Friday, March 09, 2007

The Industry of Global Warming

I saw an interesting programme on Channel 4 last evening. It had the somewhat provocative title of "The Great Global Warming Swindle". However in contrast to much produced by Channel 4 it was an interesting are generally intelligent programme.

The essence of the programme was that while in the last few decades the Earth has got a bit warmer, this is not a particularly unusual event as the earth has at various times, even in "recent" history been significantly warmer and colder than it is today. It also put forward that the view that the contributions of mankind to the recent increase in temperatures are essentially negligible.

Before anyone who has started reading this, decides to stop reading this on the basis that I must be some heretical "global warming denier" who cares nothing for the planet and supports only big industry, let me say I am none of those things. Even if global warming was complete fiction there are still many good reasons for reducing reliance on oil and gas and for caring for the environment.

The programme did however raise a valid point that a whole industry of people from funded scientists, journalists, alternative energy suppliers, "environmental consultants" and politicians all depend on global warming for their very livelihood. None of those who depend on global warming for their living are particularly stupid in terms of intellect and all have a vested interest in putting forward an argument to support the theory of global warming.

In the interests of scientific truth, there should still be opportunity to debate something that is really no more than a theory.

The arguments in favour of global warming are well known and there would be little point in spending time repeating them here.
The arguments against global warming are less well known and include:

1) The sun has by far the biggest impact on the earth's temperature. The sun is not and never has been a constant. Its activity fluctuates significantly. Most significantly, solar activity over the twentieth century correlates directly to the earth's temperature. This includes a significant dip in temperatures in the period immediately after WWII when industrial output and CO2 output from industry was rising. The earth got cooler because the sun was less active. The impact of industrial output was largely irrelevant here. Equally the recent increases in temperature are largely due to increased solar activity.

2) The theory of global warming is not wrong per se. CO2 and other gases do cause the trapping of heat. It is just that the impact of human activities has only a negligible effect. Volcanoes belch quantities of gases into the air equal to whole nations. Bacteria and animals also produce massive quantities of CO2. Scientific evidence shows that the percentage of CO2 produce by human activity is small compared to the natural activities.

3) Destructive weather in terms of hurricanes and tornadoes would decrease and not increase in a warmer earth. Therefore horrifying pictures of hurricane damage are not relevant to global warming. Such weather is formed when cold air reacts with warm oceans, not when warm air meets warm oceans. Equally, the breaking off of large ice bergs from the polar icecaps in the summer period can be described as being "as natural as the falling of autumn leaves". What the news reports never show is the ice reforming the following winter.

Remarkably for a theory now supported by most of the left, global warming's most powerful early supporter was British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. At a time of industrial disputes in 1980s Britain that involved coal and a reluctance to rely on the unreliable middle East for oil, Margaret Thatcher saw global warming theory as a useful "tool" for backing the development of nuclear power.

Only later did disillusioned socialists looking for an ideological home after the failure of the communist experiment, find global warming environmentalism as a suitable base for renewing their attacks on capitalism and industry. Since then, the theory has rapidly gained ground. Journalists have found a story that reliably sells newspapers- the risk of global destruction and now legions of "environmental journalists" owe their livelihood to the maintenance of global warming theory. Scientists find it easier to get research grants if their research involves and supports global warming. UN bodies also align themselves here creating a global industry around global warming. Finally, mainstream politicians, who want to appear fresh faced and trendy are now all "waking up" to the reality of Global Warming. See for example Britain's David Cameron successfully using global warming as a tool to challenge old stereotypes of the Conservative Party. When he first appeared with a wind turbine on his west London house and rode a bike to his office (not forgetting the chauffeur driven car following behind with a brief case and leather shoes !) he spoke directly to a sizeable demographic. He spoke to socially concerned metropolitan, Waitrose shopping, skinny latte drinking people who like to think of themselves as "nice people", saying "I share your self-doubts and media generated guilt and I will make gestures to assuage that guilt and enable you to do the same". Every intelligent person knows a wind turbine in central London is unlikely to power more than a doorbell and that cycling to work in front of your chauffeur driven car is a completely empty gesture, but by adopting global warming as his cause, he has become trendy in a way that hanging around with a 100 pop stars would not have achieved. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California also used global warming to show he was a "switched on" Republican.

Despite the stereotype of a disinterested America, the reality is that President Bush is now a major funder of global warming research and no doubt presidential candidates in 2008 will fall over themselves to be seen to be concerned about global warming.

Like any popular theory, those supporting it have a variety of different reasons for doing so. Few journalists and politicians are in a position to judge the science themselves so they are reliant on the scientific theories that are themselves funded with agendas in mind. Somewhere in this the truth gets lost in a cause that unites anti-Capitalists keen to attack industry through a spectrum of supporters to President Bush keen to reduce his nation's reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

For the general population, after enough respected and apparently intelligent people repeat the same thing, it becomes accepted fact.

A number of scientists don't accept global warming theory but their funding and profile often suffer as a result.

Ultimately, time will tell how real global warming really is. Most theories involve predictions for 2050 or some now for 2080. By then, of course everyone involved today will be retired or dead and the inaccuracy of a theory today will be of only academic relevance.My own view is that there is a lot of doubt around global warming theory. The fit between solar activity and temperature fluctuation is a strong argument in favour of doubting it . The earth may be getting warmer at present but the impact of human activity may not be the main cause. I also get suspicious when those raising scientific objections to the dominant theory are so aggressively treated. If global warming is so accurate a theory with support from most journalists, politicians and increasingly many industrialists, why do those who doubt it have to be silenced so forcefully ?

For my own part, the reality or not of global warming theory will make little personal difference. Personally I will try to save fuel because it so expensive. As a nation we would also be well advised to reduce consumption of oil as accessible supplies diminish and are concentrated in volatile parts of the world. For me to realise this does not require an apocalyptical theory. It is about saving money and not being reliant on some very unreliable energy suppliers.

Also other environmental concerns remain valid. The absence of global warming does not mean we are any more justified in destroying wild habitats, decimating rain forests or polluting the seas. I can want a nice environment without doing so in fear of my life.

Global Warming, true or false, is about fear. Fear of the future and fear of catastrophe. I would hope that one day there can be an honest debate about global warming . In the meantime the media and political orthodoxy around this theory will no doubt mean that those who doubt it are demonised and the majority who take theory and opinion spouted by journalists as fact will see no grounds for doubt.

Even those "heretics" who doubt global warming and threaten the livelihood of the global warming industry can still support reduced reliance on oil and protection of wildlife and nature. The "heretics" just don't need to live in fear in order to do what is sensible and right.

Link to Channel 4's Great Global Warming Swindle

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For those who might have missed the documentary, you can get it here.

The Great Global Warming Swindle

here is another one