From the 16th to the 19th century the world faced a period of very cold winters which led to poor crops, famines and many other problems that made life on Earth more difficult. Although it wasn’t a real ice age the term ‘Little Ice Age’ was coined later. It is not absolutely clear what caused it but most scientists agree that a decreased solar activity, volcanic eruptions and fluctuations in the current flows of the oceans or a combination of those factors are the most likely explanations. Some scientists believe that we could be on our way to another ‘Little Ice Age’ as such changes are also observed nowadays.
The sunspot activity which follows a cycle of approximately 11 years and which is correlated to the heat which the Sun produces seems to be on a downward trend. There are significant indications that a low number of sunspots are connected to a cold climate on Earth. For example the so-called Maunder Minimum which occurred between 1645 and 1715 was characterized by a very rare number of sunspots. In addition we have observed a relatively large number of volcanic eruptions in the recent years. Changes also occur in the temperatures of the oceans. Hence some scientists believe that another cold period lasting up to several hundreds of years could be ahead.
But if this should turn out to be true one might wonder if in the end global warming could be a good thing for the planet and its inhabitants. What if the increase in the mean global temperature that is allegedly caused by artificially produced greenhouse gases such as CO2 or methane would counter the cooling of our planet which is based on natural phenomena? Could we prevent another Little Ice Age here and possibly even maintain a more or less stable mean global temperature? This almost sounds too good to be true and indeed we have to be very careful thinking that we can just go on like we do now forever.
It is clear that the increased production of CO2 acidifies the oceans and thereby endangers many sea dwellers. The continued deforestation adds even more CO2 to the atmosphere and natural cycles are seriously destabilized. Thus we cannot lay back and hope that everything works out fine. Even if a new Little Ice Age can be prevented this way the consequences for nature and finally for us could be and probably will be catastrophic.