I'm positively gleeful about the prospect of runaway global warming - anthropogenic (i.e., man caused) or otherwise. You see, we've got the solution to global warming. It's air conditioning. Eureka - the future is bright!

But what if it doesn't get warmer? What if it gets colder?

If some solar physicists are correct, the sun's magnetic activity may impact world temperature more than man-made greenhouse gases. And the sun's magnetic activity appears to be slowing.

For more than 200 years, scientists have noted a correlation between sunspots (areas of intense magnetic activity) and temperature, even if they weren't quite sure how sunspots affected climate. In 1801, the "King's Astronomer," William Herschel, noted a relationship between the number of sunspots and the price of wheat. Fewer sunspots meant colder temperatures, less wheat production, and higher prices.

In theory, cosmic radiation constantly bombards the earth, stimulating low-level cloud formation, which reflects sunlight, cooling the planet. A magnetically active sun generates a solar wind that blankets the earth, blocking cosmic radiation, resulting in fewer low level clouds and higher temperatures.

Because scientists have been counting sunspots for centuries, we've got a long-term historical record. In 1976, astronomer Jack Eddy published research showing the historical connection between the amplitude of solar cycles (i.e., the number of sunspots) and temperature, coining the term 'Maunder Minimum' for the period of extremely low solar activity during the Little Ice Age that occurred from 1645 to 1715.

Yet, the sun's indirect role on temperature is still considered speculative. The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that the solar indirect effect was ®unknown.®

Danish physicists began to postulate that cosmic radiation stimulated low level cloud formation, but were ignored due to a lack of evidence. This led Henrik Svensmark to build a ®cloud chamber® and reproduce the earth's atmospheric chemistry at the Danish National Space Center. He demonstrated how cosmic rays stimulate low-level cloud formation.

Svensmark concluded, "During the 20th Century the cosmic rays reaching the Earth diminished by about 15% as a result of increasing vigor in the solar wind, which scatters the cosmic rays. The inferred reduction in cloud cover could have warmed the Earth by a large fraction of the amount currently believed to be due to man-made carbon dioxide. In that case, the effect of carbon dioxide may have been overestimated."

Uh oh. Svensmark sounds like Galileo claiming the earth revolves around the sun. Heresy!

Solar theory challenges the global warming orthodoxy and thus, has more than its share of critics. But let's suspend skepticism. The theory is interesting, but does nothing to help project future temperatures. Or does it?

Sunspots occur in 11-year solar cycles, but not always. Some cycles are shorter. Others are longer. Long solar cycles tend to be followed by weak ones (i.e., less magnetic activity), and vice versa. We're currently nearing the end of Cycle 23, which was preceded by the relatively short (9.6 year long), Cycle 22. Theoretically, the short duration of Cycle 22 should have resulted in more magnetic activity and higher temperatures from 23. It did.

Cycle 23 is currently 12 years long and appears unlikely to end until well into 2009. This would make Cycle 23 the longest in more than a century.

Since solar cycles overlap, Cycle 24 has started even though Cycle 23 has yet to end. Cycle 24 is starting slow and looking weak, just as the theory suggests. Accordingly, some solar physicists predict cold weather ahead.

Ken Schatten, the solar physicist who nailed the amplitude of the last two solar cycles, presented a paper in 2003 claiming, "The surprising result of these long-range predictions is a rapid decline in solar activity, starting with Cycle #24. If this trend continues, we may see the sun heading towards a 'Maunder' type of solar activity minimum - an extensive period of reduced levels of solar activity."

Schatten is saying it could get cold; very, very cold. So, will the earth get warmer or cooler?

Yes! It will. And the direction of planetary temperature doesn't matter a whole lot to the HVAC industry as long as it doesn't settle at 70F or some other lousy comfortable temperature.

If global warming is real, air conditioning is the solution. If global cooling is real, warm air, hydronic, and radiant heating are the solution. Whatever the climate does, we make the world comfortable. Our future is indeed bright!

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), HVAC's largest private contracting group. For a free copy of his Success Strategies audio CD, call toll free 877.262.3341 or email Liz Patrick at liz@serviceroundtable.com. For more information on solar cycles, visit www.SolarCycle24.com.