Azara Blog: Climate change sceptics

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Date published: 2005/07/02

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

Thanks to greedy environmentalists and corrupt scientists, the world is in the grip of a dangerous mass delusion that driving cars and using electricity is causing global warming. Unless these mendacious "experts" are stopped, the leaders of some of the globe's biggest economies will pour trillions of dollars into useless schemes that exist merely to feed the enviro-industrial complex. Only a few (American) voices speaking out against a dangerous (European) orthodoxy can save us from global chaos.

If this sounds like the plot of a thriller, it's because it is: in Michael Crichton's latest bestseller, State of Fear, environmental groups grow so fat on middle-class guilt over pollution and the destruction of small furry things that they fasten on the alarmist theory of global warming, or climate change, as a means of screwing even more money from gullible donors.
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Yet given the mounting evidence that global warming does exist, how can the sceptics remain so firmly convinced otherwise?

The theory of global warming has been around for decades. Once an arcane area understood by only a few specialists, it has now become part of mainstream scientific thought. The theory runs thus: carbon dioxide, along with a few other "greenhouse" gases such as methane, can affect the Earth's climate because they absorb infrared radiation, thus trapping on Earth heat that would otherwise dissipate into space. This is known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse gas that causes most concern - because it makes up an ever-larger part of the atmosphere - is carbon dioxide: a colourless, odourless byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas.

In the pre-industrial mid-18th century, carbon dioxide made up 280 parts per million of the Earth's atmosphere. Today, it comprises 375 parts per million and rising, higher than at any time in the past 420,000 years, which is as far back as we can measure reliably. And the temperature of the Earth's surface rose by about 0.6 deg C during the course of the 20th century.

Few scientists quibble with these basic facts. According to the mainstream view of global warming, when the Earth heats up under the influence of greenhouse gases, the effect on the climate is dramatic. It leads to droughts, heatwaves, storms and floods. Because excess carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for at least a century after it is produced, the cumulative effects of the gases that have already been emitted would continue to exert a malign influence on the climate even if we stopped burning fossil fuels immediately.

But to do that would require an unthinkable disruption to the world economy. Therefore the only reasonable solution to global warming is to try to cut our emissions of greenhouse gases gradually, while attempting to find new, low-carbon, energy sources, such as wind, solar and nuclear power. That idea underpins the UN-brokered Kyoto protocol on climate change, which requires developed nations to bring down their emissions of greenhouse gases by 2012 to an average of 5 per cent below 1990 levels.

Yet sceptics continue to argue that either the world isn't heating up or if it is, the problem is not necessarily caused by humans. Either way, it isn't anything to worry about.
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The science in this case is probably not going to get any clearer until some form of catastrophe has occurred. Yet in order to believe that the sceptics are correct, one must disbelieve the national science academies and the foremost climatologists of the developed world. One must believe that the most respected scientific journals are joined in a conspiracy to hide evidence proving the sceptics right. And one must believe Michael Crichton's science-fiction is actually closer to fact.

Of course so-called environmentalists do survive because of middle-class guilt (and government subsidies). (It is not a coincidence that their campaigning is very similar in tone to that of the American television evangelists. The world will end in eternal damnation if you do not donate to us, now.)

And most scientists do have to toe the conventional scientific line or they will soon be out of a job. This is true not only in climatology but in all other scientific disciplines. (Try getting a job in theoretical high energy physics between 1985 and today without working on some aspect of String Theory.)

And hardly any scientific theory lasts more than a generation or two, and in a hundred years the scientists of the day will laugh at the climatologists of today. (Just read the physics books from 1900 to have a good laugh.)

And the (vocal) climatologists would have a bit more credibility if they didn't spend half their time making political instead of scientific statements.

So you don't have to believe in a conspiracy to question the sociology behind the currently conceived conventional wisdom, it is just the way the world works.

Having said all that, the overwhelming evidence is that climate change is happening for the reasons usually given. The real question is what to do about it. We should be aiming to bring the living standard of the poor of the world up to that of the rich, not lower that of the rich to the poor.

You can guarantee that if by a miracle we had a carbon-free economy tomorrow the so-called environmentalists would still be complaining. After all, carbon-free energy still allows mankind to change the environment (build homes, grow crops, be tourists, etc.). The real problem, which is usually ignored, is that there are too many people on the planet.

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