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Climate Change: Answering the Sceptics (and Channel 4)
Check out: www.indymedia.ie/article/81216
Channel 4 ran a documentary on thursday nigth claiming to be a 'scientific' counter argument to climate change. The scientific method is to look at the balance of evidence and make a decision, not focus on one or two pieces alone.
In this article Pete Dickenson looks at the evidence put forward by the 'sceptics' and argues for immediate action to stop climate change.
Planet Under Threat
The article was originally written in 2005 by Pete Dickenson (Socialist Party, England and Wales), but it cites many of the same scientists and evidence that Channel 4 used.
CLIMATE CHANGE: ANSWERING THE SCEPTICS
The latest scientific findings have again reinforced the case for urgent action to halt global warming. The political establishment responds with more hot air. The very limited Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas emissions has been ratified – but without the US. Meanwhile, Tony Blair backs British big business demands. PETE DICKENSON reports.
GLOBAL WARMING SCEPTICS have often claimed that fluctuations of the earth’s temperature, such as those being seen now, are natural and have been occurring throughout history. At the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, however, strong evidence was presented which, although still to be published in the scientific press, indicates that global warming is due to human activity. The new findings come from studies of variations in ocean temperatures that used seven million readings stretching over 40 years. It is important to analyse these ocean temperature changes because 90% of heat from the planetary warming of the past 40 years has gone directly into the oceans, the conference heard.
Scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego argued at the meeting that each of the oceans warms differently at different depths and therefore provides a fingerprint to look for that can help identify the causes of global warming. For instance, particular patterns of temperature variation with depth and position are associated with particular causes, such as natural variation, solar changes or volcanic effects. The model that most closely matched the fingerprint, however, was that for global warming. What struck the researchers was the remarkably close statistical fit of the data with the global warming model, leading them to dismiss any other reason for the observed water temperature rise.
The actual sea temperature rise over the last 40 years does not seem dramatic, ranging from 0.5-1 degree Centigrade, but what is significant is the vast quantity of extra heat stored in the oceans as a result of this. The effect of this amount of heat being released could alter important warm-water currents like the gulf-stream, as melting glaciers empty into the North Atlantic. This could radically alter the climate of North-Western Europe, potentially causing big drops in temperature in winter.
Bush and the lobby of US oil multinationals that he represents consistently attack the science on which predictions are made of possible future environmental disaster linked to global warming. The Telegraph, a leading British conservative paper, has called climate change theory a ‘left-wing, anti-American, anti-West ideology’. It would be wrong, however, to form an opinion on this scientific controversy based on who is in the camp of the global warming sceptics. It is clear that the US oil lobby has a vested interest in ‘denying’ the theory of human induced global warming, since burning oil products is one of the major causes. Nevertheless, the arguments must be considered on their own merits. To do otherwise would be to bend to the current post-modernist scepticism about the validity and worth of scientific investigation, a scepticism that attributes undue weight to the subjective motives of the actors involved. In a covert manner Bush and the global warming sceptics play on the disenchanted public mood with regard to science.
Karl Marx described science as the handmaid of capitalism, and in this role it has been shaped – and ultimately distorted and corrupted to an extent – in its quest to interpret and understand our material existence, particularly in the epoch of capitalism’s imperialist decline. This explains why there is growing distrust in society of science and all its works. A notorious example of this was the role of the scientific establishment in covering up the BSE scandal, which led to an undermining of public confidence in the value of science. Despite understandable doubt about its progressive and benign role, however, scientific investigation remains rooted, in the final analysis, in a materialist approach to achieving understanding and as such retains its validity.
The sceptics’ arguments
THE GLOBAL WARMING sceptics have taken three basic positions: first denying that warming is happening at all; then saying that it is a natural phenomenon, not human induced; and finally down-playing the seriousness of its effects. As the evidence has mounted supporting the idea that the threat is real and due to human intervention, they have retreated from one position to another. There are, however, those who still deny that the earth’s temperature is rising, like Fred Singer, founder of the think-tank Science and Environmental Policy Project. Since 1979, he says, the global climate has if anything cooled.
The debate about whether it is the greenhouse effect or natural fluctuations that are causing global warming also continues. A correspondent from Edinburgh University in a recent issue of New Scientist magazine claims that the evidence is contradictory about when global warming began. He cited a recent paper in the leading science journal Nature that studied temperature changes over the past millennium which indicated that global warming began in 1600. This would mean, of course, that the rise in surface temperatures was not due to the greenhouse effect, since carbon dioxide levels did not begin to increase significantly until the industrial revolution 150 years later. Also, the same writer claims that the Nature paper supports the view that the 20th century was no warmer than the 11th century. In fact, real doubt has been cast on some claims made by climate scientists on this subject. For instance, it now looks as if there is not enough evidence to say the 1990s were definitely the hottest ever. However, although natural effects, such as solar activity, do affect global temperatures, sometimes significantly, an analysis of solar activity over the past 30 years would predict a fall in temperature rather than the opposite. In truth, there are no natural effects that could have caused the increase of 0.5 degrees C in temperature that has been observed in just 30 years.
The final redoubt of the sceptics is to challenge the extent of the threat produced by global warming. Here there is considerable scope for argument because both sides inevitably have to speculate about events far into the future, where reaching unequivocal conclusions is very difficult if not impossible. The Bush camp is increasingly concentrating its fire in this area. For instance, Myron Ebell, the US presidential advisor on the environment, says that "global warming is unlikely to be much of a problem". James Inhofe, Chair of the US Senate Environment Committee, says "increases in global warming may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives".
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international body of climate scientists, is currently predicting that the earth’s temperature will rise by between 1.4-5.8 degrees C due to the action of greenhouse gases. The big range in this prediction, which could result in very different consequences at the two ends, is due to the inherent difficulties in making very long-range predictions, something the sceptics have latched onto, saying the uncertainty makes the whole exercise worthless. In fact, even a 1.4 degree C rise would mean the hottest ever temperature in the history of civilisation. What mainly lies behind this large range in predicted temperatures is the uncertainty of the action of the so-called feedback effect. The feedback can be either negative or positive. The negative type tends to reinforce global warming effects and the positive to diminish them. A possible example of negative feedback is one in which the role the oceans currently play in absorbing carbon dioxide is switched to one of emitting the gas. This could happen because, as sea temperatures rise due to global warming itself, the oceans’ ability to absorb further carbon dioxide is reduced.
