Picture the scene, a grumpy middle aged man stomping through the frosty British countryside early in the morning. His misty breath visible in the chilly air.
‘Global warming! They’re having a laugh aren’t they.’
Indeed, I daresay they are having a laugh, but I’m just wondering who ‘they’ are.
If I mention climate change, the term I prefer over global warming, on the twitters or YouTube I will receive a great many often quite patronising ‘corrections.’
It will be pointed out to me with great conviction that climate change has been proven false. I’m not sure by who, other than a few right wing bloggers in America, a few right wing journalists in the UK and a few tin foil hat ‘governments are taking over my brain’ merchants anywhere you want to look.
Yes, there were the 'East Anglian' e-mails, which were 10 years old when they were discovered, (i.e an enormous amount of research has been done since they were sent) from one University in the UK, and the Professor involved has been completely exonerated in a peer review and the text in the e-mails was eagerly misinterpreted by people with a massive, barely hidden agenda, but I won't dwell on that absurd non story any more. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph headlines, blurted immediately without any real research said it all. 'Global Warming Lies!'
Due to my stance on electric cars, many people automatically assume that my primary concern is climate change because of the perceived beneficial environmental impact such technology can have. This is in fact far from the truth. I’ve always been interested in electric transport from the point of view of sustainability, efficiency and the truly huge geo political impact the demise of the drill and burn economy could have on our lives and political structures.
I have left the climate change argument to others. It’s really bloody complicated, there are so many millions of variables, so many opinions, so many seemingly learned people who violently disagree with each other.
The only way to get a vague notion of what is going on is to really stand back, try to remain as objective as possible and look at the arguments with cold, clinical, unemotional eyes.
I see it like this.
On the Climate Change Side.
The tens of thousands of scientists worldwide who have, over the last 30 years, come to a peer reviewed notion that the release of somewhere around 7 gigatons of extra carbon into our atmosphere by human activity is affecting our climate. These ideas reached a wide audience with the release of Al Gore's documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth' The bodies involved in the research are funded by universities, governments and a wide variety of private institutions. A well established and very diverse funding system which in some cases has been in place for literally hundreds of years.
On the Climate Skeptic Side.
The few thousand bloggers, documentary makers, writers and journalists, and literally a handful of skeptical scientists who claim all the research is skewed, inaccurate and biased by government pressure. They have come up with theories that suggest increased sun activity affects our climate more than human activity, what we do has nothing to do with it. They point out that global temperatures have been higher and lower over the history of the earth, they point out that carbon levels may follow temperature rather than lead it. 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' was a popular manifestation of these ideas, a documentary made by Martin Durkin who I work for on the popular TV series 'How Do They Do It.' These diverse groupings are also funded by a very wide variety of sources, but it is painfully obvious that one of the major contributors, publicly acknowledged, all above board and legitimate, is the drill and burn lobby. Indeed, they love Martin's documentary, as do extreme right wing pressure groups in the United States who have distributed it widely.
The one thing they both agree on however, and I think it's very important to remember this, is that the climate is changing. They all agree that global temperatures are increasing at a rate not seen before on the planet in around 100,000 years. So why is it so cold in England right now. Because the increase in temperature affects the climate, it changes the climate. It means that towns like Jeddah in Saudi Arabia can get flooded as they did recently. Jeddah has never been flooded before and it's been there a while, like about 3,000 years. Some of the changes in the climate might be beneficial, but some of them clearly will be not be anything of the sort.
They also agree that if there was no human activity on the planet, if we had just not evolved, or been placed here by the hand of God, take your pick, then the amount of carbon naturally released into the atmosphere is around 1 gigaton a year. That’s caused by the turn of the seasons (falling leaves etc) naturally occurring forest fires, the odd massive volcano.
In the last 40 years we have been adding to that rather substantially, there are slightly differing figures but they all fall between 6 and 7 gigatons per year, from us, the humble naked ape, or divine being created by God, take your pick.
6-7 gigatons a year more than is naturally occurring, and this isn’t going to make a difference, in a ecosystem that took several hundred million years to find a balance that was capable of sustaining life, or 7 days by a divine being, take your pick.
NASA, a government funded organisation staffed by some of the best scientists from around the world have been collecting global weather data on a scale never before even conceivable. They have been creating computer models which are powered by technology which would cause the average geek to have a life threatening nerdgasm. When NASA are suggesting that human activity is having a direct, measurable effect on climate change, I’m afraid I’m tending to lean towards their side of the argument.
When a drill and burn corporation (Exxon) publicly announce that they are spending over a billion dollars on PR in one year to encourage a wider dialogue on climate change, I can feel my wet liberal buttocks clenching a little.
So, to try and see this argument in the widest context:
In whose interest is it to steer us away from finding ways to create energy without burning something?
In who’s interest is it to try and find ways to create energy without burning anything?
Those, surely, are the two basic arguments. If we don't rely on burning shit to create energy, in a more efficient renewable way, and the climate still changes and we have to deal with it, surely that is better than if we keep burning shit to create energy, and the climate changes and it is because of our activities and we wander around the floods or deserts regretting our stupidity.
with thanks to Adam Reynolds for reminding me of this cartoon which I really wanted to refer to. Sums it all up beautifully.