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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Environment, Climate and other confusions ...

I'm currently being bombarded by appeals to join this or that campaign to "protect the environment" or "stop climate change" and several other related matters. It seems to me that there is a lot of conflation of issues in these, between 'saving pandas, polar bears, oranutangs' and 'stopping climate change' there is a lot of pressure to 'do' some world saving thing - with generally pretty dangerous consequences for commerce, industry and humanity. This was certainly the impression I got reading the Hansard for a debate on the Energy Bill in the House of Lords yesterday. Lord Greenway, an Independent Peer who sits on the Cross Benches and takes a strong interest in all matters maritime, made some excellent points on the issues surrounding the debate on 'power generation'. One of his points leapt out at me, concerning the building of 'wind farms' in offshore locations which straddle shipping lanes. As he says, it is only a matter of time really before someone manages to ram a ship or two into one.

Hard on the heels of this I was reading of the debate held by the UK Met Office on the subject of why there has been "no warming/why are we having such strange seasons/weather" which their models didn't predict. There seems to have been - if the Telegraph blog has it right - a lot of opinions about whether it will first get colder, or hotter, or both, and where that leaves the Human Race, but not a lot of 'consensus'. No one seems to have mentioned the oceanic oscillations, or the fact that the North Atlantic Oscillation has 'lingered' (or perhaps malingered) rather further west this year than it has done for at least the last forty. Or that the Pacific Ocean equivalent has done the same thing. Nor does there appear to have been any mention of the fact the La Nina - the opposite of an El Nino - has persisted in the Pacific. In fact, in the last sixteen years there have been more La Ninas than El Ninos, and La Nina always brings more rain to the US West Coast and more snow. As ever, the focus in the Met Office discussion seems, yet again, to have revolved around the 'it's all to do with CO2 and Humans are causing it'.

Their 'models' say so. Or something.

Today I received my latest issue of Scientific American. Sometimes I feel the title has become something of an oxymoron. The main article in this one is all about how the development of the Tar Sands oil extraction in Canada will bring the planet to and beyond the 'carbon' tipping point. Lot's of 'big' numbers are thrown around about how sensitive the climate is to all the 'carbon' released in the recovery, how the environment is being destroyed and how the 'extra' CO2 will push the climate past the 2°C limit the IPCC has decreed will cause the mass extinction of humans, animals, birds and fish.

Which brings me back to the House of Lords and the debate there on the Energy Bill. At last it seems they are acknowledging that the drive to get rid of nuclear and cut out coal and hydro-carbon fuelled generation will result in a massive shortfall in demand. But there seems to be a complete absence of common sense when it comes to addressing it. As Lord Greenway says, we should have invested properly and fully in nuclear, now is probably too little, and far too late. Wind and wave generation isn't going to cut it, nor is solar except in a very localised and limited way. The government's 'big' idea is to encourage people to use less ...

Oh dear, oh dear. So switching a few light bulbs to LEDs, turning off some of our appliances, not using others is going to 'save' enough to compensate for the electric cars, large numbers of electric trains and perhaps 'trackless trams' (old fashioned 'trolley' buses running off overhead wires like a tram) and the 'growth' in industry and commerce every economist is screaming for. Somehow I doubt it. Like Lord Greenway I cannot see anyone actually building and maintaining a viable 'floating wind turbine generator or a wave powered one. Atlantic winter storms will soon wreck those, not to mention having the odd fishing trawler or bulk carrier get tangled up in one.

It is time to recognise two important facts here. First, we cannot 'control' the climate. Nothing we do can halt any natural cycle or change the way the jet streams (major players in weather but which are not included in the infamous 'models' used by the Met Office apparently) decide to go. That is determined by the oceanic oscillations and not by 'carbon', towns, cities, motorways or little green men. While I am all for a cleaner and greener environment (it's much better for my health after all!), I get very annoyed by people who push schemes which do not take in all the implications and impacts of whatever is the flavour of their month.

Second, if we are going to face a warmer planet, and I think that ultimately we might (if it doesn't plunge into an Ice Age first - which is equally possible if one takes account of paleolithic evidence the Global Warming' lobby ignore), it will not be the first time mankind has endured warmer climates. Both the Roman period and the early Medieval (900 - 1200 AD) saw much warmer conditions in Europe and Greenland than we have now. It would therefore seem sensible to adopt those measures which clean up our act, and make our commerce and industry less damaging (remembering, of course, that the 'West' is now only about 12% of the Global population so our actual impact is far smaller than Greenpeace et all like to make out), and adapt our societies, our habitats and our use of resources to better manage.

Finally, I do believe it would be far better all round if the Media, the Public Relations industry, the politicians and - yes - some of the 'scientists' chasing 'research' funding shut up. There is now so much misinformation being bandied about (in the Lords, that prime example of a politician who should never be allowed to open his mouth and utter an opinion, Lord Prescott, trotted out the inevitable and long discredited 97% of scientists agree Global Warming is manmade ...). I suspect the problem is that there are too many people around for whom the old adage "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" is all too true.

We live in an age where there are vast amounts of information bombarding us daily, yet very, very few of us are actually able to assess it, process it it rationally and draw conclusions from it. For most, the headline in a daily paper is as far as they read on any major issue. The same goes with a lot of the scientific information on some very complex issues on a wide range of things. So for most people, their 'source' of information is an attention grabbing headline which 'explains' a complex issue in a way they can grasp, and gut reaction.

None of which is a good way to determine a course of action, or to decide how to meet the nations needs in the future. I suspect that it will not be long before those with any sense invest in a small but efficient portable generator to keep the essential items in their homes going during the coming blackouts. It's that, or find a way to return to living in small hill forts. Our current 'Green' driven crop of policy makers certainly aren't going to get it right.

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