back to article Prof: Save up fossil fuel reserves to fight the next ice age

A Danish climate scientist has suggested that the peoples of the Earth should hold off from burning all the planet's available fossil fuel supplies over the next couple of centuries, so as to be able to burn them thousands of years from now in order to stave off the next ice age. The extent of the Arctic ice cap during the …


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  1. Dale

    Good idea

    I think this is a good idea. How fortunate we are that our ancesters 170000 years ago had the forethought not to burn all the oil in their time, so that we would have some left to burn now to stave off the ice age for another 55000 years. It is only right that we should have the same forethought and concern for our offspring 8500 generations down the line. I'm also going to draw out my family tree so that future genealogists will know who to thank. I'm going to draw it on paper; CDs only last about 50 years I hear.

  2. M7S


    Just store up old fridges until and then release the CFCs to deplete the ozone layer and help melt the ice. Either that or spray lots of aerosols about.

    A decade ago, weren't these two things meant to wipe us all out?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    interesting theory

    Well... I, for one, give the guy credit for somewhat original reasoning. However, if we are using fusion power by then, why not just the heat generated by THAT to keep the planetary temps in line? Just attach giant heatsinks to the outside of each "Mr.Fusion!" chamber. That heat which is not used to create steam for power generation can simply be bled off into the atmosphere.

    Or even better: once the fusion plants begin coming online, use some of that near limitless power (and still MORE yet-to-be-invented technology) to scrub much of the CO2 out of the atmosphere. This CO2 can be broken down so that the O2 is reintroduced to the environment and the carbon is stored (underground, undersea, in mum's closet space, whatever) for later use when the temps begin to fall. The side benefit of THAT is reduction of all this "warming" bit we keep hearing about.

    AC because I don't want to be embarrassed by some egghead who really understands this stuff...

  4. Allan Dyer


    With financiers that can't see beyond the next bonus, and politicians that can't see beyond the next election, there could be a few difficulties in adopting this plan.

  5. Richard
    Thumb Down

    screw future generations

    why should my lifestyle suffer for people that will have far too many Grand ...(insert offspring type here) in front of their names. by the time it comes about i'll be long forgotten so why should i have to sacrifice my life for one that hasn't/probably wont occur

    I love the smell of combusted oil in the morning

  6. Shonko Kid


    If by then we were running on 'free energy', we would have enough to fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses by other means, without burning the black stuff?

    Chuck another barrel on the barby Sheila!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Once we've burned all the petroleum, the carbon will be atmospheric (like it was originally), and the plants will have 170,000 years to sequester the CO2 back into the ground.

    So in 170,000 years time we won't need/be able to burn petroleum, we will be using up plant matter, e.g. burning Peat or Kerogen or something.

    So all we have to worry about is the damage to our food supply from climate change and the end of oil problem. Those are big enough problems without adding another one on top.

  8. James

    Still time ...

    .. to make a cup of tea then?

    Now we know why nomads are winners.

    Perhaps there's time to dash off a quick letter....

    Dear Jacqui,

    At some time in the future massive sheets of ice are going to form and gouge their way through our cities, towns and villages wreaking destruction on a scale that the human population of the UK has not seen.

    I suggest that you focus your mind on this rather major event rather than the minor, much less worrying ones that you seem to be concerned about. After all if the entire population of the UK is smeared into mincemeat under the glaciers it hardly seems worthwhile insisting on ID cards and large databases......

    ... Ahh! I know see your masterplan! After the ice retreats (some 10s of thousands of years later) the victims of the ice will be identified by their bits of plastic.

  9. Daniel Garcia
    Paris Hilton

    I can see

    The hope that this guy has in the Future Fusion Technology.

    Coming from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, not a good sign.

    Paris, because she can keep us all warm.

  10. Marc Davies

    This guy should consider advising Corporate Bankers

    Lets face it, if you want to waste money in considerable style, without (apparent) recourse to any impact on your budget - or censure from authorities; then clearly climate research is the 'new' corporate banking.

