As the G8 seems to be trying to focus on cutting emissions and the like, I’m going to set out my take on climate change, point by point. I imagine it’s different to what most people would expect, what with me being (very vaguely) a centre-left liberal – and I’m genuinely intrigued to know what it is I seem to be missing that makes me go against the current consensus.
Here’s how I see it:
1) The long view
a) The climate, the world doesn’t work to mankind’s timescales. Eons mean nothing – you have to look at hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of years to genuinely detect trends.
b) We still have polar ice caps and glaciers in many mountain ranges, therefore we are still, by definition, in an ice age.
b) Check out the global temperature history charts – we’re currently on the upturn in average temperature after a period of extreme coolness. Warming is to be expected when an ice age is coming to an end.
2) The mid-range view
b) This was during the “Little Ice Age“, a period of increased coolness that lasted several hundred years (less than the blink of an eye in glacial terms), until the mid-19th century.
c) This means that when we’re told “it’s the hottest since records began”, you may as well say in June that “it’s the hottest since February”. Of course it’s (on average) hotter than it was during a cold spell which we’ve now come out of.
d) There was also a “Medieval Warm Period“, with some (unscientific) evidence of higher than average temperatures similar to those of the mid-20th century. Who’s to say we’re not entering another one of those.
3) The short-term view
a) Scary charts like this one make it look like the earth is warming rapidly, and that this warming started in the mid-19th century, when industrialisation was beginning to peak.
b) This ignores the long and mid-term views: this chart is more like it, but even that doesn’t give a fair indication, as the world works in cycles of tens of millions of years, not mere centuries. Correlation with the expansion of industrial emissions does not equal causation.
a) Even if you dismiss the upturn in global temperature since the Industrial Revolution as coincidence, surely pumping loads of nasty chemicals into the atmosphere and ocean can’t be good, and it would be a very good thing for us to cut down on pollutants.
b) The cleaning up of the London fog / smog after the 1956 Clean Air Act seems to show mankind can have an effect. (Although some evidence suggests the fog was declining anyway, plus London is situated at the bottom of a rounded valley, helping to create a microclimate that trapped pollutants, so is hardly analogous with wider environments.)
c) Carbon dioxide emissions have indeed risen a lot since the Industrial Revolution, to levels higher than ever seen before (as far as we can tell). The chart could look scary – until you notice the remarkable regularity of the sudden increases in Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere approximately every 100 thousand years. The last one of which was approximately 100 thousand years ago… (We don’t, by the way, have any way of telling the Carbon Dioxide concentration in the atmosphere further back than that – and all those figures come from within the current ice age, from gas trapped in the polar ice caps. See this chart for a handy comparison of CO2 and temperature fluctuations during this ice age, from long before man had invented the coal fire…)
5) However number 2…
a) None of this means that climate change ISN’T happening, as some opponents of the global warming lobby claim. If anything, it provides additional evidence that it is.
b) It does, however, cast doubt on the claims about the CAUSES of climate change – at least as far as I’m concerned. Where’s the proof that industrialisation has really caused the current warming, when we were probably due a rise in temperatures anyway, and when – as we’re still in an ice age – the only logical way for the Earth’s temperature to go is up?
6) So what should be done?
If you take climate change to be a very long-term phenomenon, caused by regular cyclical variations in the Earth’s temperature and atmosphere caused for reasons we can barely guess at (much like the probably overdue polar switch)…
We could spend lots of time and money cutting carbon emissions and taxing cars and planes – hell, it certainly can’t hurt. Helping the energy companies to find some genuinely viaible alternative fuel sources would be nice and all.
But in reality there’s not a lot we can do bar damage limitation – at some point the current ice age is going to end no matter what we do. At that stage, the Earth’s average temperature is going to rise by as much as 10 degrees (over the course of a few centuries, most likely). That would make pretty much the entire area between the tropics uninhabitable, and destroy the majority of the world’s current breadbasket – not to mention the sea-level rises caused by the complete melting of BOTH polar ice caps.
This has happened many times before, and when it happens again, we’re screwed, many millions of people are going to die, the world we know will be utterly changed, and there’s precisely nothing we can do about it.
So hell, might as well enjoy the cheap flights while we can, eh? Especially as oil’s bound to run out fairly soon to boot (a finite supply being used up at ever-increasing rates? Doesn’t take a genius to work it out… Remember when Britain used to have coal?)
Go on then, someone show me why I’m wrong – or is it just my word against Al Gore’s?
Update: Catching up on my blog reading, this is very interesting – a series of profiles of respected scientists who deny the supposed consensus on climate change (via). This one, on the role of Carbon Dioxide, is of particular interest, as far as my own doubts are concerned, largely due to step 3’s summary of the reason for picking on man’s activity as the cause of the current apparent rise in temperatures:
No other mechanism explains the warming. Without another candidate, greenhouses gases necessarily became the cause.
And therein lies my problem – as I’ll no doubt elaborate in the comments a bit later. We simply don’t know what caused the Earth to warm up in the past, nor what caused C02 levels to rise and fall on a 100,000 year cycle. Until we know the past causes, how can we possibly predict the future consequences? – not least in a system as complex as the atmosphere, so notoriously difficult to predict that it’s well nigh impossible to accurately say what the weather will be like next week, let alone in a hundred years.
(It also reminded me of a post from a year ago, Merrick on why “carbon offsets are a fraud”, which is well worth a read, though Merrick would doubtless disagree with the main thrust of this post…)