One of the very few credible sceptical climate change experts, Richard Linzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has used feedback arguments to back his case. He cites a possible positive feedback effect due to the drying out of the upper levels of the atmosphere. Water vapour is a significant greenhouse gas and so its reduction, again as a result of a temperature rise due to global warming itself, would reduce the greenhouse effect and lower temperatures. There is not much evidence to back this up but it is theoretically possible, according to a recent article in New Scientist magazine.
In a response to the sceptics, a review of the findings of nearly 1,000 articles on climate change in so-called peer-reviewed scientific journals (that is, papers that have been scrutinised by other leading scientists for their accuracy), by Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego, showed that there was a near universal consensus opposing the sceptics’ position. The sceptics response to this is that virtually all climate scientists are biased due to politically motivated, pre-conceived ideas, and some sceptics even allege an enormous conspiracy.
Even though evidence is mounting all the time, restricting the sceptics’ room for manoeuvre, there is always going to be a degree of uncertainty about the long-term effects of human-induced temperature rises. This does not mean, though, that action does not need to be taken urgently. For example, consider the scientific controversy over the link between smoking and lung disease that stretched over decades, which has some similarities with the current dispute. The scientific ‘denyers’ of the link between smoking and cancer were often paid by the tobacco industry and the evidence at first was not completely clear cut, which gave them a chance to refute the claims of the anti-smoking lobby. Even now the exact mechanism of how smoking causes cancer is not fully understood, for instance, why some people smoke heavily all their lives and do not develop the disease. However, a lack of a complete picture did not prevent a scientific/medical consensus emerging that demanded decisive action be taken.
It is true that the uncertainties of predicting the effects of climate change, decades or even centuries in the future, are greater than those surrounding the smoking/cancer link, but the consequences of not taking action are potentially more disastrous, even threatening the continuation of life on the planet in the long term. For this reason, a precautionary approach needs to taken, that recognises there will inevitably be uncertainties, but nevertheless demands decisive action now.
ONE OF THE lines of argument of the sceptics in downplaying the seriousness of global warming is to argue that humankind will be able to cope with its effects using new technology. This raises the question of how likely is it that technology will emerge that will be able to solve the problem of global warming. Of course, renewable power generation technology exists now, such as wind, wave and solar power, but it is relatively expensive to introduce.
What the capitalist system is looking for is an invention that can generate sustainable energy that is as cheap, or almost as cheap, as using oil. In search of this ‘promised land’ research has continued for decades into the possibility of developing nuclear fusion as an energy source, with the potential to produce virtually unlimited amounts of power with no pollution. The basis of the technology is to try to harness the vast amount of energy that is released when atoms are fused together, which unlike splitting the atom, does not produce toxic radio-active waste. The leading capitalist countries realised early-on that international co-operation would be needed, because massive resources are required to give a chance of success in tackling this very complex problem. However, partly as a result of squabbling between the partners over who would pay what, over the deployment of the money, and over the long-term future of the programme, no decisive breakthrough has been made.
Another possible future sustainable technology is hydrogen fuel cells. (See Socialism Today No.75, June 2003) A fuel cell is a device that uses hydrogen, or hydrogen-rich fuel, and oxygen to create electricity by an electro-chemical process, and if pure hydrogen is used as a fuel, only water is produced as a by-product, theoretically making it environmentally friendly. Fuel cells are currently being developed to power passenger vehicles, homes, commercial buildings, mobile phones and lap-top computers. They are more efficient than the combustion engines used to power cars and in themselves do not produce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
However, hydrogen does not occur in a usable form naturally, it has to be manufactured and stored, and to do this requires energy. A report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that producing the fuel itself would involve substantial carbon dioxide emissions and concluded that these, coupled with the extra ‘green’ costs of fuel distribution, would cancel out any potential environmental advantages of hydrogen cells. But if the hydrogen that drives them is produced with renewable energy, fuel cells could be a useful green alternative to the present combustion methods used in motor vehicles or electricity generation. The money being put into developing them is relatively tiny, though. For instance, the US recently announced a $700 million programme to develop fuel cells for cars that Bush predicted would take 20 years to bear fruit. Compare this to the $2 billion that Ford spent recently on developing a single new (non-green) model.
To date, the capitalist market system has been unable to provide the scientific breakthroughs that are needed to transform energy production. One of the reasons is that the huge costs of developing the new approaches that are needed in the energy field deter most companies from entering the market. Also, since the lure of profits is still ultimately the reason for investment in new technology, it will be introduced in those sectors that are most profitable in the short and medium term, ie for fossil fuel technologies rather than for renewable energy generation.
SO DESPITE THE climate change sceptics’ Micawber-like optimism about new sustainable technology being developed, it is unlikely that any ‘magic-bullet’ invention will turn up in the short or medium term. However, one existing technology that they could turn to is nuclear power, which is relatively cheap compared to renewables and by coincidence does not produce greenhouse gases. It would be completely wrong though to assume that this option does not pose a serious threat to environmental sustainability, particularly linked to the problem of disposing of toxic waste. (A direct consequence of producing electricity with nuclear reactors is the accumulation of radioactive waste, uranium and plutonium. There is also a significant amount of plutonium produced for military purposes that has to be stored.)
Since this toxic material will be radioactive for 100,000 years, a safe method must be found that can be guaranteed to be secure for this period of time, a task that poses huge uncertainties and problems because it is difficult to predict what natural conditions will be so far in the future. If the material is buried, the onset of earthquakes in previously unaffected areas is possible, for example. If the radioactive spent fuel is put at the bottom of the sea the integrity of the materials used as a storage medium will inevitably be uncertain after such a long time, possibly leading to seepage. Also, undersea volcanic activity could start, leading to the same result. These are some of the problems we have now in dealing with existing waste: to add to them by expanding nuclear power would be irresponsible. Apart from the dangers of toxic waste, continuing with nuclear energy will also pose the possibility of another Chernobyl-type disaster.
