CLIMATE CHANGE: ‘Let’s cry wolf’

The hot topic of this new millennium is definitely climate change and the theory of global warming. The emphasis on ‘theory’ is deliberate because the greenhouse effect on global temperatures is still a theory. Surprised? Read on.

By now, everyone has heard of climate change. But what does it actually mean? Climate change, caused by either natural internal processes or persistent anthropogenic [human influenced] changes in the composition of the atmosphere and land use, is a significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period- typically decades or longer. “Sounds dramatic”?

Global warming is the theory that increased emissions of so called ‘greenhouse gases’ most especially carbon-dioxide leads to rise of temperatures by trapping heat bearing infra-red rays within the earth’s atmosphere. This is, in fact, the largest cause of climate change. Every chart one sees on the subject will show a steep incline resembling a mountain slope showing the increase in carbon-dioxide. The facts are truly amazing in that they do not support such an alarmist point of view.

No one was recording the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions in 1850 but the proponents of the threat of climate change usually place the figure at 280ppm [ppm stands for ‘parts per million’] in that year. Today it stands at 380ppm, 160 years later. That’s an increase of 0.01% in 16 decades, with a projection of 560ppm in 2100, a further increase of 0.018%. To put this in context, carbon-dioxide makes up 0.01% of the total atmosphere. In short, the theory of climate change is based on a projected 0.018% rise of a gas that makes 0.01%. 

At this point most proponents point out the effects of this theory of global warming that are already taking place such as receding glaciers, the shrinking Kilimanjaro snow cap and an increase of extreme weather. Firstly, less than 1% of the total glaciers have been studied at all. Of these, there is admittedly a trend towards melting around Greenland and some parts of the Antarctica land mass. In the case of the latter, this has been going on for 4000 years and can safely be said to pre-date climate change as we know it. So, you notice that there is nothing exactly new in that in the case of the Antarctica, in fact it has been said to be getting cooler overall. For the Kilimanjaro, the receding glaciers around the peak cannot be caused by higher temperatures because there has not been any drastic increase in mean temperature at the peaks, surface or atmospherically. More likely, deforestation is the culprit by causing reduced amounts of precipitation.

As for the increase of extreme weather, nothing suggests this is true, most statistics show that the general trend has not changed since the turn of the century. Recorded floods, hurricanes, typhoons and violent storms have not shown any variation since 1900. Two things have changed since then, population density and satellite TV. Higher densities means that casualties and destruction is far greater than before and satellite TV, which actually concentrates on reporting bad news, will give the impression that natural catastrophes are happening more often than before. As a personal point of speculation, I believe that if there are any increases recorded in extreme weather, it could also be because data collection on weather has improved a lot since the turn of the century, which is why even hurricanes that don’t hit land are reported even if they have sometimes blown themselves out into simple rainstorms by the time they hit land.

Which brings us to the topic of increasing temperatures. If the theory of global warming is correct, then the near atmosphere should be getting warmer, right? Strangely enough, there appears to be little consensus on this point with the proponents of climate change coming up with varying figures for mean increase in temperatures, some as low as 0.18C°  to as high as 0.74C° during the last century ending 2005. Am not sure how this would be interpreted by the reader but such wide divergences are usually a sign that people have no idea what they are talking about. At best, they have proved a suspicion of increased temperatures in the near atmosphere.

It is true, however, that average surface temperatures have increased over the last 150 years in several parts of the world although, quite strangely, the warmest recorded period was the late 30s to almost the end of the 40s. The coldest period was in the 50s. This makes it awkward for the climate change proposition, were the 50s less industrialised than the 30s? Of course not, the 30s where dominated by a global depression and the 40s saw most of industrial Europe reduced to ruins. This goes to show that perhaps even surface temperatures are not determined by trapped infra-red rays whose wavelengths don’t allow them to penetrate the atmosphere.

Land-use is a more likely culprit; a lot of former bush and forest lands are now either used for agriculture or have become part of the urban concrete jungle. Shanghai has recorded an increase of 8C° in the last decade. It is more reasonable that land stripped of vegetation will be warmer than it was before. Conversely, places that have not had any significant increases in population or change in economic activity generally have not seen an increase in temperature and sometimes there have been recorded decreases. In 1985, it was reported that mean global temperatures would have gone up by 1C° by 2000 [in fifteen years]. It increased by just under 0.3C°, the forecast was off by more than a factor of 3. The projections by the IPCC [Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change] of increase of mean global temperature for the year 2100 are between 1.1C° and 6.4C°.   Once again, this range suggests a lack of knowledge.

So, why is climate change such a big deal? This is the part where speculation can come in. Hazarding a guess, one could pin it down on the increased industrialisation of the third world and the emergence of their economies. Examples of this are China, India, Mexico, Turkey and Brazil with Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda on the way to joining them. The second reason could perhaps be linked with oil. The increased industrialization threatens to reduce the relevance of the West and reduce their ability to procure favorable trading terms for themselves. A conspiracy theory? Maybe, but notice that all their industries are becoming increasingly out-sourced, their populations [and presumably their markets] are shrinking placing increased strains on social security and, by extension, a workforce that is finding it harder and harder to find employment while growing ever smaller. Halting industrialization by waving the ‘C’ [Climate] card is one way of ensuring their dominance.

There is increased knowledge that the oil peak of production is fast approaching. If this were to happen, decreased oil supplies for a larger market would ensure that the price of oil would become ever higher eventually becoming a crippling burden on the states of the West as most third world countries do not have to worry about winter and heating. Ironically, if the theory of global warming is correct, milder winters would make their lives a bit easier. Then there is of course the knowledge of dependence for oil supplies on countries in the Middle East and an increasingly assertive Russia that may not be above using energy as blackmail. Perhaps for these, admittedly speculative, reasons climate change is beginning a topic at the forefront of global discussion.

These days, everything is ‘green’ this and ‘bio’ that. We are all insisting that everything and every activity be ‘eco-friendly’ and the word ‘carbon’ has become a prefix in its own right with the suffixes being ‘footprint’, ‘emission’, ‘cycle’, ‘tax’, ‘offset’ and ‘sequestration’, these are only the ones I can think of. Not that human activity is benign, it isn’t. Pollution is such a big problem that athletes are threatening to keep away from the Beijing Olympics this August because the air quality is so bad. This, in a city that just over 15 years ago was complaining of an excess of bicycles because very few people owned cars. The sad fact is that every human activity will affect the environment in one way or another, most times negatively. What this article is trying to decry is the apparent hullabaloo over climate change over the flimsiest and most imprecise evidence presented for so serious a charge. As a humble submission, the focus should instead be moved to rapid growth of population and sensationalist media. If growth isn’t stopped there will be some sort of environmental backlash, climate change or not while the beloved media will keep us well scared the whole time. Anybody for crying wolf?