    I suspect I would have commented earlier, unfrotunately I was busy receiving medical attention as I accidentally broke my jaw in several places when it hit my knee-cap from the utter, complete, nonesensical absurdity that is clearly this 'Professors' life.

    Would someone please put me out of my misery by joining in roundly condemning the notion that, as long as its climate-related in some manner, any fool can waste money by conducting research in this way.

    One thing though - I've obviously generated waste carbon by reading this article - perhaps if we persuaded our erstwhile prof to write a massive book on the subject, then the resulting explosion of communal rage (and resultant email-generation) would in fact negate the necessity to use fossil fuel as the carbon 'pulses' would be generated anyway! Problem solved.

  11. Adam Foxton
    Thumb Down

    But by that time

    we'll have either killed ourselves or left this crummy little planet anyway.

  12. Tom Paine


    Troll, -1 (for the story)

  13. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Innumeracy is a more serious threat than Ice Ages

    "One might suggest that on a hundred-thousand-year timescale [...] the whole question may become moot for other reasons. Nonetheless, it's an interesting idea."

    No it is not. Over a 100,000 year timescale, *nothing* is "worth doing", because they are no actions we can take today that will unavoidably alter the range of options open to whatever species is using this planet then. If there are any economists out there, try amortising just about any cost over 100,000 years and see how it compares to 1p.

    It really is disgraceful that someone supposedly working in a numerate field of science can put their name to such crap, or that they can find someone else willing to publish it.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    How's this for an alternative, but equally valid, theory:

    We stop putting steel into buildings and machinery and instead use all the steel we can manufacture to make an extremely long wire rope.

    That way, by the time the earth's orbit has become elliptical we'll be able to temporarily lasso a passing planet, which would in turn pull us back into a circular orbit.

    Nothing could go wrong!


    We should start stock piling all the sheep wool we possibly can, that way come the next ice age we'll be able to employ grannies to knit everyone nice warm wooly jumpers. (thus solving the warmth problem while also solving the unemployment problem!)

    Endless possibilities... No reason to panic about fossil fuel reserves.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    The next ice age?

    We are still coming out of the last Ice Age. The norm for Earth over the last couple of billion years that life has been on it is to not have year-round ice at either pole. The norm for this planet is for the poles to be temperate.

  16. thedweeb

    Don't hold your breath for the legislation

    I don't think many of our current leaders will still be in office in 170,000 years. By then of course, penguins will probably be the most intelligent life forms on Earth, and I think they'll have different ideas.

  17. AC
    Thumb Down

    An Ice Age

    But Prof 'avent u erd of dis global warming man? Ow can wi b du a ice age man?

    Paris because even she knows global warming and climate change are scams

    PS: dont care about the next ice age as I will most definitely be in my cold hard grave when it tups up

  18. Richard Boyce

    Why Venus?

    If we had the nuclear energy for trips to Venus, we would have the energy to generate CO2 here from carbonate rock, burying the lime produced until we want to reabsorb the CO2. However, with fusion power, I suspect our thermal energy output would be enough on its own to keep us toasty.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Let's Conservate! *cocks rifle*

    *rolls eyes at crazy Danish scientists*

    That reminds me. With all the recent hype, people seem to forget that solar power is nothing more than a waste of precious hydrogen. The sun uses up 3.6 ×10^38 hydrogen nuclei *every second*. At this rate, the sun will run out of fuel in a little less than 4.5 Billion years (Oh noes!). What kind of catastrophic ice age will *that* cause? Only the Danes will know for sure...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We're in an ice age

    We are currently in an ice age. We just happen to be in a interglacial instead of being glaciated.

  21. TeeCee Gold badge

    Yes, but.

    In 170,000 years, assuming we're still here, it'll probably be a bit simpler to just choose a better orbit and move the planet into it.