Despite the risks involved, most bourgeois politicians, including Tony Blair in Britain, are now covertly considering expanding nuclear power. This is because, unlike Bush and the climate sceptics, they are worried about the threat of global warming but know that renewable alternatives are expensive and introducing them will hit the profits of the companies whose interests they represent. The dilemma they face is well illustrated by Blair’s current predicament. He is at present chair of the G8, the club of the leading industrialised countries plus Russia, and was planning to make the environment a centrepiece of the G8 summit at Gleneagles in June. To gain credibility for this tactic, the British government announced that it was setting a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than the targets required by the Kyoto agreement to cut global warming. This would have resulted in a 20% rather than a 12% reduction in greenhouse gases from their 1990 levels. The European Commission was informed that this would be the UK target for the separate European permit-trading scheme that is running in parallel to the Kyoto system.
The UK’s unilateral pledge was quickly followed by intensive lobbying by the bosses’ organisation, the CBI, which said their members would be adversely affected by the stricter target, by being put in a non-competitive situation internationally. Blair quickly caved in under CBI pressure and told the EU that the British government wanted to go back on its earlier commitment. The Commission replied to say that this would be illegal under EU law and so Britain must stick to its original target, something that Labour has been forced to accept. However, according to press reports, the government intends to pursue the EU through the courts in order to have the less stringent target accepted, a process that will take years. In the light of this fiasco, it remains to be seen how much prominence Blair will give to the environment at the G8 summit, considering his yawning credibility gap over global warming.
There is a serious lesson lying behind this amusing embarrassment for Blair. The cost of the cuts being demanded with either target, soft or hard, is very minor compared to what is required for real sustainability, but even this small sacrifice was totally unacceptable to the big companies represented by the CBI. Their priority, and that of the Labour government that looks after their interests, is protecting their profits at all costs. Dealing with environmental threats, however potentially devastating, will always be low down on their agenda.
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Al said carbondoxide causes the global warming.
Swindle on C4 says the earth was heated by the sun (solar flares) and carbon dioxide levels rose some time later.
who is right?
The science might be bunkum, the research discredited. But all that counts for Channel 4 is generating controversy
Tuesday March 13, 2007
Were it not for dissent, science, like politics, would have stayed in the dark ages. All the great heroes of the discipline - Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein - took tremendous risks in confronting mainstream opinion. Today's crank has often proved to be tomorrow's visionary.
But the syllogism does not apply. Being a crank does not automatically make you a visionary. There is little prospect, for example, that Dr Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African health minister who has claimed Aids can be treated with garlic, lemon and beetroot, will be hailed as a genius. But the point is often confused. Professor David Bellamy, for example, while making the incorrect claim that wind farms do not have "any measurable effect" on total emissions of carbon dioxide, has compared himself to Galileo.
The problem with The Great Global Warming Swindle, which caused a sensation when it was broadcast on Channel 4 last week, is that to make its case it relies not on future visionaries, but on people whose findings have already been proved wrong. The implications could not be graver. Just as the government launches its climate change bill and Gordon Brown and David Cameron start jostling to establish their green credentials, thousands have been misled into believing there is no problem to address.
The film's main contention is that the current increase in global temperatures is caused not by rising greenhouse gases, but by changes in the activity of the sun. It is built around the discovery in 1991 by the Danish atmospheric physicist Dr Eigil Friis-Christensen that recent temperature variations on Earth are in "strikingly good agreement" with the length of the cycle of sunspots.
Unfortunately, he found nothing of the kind. A paper published in the journal Eos in 2004 reveals that the "agreement" was the result of "incorrect handling of the physical data". The real data for recent years show the opposite: that the length of the sunspot cycle has declined, while temperatures have risen. When this error was exposed, Friis-Christensen and his co-author published a new paper, purporting to produce similar results. But this too turned out to be an artefact of mistakes - in this case in their arithmetic.
So Friis-Christensen and another author developed yet another means of demonstrating that the sun is responsible, claiming to have discovered a remarkable agreement between cosmic radiation influenced by the sun and global cloud cover. This is the mechanism the film proposes for global warming. But, yet again, the method was exposed as faulty. They had been using satellite data which did not in fact measure global cloud cover. A paper in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics shows that, when the right data are used, a correlation is not found.
So the hypothesis changed again. Without acknowledging that his previous paper was wrong, Friis-Christensen's co-author, Henrik Svensmark, declared there was a correlation - not with total cloud cover but with "low cloud cover". This, too, turned out to be incorrect. Then, last year, Svensmark published a paper purporting to show cosmic rays could form tiny particles in the atmosphere. Accompanying the paper was a press release which went way beyond the findings reported in the paper, claiming it showed that both past and current climate events are the result of cosmic rays.
As Dr Gavin Schmidt of Nasa has shown on www.realclimate.org, five missing steps would have to be taken to justify the wild claims in the press release. "We've often criticised press releases that we felt gave misleading impressions of the underlying work," Schmidt says, "but this example is by far the most blatant extrapolation beyond reasonableness that we have seen." None of this seems to have troubled the programme makers, who report the cosmic ray theory as if it trounces all competing explanations.
The film also maintains that manmade global warming is disproved by conflicting temperature data. Professor John Christy speaks about the discrepancy he discovered between temperatures at the Earth's surface and temperatures in the troposphere (or lower atmosphere). But the programme fails to mention that in 2005 his data were proved wrong, by three papers in Science magazine.
Christy himself admitted last year that he was mistaken. He was one of the authors of a paper which states the opposite of what he says in the film. "Previously reported discrepancies between the amount of warming near the surface and higher in the atmosphere have been used to challenge the reliability of climate models and the reality of human-induced global warming. Specifically, surface data showed substantial global-average warming, while early versions of satellite and radiosonde data showed little or no warming above the surface. This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected."
