In my opinion, we are going in the wrong direction!
by L. Berney
Since the formation of planet Earth, the climate has always changed and is still changing. Changes to the Earth's climate are in the main caused by changes in the temperature. There have been warm periods when there was no permanent ice at either pole. There have been Ice Ages: at one period some 30% of the Earth's surface was under permanent ice. Over time there have been many warm/cold cycles.
The last Ice Age ended some 10,000 years ago; since then, the Earth's temperature has been slowly rising and is still rising and, presumably, it will continue to rise until at some time in the future the temperature will start to fall again. The Earth's temperature rises and falls do not occur evenly; it seems there are intermediate warm/cold swings along the way. There was, a 'mini Ice Age' lasting several decades about 500 years ago.
What factors cause the temperature/climate to change? One of the major factors is the Sun: the heat radiating from the Sun is not constant. At some periods the Sun radiates more heat than at others and the temperature of the Earth follows suit. Another major factor is what is known as 'the greenhouse effect'. The Sun heats the Earth's surface; some of that heat is reflected back off the surface; part of that reflected heat goes back out into space, part is trapped and retained by clouds and by the 'greenhouse gases' in the atmosphere. The greater the cloud cover and/or the greenhouse effect, the warmer will be the Earth's temperature, and vice versa.
By far the greatest 'greenhouse effect' is caused by clouds: it is common knowledge that at night, when no heat is being radiated by the sun, the air temperature drops further when there is no cloud cover, less when there is.
These and several other factors interact with each other; as a result the Earth's temperature and therefore the climate has always been and always will be unstable.
Records undeniably show that the Earth's temperature is increasing and has been increasing for many thousands of years -- we are in a cyclical period of 'Global Warming'. There are many estimates as to how much the temperature will increase by the end of the century; most predictions indicate an increase of between 3 and 6 degrees centigrade. The accuracy of such projections is open to question. We all know the inaccuracies in projecting the weather even a few days ahead; projecting the Earth's temperature 100 years ahead...?
GREENHOUSE GASES AND CARBON DIOXIDE
The 'greenhouse gases' consist mostly of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; together, they comprise less than 1.0% of the Earth's atmosphere. The gas which scientists think is responsible for most of 'the greenhouse effect' is carbon dioxide (CO2). Some facts about CO2:
Comparison over the millennia of the Earth's temperature and
the level of CO2 in the atmosphere show a marked
correlation. In warm periods, the CO2 levels were higher; in
cold periods, they were lower.
The greatest repository of CO2 is the sea (71% of our
Planet's surface is sea). If the sea temperature rises, it
releases CO2 to the atmosphere; if it falls, the reverse
happens, the sea absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere.
Forests and vegetation absorb CO2; warmer temperatures
encourage plant growth and therefore the absorption of CO2
Burning of fossil fuels -- coal, oil, natural gas -- creates CO2;
cutting down the rain forests (e.g. in Brazil) reduces the
absorption of CO2; forest fires (man-made and natural) create
Until the middle of the 19th. century, the start of the
industrial revolution, the volume of CO2 in the atmosphere
was about 0.27%; currently it is up to 0.38%;
RESULTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
The two most important results of the increasing temperature, and the consequent changes in climate, are these:
Change in the distribution and amounts of rainfall leading to
changes to rivers and lakes resulting in 'desertization' of
some previously productive areas, increasing agricultural and
livestock productivity in others.
Melting of the ice cover in Greenland and Antarctica and
glaciers elsewhere leading to a gradual rise in the sea level
Of these results, possibly the one which will effect mankind the most is the rising sea level. The rise will be due, not only to the melting of the Polar ice and of the Earth's glaciers, but also to the fact that water increases in volume as it's temperature rises. 'Worst case scenario' predictions show a rise in the sea level of one meter by the year 2100. To instance a few examples of what this would mean: a rise in sea level of one meter would inundate a large part of Bangladesh, Holland, Venice and virtually all the many low-lying cities of the World; it would inundate a number of populated islands; it would inundate large areas of Southern USA.
WHAT DO THE SCIENTISTS SAY?
We know for a fact that the Earth's temperature is rising and we know that the CO2 level is rising too. However, there are conflicting scientific opinions as to whether it is the increase in the CO2 level which is causing the Earth's temperature to rise, or whether it is a cyclical increase in the Earth's temperature which is causing the CO2 level to rise. This scientific conundrum can never be scientifically resolved; it will always remain a matter of conjecture.
Many (but not all) scientists believe that the rate at which the Earth's temperature is rising can not be explained by cyclical or natural causes alone. These scientists think that the 'natural cause' warming rate is being materially added to by an increase in the greenhouse effect. This they attribute to the increasing volume of CO2 in the atmosphere, which in turn they say is the result of the burning of fossil fuels.
Some of these scientists believe that, even if the production of man-made CO2 was halted completely, the amount of man-made CO2 which has already been released into the atmosphere over the last 100 years has irreversibly tipped a delicate balance which will cause the Earth to continue to warm for the next hundred years.
Other scientists think that the observed increase in the CO2 level is not the cause, or only a small part of the cause, of the rise in the Earth's temperature. The argument supporting this view is that the volume of CO2 in the atmosphere is very small, currently 0.38%, up from 0.27% over the last 100 years. Even if all of this increase had been man-made, could this still very small percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere cause any significant increase in the Earth's temperature? They think not. They think the increase in temperature is due one of the Earth's 'normal' cyclical warming periods.
DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT
Popular opinion, pressure groups and environmentalists have forced the World's leaders to think that they ought to "do something": but do what?
