Response to Amanda Baillieu’s editorial leader in Building Design: “Is global warming hot air?”

Read the original post here 

Justin Bere, 6th Nov 2009

Amanda, if you are searching the internet for scientific facts, may I suggest that you dip into Cambridge Professor David JC MacKay’s extremely scientific and highly respected book at www.withouthotair.com. There you will see graphs showing the big rise in atmospheric CO2 levels that occurred between about 1800 and 2000. Scientific fact.

To those who remain sceptical about the cause of this, MacKay asks “does sceptic mean someone who has not even glanced at the data? Don’t you think, just possibly, something may have happened between 1800AD and 2000AD? Something that was not part of the natural processes present in the preceding thousand years?

Something did happen, it was called the industrial revolution.” MacKay demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt the link between CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuel and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Then Mackay looks into the link between CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and global temperatures. “Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.” Scientific fact. “put more of it into the atmosphere and it does what greenhouse gases do: it absorbs infrared radiation (heat) heading out from the earth and reemits it in a random direction; the effect of this random redirection of the atmospheric heat traffic is to impede the flow of heat from the planet, just like a quilt.

So carbon dioxide has a warming effect.” Scientific fact. “The concensus of the best climate change models seems to be that doubling the CO2 concentrations would ….. increase the intensity of the sun by 2%…..bumping up the global temperature by something like 3 degrees C. This is what historians call a Bad Thing.”

The British Antarctic Survey has recently found that the (man-made) ozone hole has strengthened surface winds around Antarctica and deepened storms in the South Pacific, delaying the loss of ice in the Antarctic (as opposed to the Arctic where the rate of melting is growing) and delaying the impact of greenhouse gas increases in the region. So climate modelling is difficult and dogged by uncertainties. But as MacKay asks, “uncertainty about exactly how the climate will respond to extra greenhouse gases is no justification for inaction. If you were riding a fast-moving motorcycle in fog near a cliff-edge, and you don’t have a good map of the cliff, would the lack of a map justify not slowing the bike down?”

MacKay quotes in his book various pieces of journalism doubting man-made climate change that are so ignorant in their misunderstandings that they are pitiful. However once written, often by the tabloid press, they can put the debate back years, wasting the diligent work done by scientists and others, when science shows that we don’t have time to sit on our hands and do nothing.

Or at least, the people in the hotter regions of the earth in particular don’t have time. And this leads us to a genetic problem: selfishness.

All species on this earth are primarily selfish in order to have the best chance of surviving the competitive battle of evolution. In a stable ecosystem, biodiversity is maintained in spite of the battle of the genes, but once the balance is lost, disaster follows. Geological evidence show that ecological imbalances have resulted in five mass global extinctions in the last 450 million years. It is a scientific fact that a sixth major decline is now underway as the result of human activity, and this time it is faster and greater in its effect than any of the five previous mass extinctions. It cannot reasonably be denied that this is caused by the huge growth of the human population that has come with industrialisation since about 1750, and the emissions caused by this massive growth in the number of people.

It is then a matter of simple logic to reach the conclusion that emissions per capita in the polluting industrialised world must be reduced dramatically and urgently in order to try to stem these effects.

However we are not genetically programmed to recognise much more than the success of our own individual genes, so the lessons of the cautious scientists are easily forgotten when irresponsible, unintelligent, greedy, selfish or deliberately misleading things are written by those that hold positions of influence or respect. When people abuse such positions, the damage caused is almost unforgiveable.

I would like to think, Amanda, that you will look into the subject now, quickly but thoroughly (I would offer to assist by hosting a meeting with some people that will help you do this at my office) then write another equally prominent piece which recognises your errors. [end]

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