Until recently, when found to be wrong, scientists went back to their labs to start again. Now, emboldened by the denial industry, some of them, like the film-makers, shriek "censorship!". This is the best example of manufactured victimhood I have come across. If you demonstrate someone is wrong, you are now deemed to be silencing him.
But there is one scientist in the film whose work has not been debunked: the oceanographer Carl Wunsch. He appears to support the idea that increasing carbon dioxide is not responsible for rising global temperatures. Wunsch says he was "completely misrepresented" by the programme, and "totally misled" by the people who made it.
This is a familiar story to those who have followed the career of the director Martin Durkin. In 1998, the Independent Television Commission found that, when making a similar series, he had "misled" his interviewees about "the content and purpose of the programmes". Their views had been "distorted through selective editing". Channel 4 had to make a prime-time apology.
Cherry-pick your results, choose work which is already discredited, and anything and everything becomes true. The twin towers were brought down by controlled explosions; MMR injections cause autism; homeopathy works; black people are less intelligent than white people; species came about through intelligent design. You can find lines of evidence which appear to support all these contentions, and, in most cases, professors who will speak up in their favour. But this does not mean that any of them are correct. You can sustain a belief in these propositions only by ignoring the overwhelming body of contradictory data. To form a balanced, scientific view, you have to consider all the evidence, on both sides of the question. But for the film's commissioners, all that counts is the sensation. Channel 4 has always had a problem with science. No one in its science unit appears to understand the difference between a peer-reviewed paper and a clipping from the Daily Mail. It keeps commissioning people whose claims have been discredited - such as Durkin. But its failure to understand the scientific process just makes the job of whipping up a storm that much easier. The less true a programme is, the greater the controversy.
Carl Wunsch, one lead scientists that appeared on the Channel 4 programme: The Great Global Warming Swindle last Thursday has responded in order to clarify his views on Global Warming which he said the programme mis-represented him.
Here is the first part of his response and some further extracts. The full response can be found over at the RealClimate.org website -see URL below.
I believe that climate change is real, a major threat, and almost surely has a major human-induced component. But I have tried to stay out of the `climate wars' because all nuance tends to be lost, and the distinction between what we know firmly, as scientists, and what we suspect is happening, is so difficult to maintain in the presence of rhetorical excess. In the long run, our credibility as scientists rests on being very careful of, and protective of, our authority and expertise....
..I am on record in a number of places complaining about the over-dramatization and unwarranted extrapolation of scientific facts. Thus the notion that the Gulf Stream would or could "shut off" or that with global warming Britain would go into a "new ice age" are either scientifically impossible or so unlikely as to threaten our credibility as a scientific discipline if we proclaim their reality......
When approached by WAGTV, on behalf of Channel 4, known to me as one of the main UK independent broadcasters, I was led to believe that I would be given an opportunity to explain why I, like some others, find the statements at both extremes of the global change debate distasteful. I am, after all a teacher, and this seemed like a good opportunity to explain why, for example, I thought more attention should be paid to sea level rise, which is ongoing and unstoppable and carries a real threat of acceleration, than to the unsupportable claims that the ocean circulation was undergoing shutdown (Nature, December 2005)...
...I wanted to explain why observing the ocean was so difficult, and why it is so tricky to predict with any degree of confidence such important climate elements as its heat and carbon storage and transports in 10 or 100 years.........Nonetheless, and contrary to the impression given in the film, I firmly believe there is a great deal to be learned from models. With effort, all of this is explicable in terms the public can understand.
And probably one of the most important points he makes is:
In the part of the "Swindle" film where I am describing the fact that the ocean tends to expel carbon dioxide where it is warm, and to absorb it where it is cold, my intent was to explain that warming the ocean could be dangerous---because it is such a gigantic reservoir of carbon. By its placement in the film, it appears that I am saying that since carbon dioxide exists in the ocean in such large quantities, human influence must not be very important --- diametrically opposite to the point I was making --- which is that global warming is both real and threatening in many different ways, some unexpected.
And he goes on to say:
Channel 4 now says they were making a film in a series of "polemics". There is nothing in the communication we had (much of it on the telephone or with the film crew on the day they were in Boston) that suggested they were making a film that was one-sided, anti-educational, and misleading. I took them at face value---clearly a great error. I knew I had no control over the actual content, but it never occurred to me that I was dealing with people who already had a reputation for distortion and exaggeration.
Kevin Myyers adds his considerable scientific knowledge to the argument:
THE world has gone mad, utterly mad, as if, eight years after the event, people have only just realised that the millennium is upon us, mankind is doomed, and it is time to repent, repent.
Rational people have abandoned reason, and entire polities are one by one surrendering to the hysteria of the global-warming scare. Vanity meets inanity, and their hybrid offspring is a posturing, self-righteous buffoon who thinks that with a bit of self-denial, the sun can be wooed and the earth can be cooled.
There is nothing mankind can do about global warming. Nothing. There is not even any proof that mankind caused it, merely evidence that it exists - for the moment anyway.
Thirty years ago, scientists were united in their triple declarations that (a) a new ice age was upon us, (b) the earth was running out of oil, and (c) within two decades civilisation as we knew it would be over. Today, only hypothesis (c) remains intact, but now for entirely different reasons. This time, the world is in dire trouble - goes the theory - because we are emitting too much carbon dioxide, and unless we do something about it, the planet, once again, is doomed.
The hysterical rubbish which fills our airwaves has generated an unquestioning vocabulary, a meaningless liturgy of clichés and pieties. Suddenly, politicians and TV presenters are talking authoritatively about 'carbon footprint', as if the term had any real meaning.
In fact, it has as much value as the indulgences which were once hawked around Europe to pay for the reconstruction of St Peter's Basilica, with an equally cynical agenda behind it. Not merely is green the new religion. There is also money in green commodities.
There are profits to be made from selling windmills and trading in carbon credits, as there once were from selling those special papal dispensations that reduced or even eliminated the punishments for your sins, the spiritual carbon footprint of the era.
