Monday, 26 April 2010

Global Warming - the real danger

I've commented before now on my concerns as to the quality of the scientific basis for climate change - not because I think it isn't happening, but because I'm not satisfied that it is. The obvious counter-argument (which has been used against me) is that if we ignore it and it hits us, it will hurt. If we try to prevent it, and it never arrives, then no harm is done.

This counter-argument is fallacious for a range of reasons (think hard, then choose one), but nothing works like a hard counter-example. So I was pleased to see this post at EUReferendum on the subject of the ash cloud.

It seems that cautious officials closed UK airspace because the computer models predicted a risk. They did not quantify the risk, and we had no hard data that we could use. Why not? Because the only aircraft we have for this purpose was grounded with repairs. As the post explains:
Because until two weeks ago Volcanic Ash was not nearly such a hot topic as, say, Climate Change. Money has been thrown at climate change research and monitoring - the British Met Office has received over £200million for that purpose - while other meteorological services have been starved of funds.
There is the harm caused to us by an obsessive assumption that climate change must not be challenged; here is an example of funds being starved from something we know we have to cope with, in order to study something we think we might have to cope with.


  1. Britain has signed up to throwing over 400 billion to counteract global warming. That was done by legislation passed in the dyeing days of this parliament. To achieve what?

    Answer, nobody knows and as yet the great polluters have not signed up to do anything substantive about cutting their emissions of CO2.

    The science about global warming as it comes under greater scrutiny is proving to be fallible and open to manipulation by vested interests.

    So what benefit does the UK gain by going full tilt into all things green? Very little on the face of it and possibly a great deal of harm.

  2. This counter-argument is fallacious for a range of reasons (think hard, then choose one)

    What makes you think we need to think hard in order to do that?

  3. So what benefit does the UK gain by going full tilt into all things green? Very little on the face of it and possibly a great deal of harm.

    Exactly - and here we see an example of the type of harm. By assuming that MMGW is the only risk, we spend all our money preventing something that might not be happening and are then hit for six by something we knew was going to happen (one day) but couldn't afford to prepare for.

    Stupid stupid stupid....

    What makes you think we need to think hard in order to do that?

    Stupid people might have to. But yes, I suppose readers of this blog would not need to...

  4. Okay, Patently,

    Tell us what harm will be done, how many babies will die, if we tackle climate change?

    On the other hand we have a planet contending with human population growth, a huge country with no responsible policy towards pollution (China, not the US) and a fragile economy. Transport links are vital so I suggest we do not curtail those, but asking individuals to contribute to the well-being of the Earth is not much to ask, is it?

  5. Just returned from an election hustings evening. Bit puzzled by the Green's financial policy. Can anyone shed any light?

  6. Albert - yes I can. In a word; "watermelon".

    Tell us what harm will be done, how many babies will die, if we tackle climate change?

    Directly? None, probably.

    Indirectly? Potentially very many.

    The current version of MMGW theory focuses on CO2 emissions, and takes the approach of limiting these in order to prevent rising global temperatures - which are seen as a per se bad thing.

    It is assumed that rising temperatures are intrinsically bad, since they could prompt a runaway effect with unknown and potentially catastrophic consequences. This is indeed possible, in principle. It would seem more feasible if the current temperatures were both steadily rising and unprecedented; neither is however the case. Global temperatures have been stubbornly falling for a decade, and even their peak level was not unremarkable in the context of the medieval warm period - a time that is usually placed just off the edge of the graph when global temperature variations are displayed. Ten years ago, the theories predicted that temperatures would still be rising over this last decade, and therefore the theories are proven wrong. That does not mean that we should ignore the risk, but it does mean that we should look at a balanced prescription that takes into account the risk that they are wrong.

    So, taking the view that we need to look at both sides, and that catastrophe is relatively unlikely, we can look at what is actually being proposed. If we act to prevent MMGW, that implies a reduction in CO2 emissions. That, in turn, implies either a restriction on economic activity of all types, or the diversion of large parts of our investment capital into research on how to achieve a low-carbon economy.

    Both imply lower investment returns. In real terms, that means we will all be poorer. That reduces the available funds that are, at present, used to fund the healthcare systems of the world. So then, as you emotively put it, babies will die.

    But what of the alternative? If we leave the CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperatures do rise to the levels of the medieval warm period, then actually have conditions that are more conducive to plant growth. Given that much research points to the effects of GW being more predominant in cooler climes, this could boost the world's food output considerably. To return to our measure of success, future babies will not starve.

    Now, I remember once that the greatest problems faced by the third world were said to be lack of food and lack of healthcare? So does it make sense to take the route that keeps food output down to its current levels and reduces our ability to fund healthcare?


    Now, none of the above should be seen as a Canutian plea to stop all research into clean technologies, nor a flat denial that GW might happen and might be problematic.