  22. Andrew Kelly
    Thumb Up


    We all move to Spain.

    Problem sorted.

  23. Filippo Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    so smart yet so dumb

    Thank you, prof, for reinforcing our governments' convinctions that actually listening to scientists is a bad idea. In 170000 years' time, we'll either have the tech to fix or survive an ice age without having to burn petroleum, or we'll be long extinct - possibly due to having made some horribly bad choice around 170000 years before.

  24. dan russell

    In, out, shale it all about

    You put your ice age in

    Global warming out

    Gore in, Hoyle out

    and shake it all about

    You do the confused climate and then turn around

    and try a new theory out

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    in 10,000 years we'll have fusion powered aircon

    why bother with CO2? If we want global warming to fend off an ice age, just fire up a lot of electric space heaters.

    I wonder if 25th Century 'renewable' energy trading will involve countries setting their wind farms to blow their neighbours?

  26. Chris Gray

    Permanent Effect?

    I'm not worried about temperatures 170,000 years from now - it'll come on slow enough that they'll figure something out.

    But, on a somewhat related topic, I believe we've long since used up all of the easily accessible oil and coal. So, if (when?) we end up wiping ourselves off the planet, the next round can't become a technologically advanced (?) society like ours using the same path that we did. Is there another path to high technology? Any historians out there know? If there isn't, then I guess we've made sure that if we go, Earth won't have another bunch like us. That's not a big loss, I expect, unless we happen to be the only advanced bunch there is anywhere.

    Of course, I don't expect much sympathy for this view from the highly self-centered El Reg crowd.

    The alien icon because maybe the next round won't be our descendants.

  27. ian

    Better uses for complex hydrocarbons

    Interesting idea, that. However since we've got ice ages sorted for the next 55Ky, I think petroleum has more useful applications than as fuel. Those complex hydrocarbons are too valuable to burn, as we will discover when they run short. More expensive paint, medicine, plastics, fertilizer, etc.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Let's burn it all now

    We still need to warm up a bit:

  29. Bill

    Circular vs. elliptical orbits? Really?

    My understanding is that earth's orbit is nearly impossible to change; it's a very big object with a lot of momentum and not much pushing/pulling on it but the Sun.

    It's *declination* (tilt), on the other hand, does indeed wobble around and have a big effect on climate. So the Learrned Professor's conclusions are still worth debating, but this goof does make me wonder about his scientific know-how otherwise.

  30. Simon Ball


    Depends. If we crack fusion or some other large-scale renewable power source, then it isn't an issue. Just suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, crack it into CO, mix with H2 cracked from water, and shove the whole lot through the Fischer-Tropsch process - bingo, as many long-chain hydrocarbons as you want. The process is a net consumer of energy, but if you have an abundant power source, so what?

  31. Anonymous Coward


    Can't we just put some salt down? Seriously, how hard can that be? {thinks back a week}

  32. Eddy Ito

    Just one thing

    The number of humans on the earth at that time will be either 0 or far too many.* In the event of the former, there is no problem. If the latter is the case, they will collectively expel a sufficient quantity of CO2 and hot air to keep themselves rather warm, even if freezing a few might be a good thing assuming you start with politicians.

    *I understand that 'far too many' could be 3 depending on who you ask and who they are.

  33. Stephen Hunt


    As most carbon is locked up in rock, in the fusion powered far future we can just use our new rock to CO2 technology to pump out the desired levels of CO2.

  34. Stevie


    Since we are hurtling towards the fiery hell that lies at the end of the Global Warming rainbow, this eliptical ice-age thingy comes right in the nick of time.

    Fiery hell+Ice Age = Balmy Weather For All.

    For a minute there I thought we were in trouble.

  35. Ed
    Thumb Up

    Big Fucking Mirrors

    iN ORBIT


  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Chris Gray

    I take your a member of "vegpeace" or "morons of the earth"

    clearly showing your hatred for the entire human race based on the actions of a few generations.