The eco-priests of our modern lunatic sect, intoning their fluent gibberish, dominate all discussion about the environment. To doubt is to be isolated and ignored. All debate is predicated on the prevailing dogma that global warming is caused by man-made endeavours, and can be cured by us alone. This is now an immutable article of faith, as once was the existence of the Divine Trinity, and as immune to proof or disproof. Indeed, even to suggest it might need analysis is itself a heresy. The hysterical babbling greens are ready to lynch any who dissent.
What insane vanity is it which says that we are responsible for global warming, when we share our planetary system with the thermonuclear psychopath that is the sun? It weighs 300,000 times as much as the earth. Our earth has a diameter of 13,000 kilometres. The sun is 14 million kilometres across, and its heart burns at 15 million degrees centigrade. Solar flares reach temperatures of 10 million degrees, each containing the energy of a million nuclear bombs. Every second, the sun sheds a million tons of charged particles at 6,000 Celsius into space.
So anything we do to change the earth's temperature is like reducing the Pacific ocean with a salt-spoon.
Earth's weather grows warmer and stormier during periods of heavy sunspot activity.
So, when the sun had no sunspots between 1645 and 1715, the Maunder minimum resulted, and the earth went through a mini-Ice Age - hence all those Dutch masterpieces of people skating on frozen lakes. What a difference a few sunspots make, because earlier in the 17th century, tobacco was grown as a crop in Warwickshire, and vineyards flourished in Kent.
And no-one said a word about carbon footprints back then, possibly because they were too worried about the Reformation and the Thirty Years War, and other religious-related matters.
Now we have our new religion of climate change, before which we prostrate ourselves, performing the 21st century equivalent of rain dances, which - unless we are careful - will soon turn into the Aztecs' practice of sacrificing their children to placate the insatiable appetites of their barbaric deities.
Because when the brainless pieties of the green salons are turned into policy to propitiate the weather gods of our own fevered imaginations, they will inevitably limit growth. And however uncomfortable - say - a 10pc reduction in output is for us, it will be a catastrophe for the developing world.
If you are well-fed, then a loss of one tenth of your calories makes you slim; if you are already at the breadline, then a 10pc reduction makes you dead. It is that simple and that certain.
Meanwhile, China and India - rightly - are continuing to expand their economies, churning millions of tons of CO2 into the environment.
But their production of this 'greenhouse gas' is nothing compared to what nature does.
THERE are 500 active volcanoes in the world, and a single volcanic eruption can release more CO2 than all of mankind's production in a year (which is relatively easy: less than 1pc of the atmosphere is CO2).
Moreover, both the seas and autumn leaf-fall dwarf our production of this supposedly lethal gas. And superintending all is the real source of global warming, the sun, all 2000 trillion trillion tons of it.
Monbiot is himself no expert on the matter and he's been wrong in the past.
Monbiot failed to address some of the more persuasive arguments of the Channel 4 documentary, specifiically the claim that the rise in Co2 levels FOLLOWS global warming with a lag of a few decades. Thus the rise in Co2 levels is the result of global warming and not the cause.
This was the most important aspect of the programme.
Monbiot also fails to mentioned that the scientists who's initial research was proved wrong, were proved wrong because their method was flawed. This was later addressed and they got similar results. They were only proved wrong as they published their methods which some sharp eyed scientist spotted was flawed.
The doomsday scearions of malaria spreading was also proved false but Monbiot never addresses this either.
Monbiot is just as guilty of peddling a polemic at the expense of a balanced view on the debate.
It's a very interesting debate and will be sure to cause much more controversy.
For me, the most interesting part was the founder of Greenpeace who disagreed with Co2 being the cause.
The most annoying part is that anyone who disagrees is immediately accused of being funded by the oil companies.
"Monbiot is himself no expert on the matter and he's been wrong in the past.
Monbiot failed to address some of the more persuasive arguments of the Channel 4 documentary, specifiically the claim that the rise in Co2 levels FOLLOWS global warming with a lag of a few decades. Thus the rise in Co2 levels is the result of global warming and not the cause.
This was the most important aspect of the programme....."
Groan. I have not seen the programme but this 'claim' is another example of obsfucation. It shouldn't need to be pointed out that the Earth and its climate system are linked via feedback loop which is engaged by smaller increases in temperature. The feedback produces the larger increases, but it requires the intial increase of greenhouse gas emissions.
This has happened in the past.
251 million years ago, in the Permian era, the most devastating global extinction occurred. 90+% of life became extinct. Temperatures increased due to an 'external' factor believed to have been an asteroid that disintegrated in the atmosphere.
This acted as a trigger which increase d the atmosphere, AFAICR to about 2 degrees. In turn this produce a feedback whereby the Earth became a net contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
The methane at the bottom the of the oceans and the frozen methane in the tundra entered the atmosphere and the temperature increased to an almost fatal level , again AFAICR ~6degrees.
This is an extreme example but the principle is the same today.
It's worth re-iterating that the maker of this programme, Martin Durkin, is a member of a cultish far-right organisation. And that he, and the very same organisation, have a history of producing similar programmes * in the past on Channel 4. This far-right cult has been in receipt of funds from all manner of corporate interests including oil companies.
Martin Durkin's previous....
* Against Nature (1997 Ch4)
PURE PROPAGANDA - THE GREAT GLOBAL WARMING SWINDLE: The Scientists Are The Bad Guys
Cheers for the reply
...But I forgot to include the section below from the Medialens link.
We then come to one of the film's most misleading arguments. Antarctic ice cores show that rises in levels of CO2 have lagged 800 years behind temperature rises at specific times in the geological past. This, argued Durkin, +proves+ that CO2 cannot be responsible for global warming - instead global warming is responsible for increasing levels of CO2. But this was a huge howler.