It seems that our leaders (or most of them) have decided to assume that is a fact that:
Global Warming is being caused, or mostly caused, by the
increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere due to the
burning of fossil fuels.
if only the production of man-made CO2 were to be reduced,
the Earth's climate would respond by ceasing to get any
In fact there is no 'hard' evidence whatsoever to support
either of these assumptions.
Nevertheless, our leaders have decided that, based on these unproven assumptions, the way to solve the problem is to drastically reduce the amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere.
Starting recently, they are introducing laws and initiatives to put this policy into effect. For example: a vast increase in the installation of Wind Generators (hundreds to be mounted in the estuary off the Kent coast and in the North Sea off Scotland!); energy-saving building specifications for new housing and commercial construction; the "Emission Trading Scheme" ETS (financial incentives for industry to reduce emissions -- "carbon trading"); forming international committees (e.g. the IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change); holding innumerable international conferences (e.g. Kyoto) to allocate each country's "emission reduction targets".
The world situation in which these 'reduce CO2' policies are to be implemented coincides with pressure from the 'developing world' to use more power and thus to generate more CO2. (The argument runs, "Since the 20% of the population in the 'developed world' produce 80% of the CO2 why should we be expected to hold back on lifting ourselves out of poverty, to hold back our use of energy? -- Let the developed world hold back on theirs first".) This pressure is increasing and is set to go on increasing. For example, China is opening one new coal-burning power station per week! India's power requirements are increasing exponentially. In Africa, the energy consumed per head now is only 10% of that consumed per head in the USA). Another factor is that the world's reserves of oil and natural gas are being used up rapidly. These sources could be, and probably will be, replaced by an increase in the use of coal. Coal produces much more CO2 and other emissions than oil or gas so that for the future the CO2 problem (assuming that it is CO2 which is doing the damage) is likely to be exacerbated.
For these practical reasons, it seems to me improbable that the volume of man-made CO2 being generated can even be held at its present level -- to reduce it from its present level is even more improbable.
Moreover, the steps being taken to reduce CO2 emissions will inevitably be costly. They may, and almost certainly will, have a negative effect on the world's economy.
MY CONCLUSION -- WE ARE HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!
From the evidence it seems that for the foreseeable future, the Earth IS getting warmer, WILL go on getting warmer, the climate WILL change, the sea level WILL rise. Whatever policies we might adopt aimed at mitigating the effects of Global Warming need to be based on these facts. I suggest the current "solution", focused solely as it is on the reduction of CO2, is bound to fail.
The man-made CO2 being released to the atmosphere may be, or it may not be, increasing the rate of cyclical or natural warming. (That the small percentage increase in the CO2 level due to the burning of fossil fuels is causing the Earth's temperature to rise is not a proven
fact.) But, even if the additional man-made CO2 is causing the temperature to rise, this is not, on its own, the SOLE CAUSE of the current temperature rise. The Earth is in one of its natural cyclical warming periods and it will be getting warmer even if NO man-made CO2 is released. If CO2 emissions were to be reduced, even if they were stopped entirely, the only effect could be, perhaps, to slow slightly the rate of warming; it would not halt it.
The decision of our politicians to try to stop the Earth getting warmer by embarking on programmes to reduce the volume of man-made CO2 brings to mind the experience of King Canute who tried (and failed) to stop the tide from rising.
In fact the current moves and financial incentives to cut down CO2 emission are doing more harm than good. The current policies are diverting our attention from facing up to reality and to mankind's looming problems, namely that the Earth IS warming and WILL GO ON warming for the foreseeable future, regardless of whether or not we reduce man-made CO2.
Fact: we are spending time and money on a policy based on assumptions for which there is no supporting evidence -- on assumptions which I believe are just plain wrong!
In my opinion, we are heading in the wrong direction!
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
Since there is nothing mankind can do to stop Global Warming, what we need to do is to accept that Global Warming is here to stay and to address its inevitable results. The world's effort and energy currently being directed towards halting Global Warming by reducing carbon emission (a policy doomed to failure in my view) needs to be re-directed toward the following objectives.
RELOCATION - CLIMATE CHANGE As explained above,
there will be serious problems caused by changes in the
distribution and amount of rainfall. There probably will be
floods and droughts, changes in the distribution and
availability of water for consumption and food
production,.increasing 'desertization' making more areas
barren and uninhabitable. These problems will gradually occur
over decades. Mankind is adaptable -- I believe major
population movements and adaptation will have to occur and,
indeed, will occur. Every country should start planning for the
re-location of those of its population which will be effected
and for the provision of infra-structure that climate change
will make necessary.
RELOCATION - COASTAL AREAS here is the even greater
problem presented by the gradual raising of the sea level.
This needs to be addressed, not by a 'King Canute' solution,
but by accepting as a fact that the sea level IS rising and it
WILL GO ON RISING. Every country with coastal areas needs
to start planning accordingly. Plans need to be drawn up to
establish the areas of land which would be inundated if/when
the sea and river levels rise by, say, two meters. All the
housing, agriculture, commercial, roads, railways and other
installations and activities taking place in those areas will
have to be re-located on higher ground. In this connection,
due to Global Warming, large area in the Northern
Hemisphere currently ice-bound would be ice-free and would
be available to be developed and utilized.
The first step would be to prohibit any new construction in
endangered areas; to allow building only in the newly
designated development areas.
ABUNDANT CHEAP POWER To enable this gigantic
re-location programme to be carried out the World will need
to access a source of abundant, cheap and non-polluting
energy. This source is there for the taking. Unlimited
electrical power can be generated by extracting the Earth's
inexhaustible supply of geothermal energy, mining the heat
from the centre of the Earth. (see my previous paper on Energy)