    Also showing enviro loonies should lose the vote, admit themselves to psychiatric care and possibly eat some meat to compensate for the mental deficiencies that a lack of protein gives

    ugh enviro loonies depress me

  37. Chris

    RE: Permanent Effect? and Better uses

    Chris Gray: You need to pick up and read "The Mote in God's Eye" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle post-haste. Basically, our successors, be they human survivors of an apocalypse, or intelligent cockroaches, will need to be able to progress directly from flint knives and burning wood, directly to fusion, without any stops in between.

    Ian: I was wondering when someone would point that out. Our descendents many years hence are going to be saying to us "You had abundant complex hydrocarbons practically lying on the surface, and the best thing you could think of to do with them was to BURN THEM??!!! Are you insane?"

  38. His Geekishness

    I agree with ian

    That prof has long term perspectives, which is good, but doesn't consider medium term, which isn't and makes the longterm questionable.

    I'm sure we'll have some kind of fusion power source in 50 years, and in 200 it might even be worth the effort. By then, we will either be using a lot of it to synthesize long hydrocarbon chains for the chemical and medical industries because we're out of oil, or we will be using a lot of it to synthesize long hydrocarbon chains for the chemical and medical industries because we're conserving oil for the far future.

  39. Robert E A Harvey

    Long overdue

    I've been protesting for most of my adult life that, given a marvelous soup of elabourate and stable hydrocarbon molecules about the most stupid thing in the world is ot burn them.

    problem is the free market always falls to the position of least resistance and most greed.

  40. jai

    the zombie apocalypse

    will have arrived long before the next ice age so there's not going to be anyone left to care - in fact, the ice age killing you off may be far more preferable compared to having your braaaiinnzz eaten

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    That climate change orthodoxy assumes we can plan for 100 years hence is mad enough. (Just think about developments in physics, medicine, technology, whatever, in the last 100 years). Planning for 1000 years is the stuff of mad dictators. Planning for 10,000 years or 55,000 years, well, "barking" seems a charitable word for it.

  42. Art Hawkes

    Ice Age scam

    Several problems with the Ice Age scenario. Glaciers flow downhill - where are the high mountains close to the British Isles for glaciers to flow down? The huge snowfalls claimed for the Ice Ages requires a lot of heat to evaporate the seas. What phenomenon on Earth was able to deep freeze the mammoth, while evaporating tonnes of seawater,surely not excessive CO2? The present scam rarely mentions that CO2 comprises just 385 ppm/v of which 12ppm is man-made. There are other anomalies like a formerly ice free Siberia, 'evidence' of Ice Ages in places like Brasil, presently one of the warmer parts of the planet. I guess that many of us have seen the artist impressions of herds of mammoth trudging across a snowy wilderness. Presumably this was shortly before their extinction. With claims that the ice was kilometres thick, on what did these poor beasts feed? Answers on a postcard.

  43. Anonymous Coward


    "because when the world takes on a more elliptical orbit - as it does sometimes, on cycles spanning tens of thousands of years "

    The Earth's orbit changes from circular to elliptical? HOW? What put the energy into the system? (Or takes it out) so that the orbit changes?

    I say Bull $heet.

    The only option is that the aliens have have large thrusters near the equator to move the Earth around

  44. Anonymous Coward


    "I don't think many of our current leaders will still be in office in 170,000 years."

    Ah - Do you know how old our representatives are in the US? I would expect MANY of them to still be in office at that point

  45. Chris Gray

    @Mike JVX, Chris, Art Hawkes

    Mike JVX: wrong on all counts. If that's the best you can do, quit trying.

    Chris: read it when it first came out - don't remember much except the Motie's arms

    Art Hawkes: are you actually suggesting that there weren't any ice ages? Weird. If not, then what exactly *IS* your point?

    To those that deny climate change: go to Australia and tell them about it

    I'm off - time to go eat some cow.