What Durkin's film failed to explain was that the 800-year lag happened at the end of ice ages which occur about every 100,000 years. (See: www.realclimate.org/index.php/ archives/2004/12/co2-in-ice-cores)
Scientists believe that the end of an ice age is likely triggered when the amount of heat reaching the Earth rises as a result of a periodic change in the Earth's orbit around the sun. Jeff Severinghaus, Professor of Geosciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explains why the rise in CO2 initially lags behind the temperature rise:
"The reason has to do with the fact that the warmings take about 5000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5000 year trend." (Real Climate, 'What does the lag of CO2 behind temperature in ice cores tell us about global warming?’, December 3, 2005; www.realclimate.org/index.php /archives/2004/12/co2-in-ice-cores/)
The best current explanation for the lag of 800 years is that this is how long it takes for CO2, absorbed by the ocean in an earlier warm period, to be "flushed out" at the end of an ice age. Once that CO2 has been released into the atmosphere its heat-trapping properties as a greenhouse gas lead to even stronger warming: an example of positive feedback. (See Caillon et al., 'Timing of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature Changes Across Termination III,' Science, 14 March 2003: Vol. 299. no. 5613, pp. 1728 - 1731)
Professor Severinghaus summarises:
"In other words, CO2 does not initiate the warmings, but acts as an amplifier once they are underway."
Durkin’s analysis, then, was way off the mark.
Claimed volcanic eruptions have contributed more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere over the last 200 years than man-made emmisions - not true!!
Solar/Sunspot activity does not explain the warming eithier since one of the coldest, snowiest winters of the 20th centuary occured during the 1940's which was a period of particualry high sunspot activity.
The lag arguement over CO2 emmsions actually supports the theory of anthropogenic global warming since by far the biggest rise in pollutting emissions has occured since WW2 at the start of the modern industrial era and only now in the last 20 years are we starting to see the affects of this with the warmest winter for at least 200 years just gone by.
1) MY FAVORITE SOURCE
I've read dozens of books on climate change, from all viewpoints, and backtracked through them into the (huge) IPCC reports and into primary research articles. If you are confused about this topic, in my opinion the best single source is William Ruddiman's "Plows, Plagues and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate." (About $20)
Ruddiman is a well-respected scientist, and his writing style is excellent, somewhat akin to that found in "Guns, Germs, and Steel", and reasonably accessible to non-experts. A short version was the cover article of Scientific American, March 2005.
[Note: I have a technical PhD (computer science), and during 2002-2003 averaged an hour a day researching this topic, starting from a normal skeptical viewpoint, and checking out contrarian claims, and watching the debates in Science magazine (I'm a AAAS member) I even joined the American Geophysical Union for a while. I have enough physics and math background to survive some heavy papers, and plenty of experience talking to climate researchers. However, one need not do all that to get educated on this topic, just reading the Ruddiman book would be a good start.
2) INFORMED SKEPTICISM AND MAINLINE CONSENSUS
A skeptical person (in the classical sense, i.e., someone who looks carefully at data, checks numbers, and takes little on faith) may well have been irritated by some of the alarmist pieces written over the years. However, if one studies the literature, especially the new results of the last 10-15 years, and has even a modest technical background, it's pretty clear that there is no *reasonable* doubt that the planet is getting warmer, and warmer faster, than it has since modern humans evolved, and that the bulk of this warming surge is human-caused. There is a rather strong consensus amongst the scientific community, as the data has piled up, and as earlier inconsistencies got fixed. For example, satellite and ground station data used to be believed to be contradictory, but then calculation errors were found, and now they generally make sense. There are still uncertainties about clouds and aerosols, but there's no doubt about the overall belief.
As usual in science, there have been mistakes, and sometimes stronger conclusions were drawn from data than should have been, but these tend to get repaired over time. Ten years ago, there might have been some room for doubt, but not any more, especially as data keeps accumulating.
It's good that we have the Greenhouse Effect, or Earth would be an iceball. It's good that humans started modifying climate ~8000 years ago, or we'd already be heading back to having kilometers of ice over Stockholm and Toronto. However, we are soon about to enter a warmer temperature domain not seen since the rise of modern humans (or in fact, in the last 3 million years). The Earth may or may not be warmer than it was 1000 years ago, but that is not very important. There is no doubt that we are headed warmer, and at an unprecedented rate. We will get warmer (for a while, until we've burnt most of the oil, gas, and a lot of the coal, i.e., hundreds of years). Short of nuclear war or major pandemic, it's likely too late to stop it getting warmer. What matters is:
a) How fast? Humans and ecosystems adapt better to slower change than faster change, and it costs a lot less to do it slower.
b) How high is the peak? Higher temperatures are good for some, not for others, but if it gets too high, it will cause trouble and get very expensive.
c) How long does it stay high? The longer it does, the more of Greenland and West Antarctica will melt. [Summer Arctic ice is already pretty well guaranteed to disappear, nice for shipping, too bad for polar bears.]
Ideally, we'll do what we can to retard the rise, and keep the peak lower and save some of the fossil fuels for 500-1000 years from now, when it would likely get colder again. Ideally, we'll keep a technic civilization that has good enough space skills to fend off the next wayward asteroid, and maybe do whatever large-scale geo-engineering needed to moderate the planet's natural temperature swings.
The short term issue is to slow the warming and keep the final temperature reasonable.
3) DENIALIST TACTICS, NOT CLASSICAL SKEPTICISM
But still, there are a few people who claim to be very skeptical, although "denialist" is a better description. Classical skeptics weigh data, and change their minds appropriately. Denialists don't.
It may not be so obvious to those in Europe, but there is a denialist "industry", primarily based in the US, whose beliefs are based on *ideology*, certainly not science. Their goal is to avoid at all costs doing anything about global climate change, as this would inevitably involve some government action, which is clearly seen as evil, perhaps even Communist. Some of the key members of this group are basically Cold War physicists and other people with hard-right political beliefs. People are entitled to have whatever political beliefs they want, and argue them out in political arenas, but that's not science, and obfuscating science with ideology is probably a Very Bad Idea.
Some of these people:
- Were paid by Reynolds Tobacco, and fought against recognition of tobacco's link to cancer during the 1990s.
- Fought against recognition of CFCs' role in ozone depletion.
