Monday, 16 November 2009

Global Warming reality checkpoint

Thanks to Martin Hodson, environmental scientist, for a tip off about the best book I’ve seen in the run-up to Copenhagen. There are all kinds of strong views being expressed about global warming and our options about it. As something of a natural contrarian, I’m not comfortable with treating dissidents like medieval heretics. Truth should be big enought to stand up for itself. There’s a Benedictine principle that the least voice is always worth listening to, even if you disagree.

On the other hand, despite manful efforts by some elements in the right wing press to pretend there is no relationship between trashing the planet and the planet getting trashed, the science is basically in, and was years ago, and everybody actually knows we can’t just carry on the way we’ve been. Even if it were somehow proved that chucking stuff into the atmosphere isn’t dangerous, I’d still want to know what’s the joy in filthing the place up and wasting scarce resources? Why not think different and live cleaner lives?

So we all want to know how things stack up, but lack the information to work out how to evaluate the various claims and counter-claims in the air. David MacKay is Cambridge physicist, a competent mathematician, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. His English is also fluent and fun. His book is called Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air.
In this book he does two invaluable things
  1. He takes us through the way things stack up, both energy use and energy sources. Thus we can work out, for example, how big a role various renewables could or could not play in a sensible energy policy.
  2. He’s concerned n ot only to give us rough and realistic figures, on a pragmatic, down and dirty rather than ideological basis. He also wants to help us develop for ourselves a greater numeracy about the various options and realities; what they mean and how good they might be for what.
Interestingly the book is available from conventional channels, but also free on his website here. If you disagree with his figures, he’s happy to consider others and correct his conclusions if necessary. All in all, this is the level and kind of information we need to understand our future options and make decisions which are realistic and effective about a subject which has hitherto generated far more heat than light.

PS On the subject of light and heat, I am grateful to Ashley Nlson for a link to his site (here) which is a most compendious source of information on the LED lights that are now appearing iin all manner of applications everywhere.


Anonymous said...

BRAVO - let's listen to the dissidents. It's not as clear cut as you think.

Don't assume "the science is basically in", because it isn't. This link provides references to 450 peer-reviewed papers contradicting the MMGW myth:

Those who say - it's all in the IPCC AR4 need to be far more critical of that document, particularly how it was put together.

Those who say there is a proved link between CO2 emissions and global warming (sorry, climate change) are relying chiefly on models. These are faulty - the effect of H2O is incorrect (as shown in a recent paper). H2O is the biggest green house gas.

There is no CO2 driven explanation for either the Mediaeval Warm Period nor the Little Ice Age. Ice core samples show that increases in CO2 concentrations come AFTER warmer temperatures, not before.

Ice in the Antarctic is at a 30 year high. The Arctic is recovering. The so-called Hockey Stick, loved by Gore, has been shown to be complete nonsense.

Alan - please research this! It's the poorer countries that will come off worse with things like carbon trading schemes.

It's not the right wing press that needs monitoring; it's those scientists who need research grants and those left-wing do-gooders that depend on funds to jet around the world proclaiming imminent doom.


Sam Norton said...

"the science is basically in" - no, I agree with Steve on that, and having been a 'believer' I now find that the more I study the matter the more sceptical I become; BUT
"we can’t just carry on the way we’ve been" - quite right. Thing is, as Churchill put it, the time for decisions is past, we have now entered the time of consequences.

BTW I just dipped into Mackay to see what he says about fossil fuels. I can't find what he says about oil, which is the most salient issue, but he's very wrong on coal - he says that "Britain is estimated to have 7 Gt of coal
left" whereas UK Coal says "there is in excess of 400 million tonnes of proven coal reserves", and there is a similar overestimate on the world figures.

Over the next 20 years our society is going to have to learn to run on, at best, around 20% of the energy we presently use - and that will only happen if we invest as heavily as we can in renewables.

Personally, I think we're going to have to cope with a lot more wrath before we get to a better place.

Jane said...

Personally i suspect Carbon trading could become a crazy financial buble like sub-prime but I passionately believe we must try to stop living as if tehre were another planet next door we can all migrate to once we completely despoiled this one.

I'm plaaning to ring the church bells in the local churches here on 13 December to call atention to the fact that all of us can do something to reduce our carbon footprints

Anonymous said...

I agree to some extent with Sam. We do need to look for alternative energy sources, and for ways to reduce amount of energy we use.

Jane makes a good point about pollution. Carbon dioxide is not pollution, however. Plants need it and therefore so do we.

Let's not, then, waste a huge amount of money on carbon dioxide reduction. This will take us all down the path to poverty. Instead use it to research into alternative sources of energy and into making nuclear energy safer.

It looks as the Copenhagen conference won't deliver what the alarmists want. But continue to pray that it fails nevertheless.


Pam said...

The science *is* basically in that at the moment that we're experiencing global warming, but not about the causes. (I get this from a bona fide scientific source close to home.)

Maybe some of the public scepticism is explained by the way science is reported, we have so many health scares that cancel each other out and I can't be the only one to remember being scared out of my wits by the prospect of the new ice age some years ago - for which the science was also in I believe!

I've always been committed to sustainability and minimising our environmental impact so my questioning is not out of a desire to carry on just as we are. However, the assumption of the infallibility of one particular strand of scientific investigation with subsequent moralistic trappings - I have even heard it proposed that "climate change denial" should be treated on a par with holocaust denial - worries me on a lot of levels.

But then being told not to question things always tends to set my alarm bells ringing!

Sam Norton said...

Pam - no major quibbles that observational data record a trend of more-or-less consistent warming since about 1700AD - the quibbles really come with linking this to CO2 production, and the sceptics point out that the climate has gone through various warming and cooling cycles in the past which have had no relationship to industrialisation - because there was no industrialisation.

This is not just an academic debate. In a very short time frame we as a society are going to have to try and decide how to generate electricity, heat our homes and keep the hospitals and schools working. If we believe that CO2 is going to cause a catastrophe then coal is ruled out - and that means we are going to have to make do with much less much sooner. That either means that granny comes to live with you or it means that granny dies from cold. Even if we use coal, we only put back that choice by about ten years or so (I'm starting to think that those ten years could be rather important), and even if we go all-out for renewables there are problems in providing the 'base load' on top of which the renewables can function.

This is why the government is belatedly trying to push through new nuclear energy (wrong answer to the wrong question IMHO) because they can see this 'energy cliff' looming on the horizon, and they haven't even started taking account of the peaking of fossil fuels!

Barnaby Kent said...

Hi All,
I also enjoyed the David Mackay book and created an online tool based on the calculations within it that enables you to create and share your own energy plan that 'adds up.'

It is freely available at:

Please try it out and select the type of energies you would choose for the UK energy plan. If you have any suggestions for improvement please let me know.


My Energy Plan that adds up

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