  46. Seán


    We'll crack the fusion thing then all problems just go away.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    On the other hand

    1 - it seems daft not to use resources that are readily needed and readily available

    2 - the problems faced in 2050 or 2100 are best solved using the technologies available to those times and we cannot easily estimate or guess what they will be

    3 - who can be sure that access to mineral resources might not be limited by other events (frozen waste at the poles, arid wastes in equatorial regions?)

    Interim conclusion:

    It is better to meet today's needs using today's resources and not to second guess what might or might not befall future generations. That it not to exclude resource management though.

  48. Art Hawkes

    Chris Gray

    Err, it is summertime in Australia right now Chris! Every time I have visited i saw large areas (of New South Wales) where forest fires had cleared vast acreages. Last year NSW had the biggest floods for years. I don't deny climate change/global warming; just the unproven theory that somehow puny Man is somehow responsible. For the record, the Ice Age Theory is relatively recent. Prior to the theory gaining acceptance it was assumed that the evidence pointed to proof of the global Flood, recorded in the Bible. On a not entirely relevant point, doctors have returned to the use of leeches . . .

  49. Anonymous Coward

    Burning hydrocarbons...

    I don't know if our descendants will curse or thank us for using hydrocarbons for combustion, but I would think it's a mix of the two.

    take the inustrial revolution... they might have cut down a lot of trees, but without cutting down those trees they would never have been able to mass produce machines, which got them into the ground to look for coal, which then enabled them to drill for oil, which is what we are using today to fuel our transport systems, and is also what we are using to build solar and wind turbines now that we are getting to the end of 'easy to get to' oil (we'll have the black stuff for a few generations yet, but it will become increasingly expensive to get to as we go along...)

    The thing to look at in this crazy development of fueling the development of a society is the effects that it has had. if we had never initiated the industrial revolution then we would not have the standard of living that we have today. Apart from flat screen tv's and computers, that also means medical treatment, science to understand the world around us (yes, it seems that we have almost eaten all of 'that' fish, we should probably ban the fishing of it for a few years to let stocks replentish - sort of thing).

    Some people in the future will curse us for burning the oil, others will point out that if we hadn't started burning wood, making steam engines, mining coal, drilling oil and then proceeded to the next thing (wind, solar, fusion, bio, who knows) then they wouldn't have their 200 year life spans, a cure for cancer, faster than light travel, or the power to take care of our planet in a responsible sort of way (that is to say, keep it hospitable for our fragile meat shells, the planet does very good even during global warming/ice age, thank you very much).

    But then again I am a optimistic realist :o) and I don't think we will ever completely run out of oil... at some point it will just become cheaper to get our power from other sources (yes, at some point wind energy WILL be economically viable without being effectively subsidised by oil), and we will stop drilling for it.

    (I appologise in advance btw for my large leaps of logic, but this text field probably has a maximum length)

  50. Steve

    @ George Schultz

    "The Earth's orbit changes from circular to elliptical? HOW? What put the energy into the system? (Or takes it out) so that the orbit changes?"

    The other planets. Although it's more like changes it from one ellipse to a slightly different ellipse.

  51. markuzick

    Anthropogenic global warming is a myth.

    Either some other means of staving off the next ice age will be devised or humanity will have to adapt to change.

    Isn't adaptation what man is best at?

  52. Colin

    @Chris Gray

    The global flood was not "recorded" in the Bible. The Bible is a collection of stories, and some of these stories involve the flood.

  53. Colin


    The Moties in "The Mote in God's Eye" are unable to stop themselves from breeding for some reason, can't remember why. This was kept as a big secret as they knew this would scare humans off. Their history is a series of cycles in which the population grows exponentially, splits into factions which constantly fight over resources, and eventually degenerates into a global conflict that destroys their entire society. They created great big "museums" to try and help the survivors get a head start on technology when they pick themselves up after the war.

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