- Fought against any environmental regulation of particulates, sulfates, etc.
- And now, fight against recognition of any need to work on global climate change, which is especially obvious if one tracks the different positions over time:
a) First, the world was claimed to be cooling (even in1990s).
b) Then, if it were indeed warming, this was just a product of normal gyrations.
Humans couldn't possibly have anything to do with it.
c) And, even if humans are causing it, warmer is better.
d) And in any case, there is nothing to be done, and hence we should not even try, i.e., if needed, people can just migrate away from the coastlines. [Of course, this is somewhat easier to do in the USA than in some areas of Europe.]
Nobody would be surprised to find that such efforts have been supported financially by oil companies, and not all the people mentioned below have done all of these, but some have.
The same tactics have appeared multiple times:
- Quote data selectively, such as claiming there is no sea level rise, because the data from Stockholm (which has a good long-term record) actually shows the sea level is falling. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the topic knows that the land in Sweden is rising due to PGR (Post-Glacial Rebound). If I wanted to pick a superbly-misleading example I'd pick Stockholm over any other place in the world.
- Claim there is a major "controversy" where there is very little, if any substantive scientific disagreement.
- Fight it out in Op-ED pieces, web sites, and sham petitions, TV pieces, not in peer-reviewed scientific literature, ignoring recent results, and quoting long-debunked ideas over and over.
[By contrast, despite a few marginal elements, Al Gore's talks actually match peer-reviewed science relatively well.]
- Demand "equal time."
This is very similar to the creationist/ Intelligent Design versus Darwin "controversy".
4) CORE DENIALIST ORGANIZATIONS AND PEOPLE
"It's hard to convince someone to believe something if their livelihood depends on not believing it."
Start with the George C. Marshall Institute (GMI):
GMI has often been run by people (Jeffrey Salmon, William O'Keefe) who have worked in the petroleum industry.
and maybe OISM:
(The infamous petition, which made the USA National Academy of Sciences issue a strongly-worded disclaimer.)
and the Western Fuels Association:
There are plenty of others, typically funded either by hard-right people (like Scaife, or Rev. Sun Myung Moon) or oil companies or both. There sometimes looks like a lot of organizations, but there are fewer people and supporters than one would think, given the overlaps. Some of the organizations are "Astroturf" groups, i.e., grassroots-looking, but artificial.
You will find a small core group of people (all findable in Wikipedia), especially:
Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon of Harvard
Patrick Michaels of U of Virginia
Richard Lindzen of MIT
Well-informed views can be found by naomi Oreskes:
There are more, but that's a good start.
Bottom line: there's nothing sacred about scientific orthodoxy, and reasoned skepticism is always welcome, as it improves science. But the denialist camp isn't doing that.
Heres Simon Singhs tuppence ha'penny on it. Also some interesting stuff on Martin Durkans debating style. Full text at link.
Last Thursday night I watched Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle. I have been convinced for quite a while that human carbon emissions are causing global warming, so I was shocked that the producer Martin Durkin was able to present an apparently convincing set of counter arguments. I went to bed that night puzzled. If Durkin was right, then the overwhelming majority of climate scientists were either stupid or deceitful.
The following morning I awoke to find that Armand Leroi had copied me in on an email to Durkin. Leroi, a media-savvy biologist, admitted that he was not an expert on global warming, but that nevertheless he was sceptical about some assertions in the programme. A few minutes later, my PC went ping and I saw Durkin's brief five-word reply. I am paraphrasing for decency, but essentially he called Leroi an intellectually challenged penis.
I immediately emailed Durkin in an effort to engage him in a more sensible debate. Although he replied with a few coherent sentences, they were rather blunt: ("Since 1940 we have had four decades of cooling, three of warming . . . Why have we not heard this in the hours and hours of shit programming on global warming shoved down our throats by the BBC?"), and he ended with the instruction that I should engage in a sexual act with my own body that was physically impossible. All this and I had not even had breakfast.
It’s pretty obvious that mankind is at least partially responsible for current climate change. But here’s the thing: even if it wasn’t our fault, even if it could somehow be proved that global warming is a 100% natural phenomenon, isn’t it still our duty to try to combat it? If we knew that a new ice-age was rapidly approaching, wouldn’t we do everything in our power to try to prevent or delay it?
Photographs of the Northern Alaskan tundra tell us something
American aircraft photographed barren frozen Alaskan landscapes in the 1940s.
The same places are now photographed lush with plants.
lush with plants - just as they probably were during what's known as 'The Medieval warm period' which the Scientists at the CRU have tried to pretend never happened, using 'adjusted' data and graphs containing 'tricks',
Essentially they tell us what it must have looked like during the 1300's - they were growing grapes and making wine in Northern England at the time - try that today, go on.
Viking Explorers talked of vines in what is now Newfoundland - maybe all the vikings worked for 'Big oil'?
A new study of Antarctica's climate history shows that in some brief warm periods between ice ages, temperatures were up to 6oC warmer than the present day. The findings, reported this week in the journal Nature, could help us understand more about rapid climate changes.
Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the Open University and the University of Bristol, explain that until now temperatures during the warm periods between ice ages - known as interglacials - were thought to be slightly warmer than those of the present day. However, some brief ‘spikes' in temperature, which recur roughly every 100 000 years and last a few thousand years seem to have been a lot warmer.
Lead author, Louise Sime from BAS, said: "We analysed Antarctic ice cores to look at climate during past warm periods and were surprised to find relatively high Antarctic temperatures during some spikes. We don't yet know what caused these peaks, but we would like to be sure we haven't missed anything important about how Antarctica is set to change in a warming world." [we can be fairly certain though that it wasn't humans that caused it]
Julia Tindall, an author of the paper from the University of Bristol, added: "It is quite difficult to reconstruct temperatures from long ago. Although it is generally accepted that the climate was warmer 125,000 years ago, our results suggests it was much warmer than previously thought. It will be interesting to see if other studies agree with our findings".
