COPENHAGEN, Denmark and WASHINGTON - The Obama administration says climate change is a serious health issue and the EPA has even labeled carbon dioxide as pollution.
Now, many fear global warming is the greatest threat to mankind, but what if the Earth was no longer warming, and began to cool?
Warnings from Every Angle
Many world leaders and UN climate experts believe that climate change is the most pressing issue of our time.
"Climate change is coming in a much faster speed and much more devastating power that we ever thought," said Greenpeace Campaigner Thomas Henningsen.
Climate change economist Nicholas Stern adds that the dangers are "even bigger than we thought from climate change."
Danish climate minister Connie Hedegaard warns that, "If we don't act now, we risk catastrophic changes to our climate causing destabilizing conflicts and massive migration of refugees due to water and food shortages in many parts of the world."
Fear of global warming led the House of Representatives to pass "cap and trade" legislation, which is essentially an energy rationing bill and a tax increase on energy that some groups say will take trillions of dollars out of the pockets of families. It still has to pass the Senate.
From Hot to Cold?
But what if the Earth was no longer warming, but cooling? One image shows how the sun has looked for most of 2008 and 2009-- devoid of any sunspots. NASA says sunspot activity is now at a 100 year low.
"The sun is very cold right now and when there are no sunspots, the sun is cold, and that is one of the reasons we haven't seen warming for the past 12 years or so," said former Virginia state climatologist Patrick Michaels.
"We haven't seen any net change in temperature for about 12 years now," Michaels added. "We had a warming that began in 1977 and ended somewhere in late1997, and it hasn't been seen since."
Michaels is the author of the book, Climate of Extremes, about the current political and scientific environment, in which facts like the current lack of warming get trampled in the rush to "save the planet."
"If I tell you the world is going to end, I'll get on TV. If I tell you it's not, I probably won't," he explained.
"Climate of Extremes describes the rhetorical climate of extremes that has arisen on climate change," he continued. "Either you believe it's the end of the world or you say it's not happening at all, and the truth lies somewhere in between."
Earth's 'Little Ice Ages'
There was much higher sunspot activity in the 1990s, and high sunspot activity correlates with a hotter sun. The 90s is generally viewed as the hottest decade since the 1930s.
At the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish Space Institute in Copenhagen, Jens Pedersen and his staff are investigating the link between solar activity and Earth temperature.
The scientific record shows that between the 1600s and 1700s, sun spot activity was very low, and the Earth was so cold that the period became known as the "little ice age."
"We know from the records that there were very few of these sunspots for very long periods, from about 1650 until about 1715," Pedersen said. "This particular period of low solar activity also correlates with a period where the climate at least in most of Europe and other places of the world was very cold."
It was also very cold in North America during the colonial period compared to today.
Colonial art often shows deep snows and ice filled rivers during the winters. The winter of 1780 was so cold in Virginia that the Norfolk Historical Society says the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay froze solid and men walked across it.
On the Virginia Beach oceanfront, ocean ice piled up 20 feet high and didn't melt completely until May. That's almost unimaginable in Virginia Beach today, where the ice on a typical winter's day is lucky to make it past noon.
Another little ice age appeared again in North America in the mid-1800s along with a corresponding scarcity of sunspots.
Connecting the Sun and 'Global Cooling'
At the Danish Space Institute, they are testing a theory that may explain the connection between a lack of solar activity and cooling: the Svensmark Cosmic Ray Theory.
The earth is constantly being bombarded with cosmic rays, high-energy particles from exploding stars. The Svensmark Cosmic Ray Theory says that when these cosmic rays enter the Earth's atmosphere, they help create clouds.
An active sun strengthens a magnetic shield around the earth that lets fewer cosmic rays get through. If the sun is less active, more cosmic rays get through. And the more cosmic rays, the more clouds, and the cooler global temperatures will be.
The theory has its scientific critics, but it is also viewed as politically incorrect in some quarters to expend resources on climate theories that might compete with the dominant view of human-induced climate change.
As the Obama administration and the EPA prepare to pursue expensive solutions to keep the Earth from warming, the Earth could actually be facing a cooling trend that, if severe, would be far more destructive to food supply and human health.
"Most scientists and economists would agree that a moderate warming would probably be beneficial, and a cooling of a couple degrees would probably be very, very bad," Michaels said. "Remember that cooling it just a few degrees brings on an ice age, and that's quite a bit different than what would happen if you warmed it a few degrees."
But global cooling does not seem to be on anyone's political agenda at the moment.
*Originally aired April 20, 2009.