    It is, in fact, a plea that we should stop regarding GW and the only risk, and stop denying that GW might not happen and that there might be other risks.

    I'll end with a little long-term context, in the form of a link to this article from 1975.

  7. Albert,

    The Greens have stashed loads of money away in sheds. In fact the garden shed at the bottom of your garden might be one of the sheds. That's why so many green voters like their garden sheds. Now, when we are given the signal, every person can turn up to their designated shed with a wheelbarrow. Your wheelbarrow will be filled with banknotes to make you very, very, very happy. Money that is left over will make eveyone else very happy. In fact we will all be happy. So simple, I can't believe Brown didn't get around to taxing garden sheds. He has left it a bit late. :-D

  8. Measured and Patently. Thanks, it is the sheds and watermelons option they are going for, after all. I wasn't sure if it was that or just good old-fashioned alchemy. :-)

  9. We are singing from the same hymnsheet, but in slightly different keys. Let me make some points to amuse you:

    Para 2
    We are in a self regulating system 'Gaia' and the ice at the poles is melting. I believe this evidence is uncontroversial. If we exceed the limits of self correction Gaia imposes, looking for a balanced prescription might not be feasible. Plants have not evolved to have fast mobility and are less tolerant to temperature change. Much low lying land is inhabited and/or fertile. What happens elsewhere in the world would have a negative impact on us.

    Para 3

    It is pessimistic to take the view of MMGW leads to a restriction on economic activity of all types, . You must allow for the impact of new technology and in a fragile serviced-based economy with an ageing population that is to become a net importer of energy, a low-carbon economy might be one means to an end. We have few raw materials here and building more hospitals just creates more debt. Our unskilled labour rates are uncompetitive.

    Para 4

    GW will actually have conditions that are more conducive to plant growth in our country, but what about other countries? And what is the overall effect? Speedier growth on less land may not boost the world's food output considerably Australia and Africa have had sustained droughts.

    Para 5

    So does it make sense to take the route that keeps food output down to its current levels and reduces our ability to fund healthcare? Supposition, P.

    I agree there is too much emphasis on the CO2 issue. Water should also feature in the debate, but given the amount of human activity on the surface of the planet day in, day out, we must be vigilant to all risks, of which CO2 and pollution have been readily identified. The debate will evolve as more evidence emerges. Perhaps the introduction of population control will become acceptable (now, that would have an impact on economic activity). There are plenty of issues at stake.

    When is the next international space station passing? It is getting rather hot down here. ;-)

  10. I salute your courage, Measured.

  11. Reading all the reports about the volcano, I haven't seen anywhere any reference to the amount of Carbon Dioxide being given out, only reports about the ash.
    It was, after all, the carbon dioxide which caused the initial failure of the engines of BA Flight 9 near Jakarta in 1982, not the ash. They all flamed out for lack of oxygen, and started again at low level, under the plume, in spite of the ash damage.
    So why no mention? Is it because the volcano is probably giving out as much in a day as Britain does in a year?

  12. Albert,

    You mean this? Might not be able to do it for much longer. *sigh*

  13. My link didn't work.

    It is:

  14. Measured,

    Is that you at the back pushing the others off?!

  15. Albert,

    It's me diving in at the deep end! I always do.

  16. I thought you were this one? Or are you one of these?

    (Will respond to GW points... bit busy)

  17. Your cover is blown Measured - I'll recognise you now if I see you in the street!

  18. Yep, I am your sink or swim kinda girl!

    You would recognise me for the twinkle in my eye. Amongst all those birds too. I assume you are distinguishable and distinguished.

    Work and family must come first. Bide your time, P. We might get more evidence but bear in mind, it may not be in your favour. It could be though. ;-)

  19. Yes measured, the picture of Albert is just a ruse. In reality I'm distinguishable and distinguished.

  20. Terribly dashing, Albert!

    You MUST stand out in a crowd even if you are not head and shoulders above the rest, but keep that under your hat.

    As for the moustache, that is an acquired taste and I would not dream of adding that I am told it is good for holding on. *handlebars* Scampers away....

  21. Thanks measured. It's not possible to hold onto my moustache because it is not a moustache at all, but a very long slug. Looks good though, doesn't it?

  22. Ugh! How not to charm a penguin.

    If GW reduces the numbers of slugs, it might have done some good. All of God's creatures though.

  23. Ugh! How not to charm a penguin.

    Come off it! I only balance the little fella on my upper lip. You penguins eat these things raw!

    All of God's creatures though.

    True, but I agree, slugs are not among God's best creations.

  24. ROFL. I hope you never eat little fella by mistake.

    I am not sure how fishy we should let things get. *raised penguin eyebrows*

    Beauty be in the eye of the beholder. Was ever so and will be ever so.