In February 2009 Dr Happer testified before the US Congress, "I believe that the increase of CO2 is not a cause for alarm and will be good for mankind", for among other reasons because of its beneficial effects on plant growth
Selected excerpts from Dr. Will Happer’s Testimony Before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming – May 20, 2010 - http://globalwarming.house.gov/files/HRG/052010ScienceP...r.pdf
I have spent my professional life studying the interactions of visible and infrared radiation with gases – one of the main physical phenomena behind the greenhouse effect. I have published over 200 papers in peer reviewed scientific journals. I am a member of a number of professional organizations, including the American Physical Society and the National Academy of Sciences. I have done extensive consulting work for the US Government and Industry. I also served as the Director of Energy Research at the Department of Energy (DOE) from 1990 to 1993, where I supervised all of DOE’s work on climate change.
Key Excerpts: The CO2 absorption band is nearly “saturated” at current CO2 levels. Adding more CO2 is like putting an additional ski hat on your head when you already have a nice warm one below it, but you are only wearing a windbreaker. The extra hat makes you a little bit warmer but to really get warm, you need to add a jacket. The IPCC thinks that this jacket is water vapor and clouds. [...]
The climate-change establishment has tried to eliminate any who dare question the science establishment climate scientists and by like-thinking policy-makers – you are either with us or you are a traitor.
Orwellian: I keep hearing about the “pollutant CO2,” or about “poisoning the atmosphere” with CO2, or about minimizing our “carbon footprint.” This brings to mind a comment by George Orwell: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” CO2 is not a pollutant and it is not a poison and we should not corrupt the English language by depriving “pollutant” and “poison” of their original meaning. Our exhaled breath contains about 4% CO2. That is 40,000 parts per million, or about 100 times the current atmospheric concentration. CO2 is absolutely essential for life on earth. Commercial greenhouse operators often use CO2 as a fertilizer to improve the health and growth rate of their plants. Plants, and our own primate ancestors evolved when the levels of atmospheric CO2 were at least 1000 ppm, a level that we will probably not reach by burning fossil fuels, and far above our current level of about 380 ppm. We try to keep CO2 levels in our US Navy submarines no higher than 8,000 parts per million, about 20 time current atmospheric levels. Few adverse effects are observed at even higher levels. [...]
That we are (or were) living at the best of all CO2 concentrations seems to be an article of faith for the climate-change establishment. Enormous effort and imagination have gone into showing that increasing concentrations of CO2 will be catastrophic: cities will be flooded by sea-level rises that are ten or more times bigger than even IPCC predicts, there will be mass extinctions of species, billions of people will die, tipping points will render the planet a desert. Any flimsy claim of harm from global warming brings instant fame and many rewards.
Sea Level: The sea level is indeed rising, just as it has for the past 20,000 years since the end of the last ice age. Fairly accurate measurements of sea level have been available since about 1800. These measurements show no sign of any acceleration. The rising sea level can be a serious local problem for heavily-populated, low-lying areas like New Orleans, where land subsidence compounds the problem. But to think that limiting CO2 emissions will stop sea level rise is a dangerous illusion. It is also possible that the warming seas around Antarctica will cause more snowfall over the continent and will counteract the sea-level rise.
Hockey Stick: I was very surprised when I first saw the celebrated “hockey stick curve,” in the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC. Both the little ice age and the medieval warm period were gone, and the newly revised temperature of the world since the year 1000 had suddenly become absolutely flat until the last hundred years when it shot up like the blade on a hockey stick. This was far from an obscure detail, and the hockey stick was trumpeted around the world as evidence that the end was near. We now know that the hockey stick has nothing to do with reality but was the result of incorrect handling of proxy temperature records and incorrect statistical analysis. There really was a little ice age and there really was a medieval warm period that was as warm or warmer than today. I bring up the hockey stick as a particularly clear example that the IPCC summaries for policy makers are not dispassionate statements of the facts of climate change.
Conclusion: I regret that the climate-change issue has become confused with serious problems like secure energy supplies, protecting our environment, and figuring out where future generations will get energy supplies after we have burned all the fossil fuel we can find. We should not confuse these laudable goals with hysterics about carbon footprints. For example, when weighing pluses and minuses of the continued or increased use of coal, the negative issue should not be increased atmospheric CO2, which is probably good for mankind. We should focus on real issues like damage to the land and waterways by strip mining, inadequate remediation, hazards to miners, the release of real pollutants and poisons like mercury, other heavy metals, organic carcinogens, etc . . . . .
Watch this amazing video on CO2 and plant growth from CO2Science.org,
Caption: Video Id: P2qVNK6zFgE Type: Youtube Video
CO2 is good for plant growth
Everybody knows that the Vikings burst out of an already cold Sandanivaia during a temporariy even colder climatic horror story.
The real question is this:
"Is the climate warming permanently?
Everybody knows that the Vikings burst out of an already cold Scandinavia during a temporarily even colder climatic horror story.
your statement is nonsensical - it contains lots of hyperbole and almost nothing which could be said to be useful in relation to the discussion
As far as I can tell, you appear to be attempting to deny that there ever was a Warming period in the time-frame I mentioned - such an assertion on your part is totally contradicted by all the historical and climatic data available. So irrespective of how much hyperbolic statements you make concerning a 'colder climatic horror story', your statement is merely an attempt to distract attention from inconvenient FACTS which totally contradict the theories upon which claims of runaway catastrophic climate change are based
"Is the climate warming permanently?
An informed honest person would conclude that they do not now the answer to that question since we do not have nearly enough evidence to state one way or the other - and since the climate has so far not done anything 'permanently', but has throughout it's existance fluctuated between cold and warm, the question would appear to be a very silly one indeed.
There is no conclusive evidence available which would allow one to give any sort of definitive answer, but going on the balance of probabilities, an intelligent person would have to answer 'no' since the climate is likely to grow colder at some point in the future even if it were to now grow temporarily warmer,
But all of this is an merely attempt by you to distract from the real question - 'What effect, if any, has human activity had on the Climate?' - and the only honest answer to that is 'given the evidence available, human activity has as yet had no long term catastrophic effect on the climate'