on an ice sheet.

Here’s the Holdren video.

Update (Ed): An earlier version of this post had the science adviser incorrect. It should be John Holdren, and has been corrected above. Our apologies for the error.