Mountain Echoes No 104 first published in March 2004
Several things about climate change and the global warming debate are already certain. Firstly the “greenhouse effect” exists for without the presence of these gases in the atmosphere there could be no life on earth whatsoever. Secondly Carbon Dioxide is a prominent Greenhouse gas (though not the only one) and the amount of this gas in the atmosphere has been steadily increasing over the last 150 years. Most of this increase is as a result of human activities in particular the burning of fossil fuels. Finally computer models have been predicting for more than 30 years that this increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will lead to increased average global temperatures commonly referred to as ‘global warming’. As the computers have become more powerful and sophisticated so the models have been producing more detail. However they can only produce these details according to the information fed into them and therefore are fallible. Perhaps this is why the scientists in this field are both cautious and conservative in their predictions.
Some of the predictions made 20 years ago are already occurring: the average earth temperature is at its hottest since measurements began; the summer of 2003 was the hottest in the northern hemisphere for 500 years; many glaciers and ice caps are in retreat or thinning. Thus we are living in the middle of a global experiment. When man made change is clearly discernible it will be far too late to do anything about it. There is no half way on this question – it is either right or wrong. The debate is over whether the changes will be on the conservative side and manageable or on the high side and disastrous.
The relationship between lung cancer and smoking is a classic, and forbidding, example. The vested interests pursued a strong rear guard action, and it was many years before the obvious became accepted fact. The political power of the oil and coal industries is far, far greater than that of the tobacco lobby. Currently they have the most senior politician of the most powerful country in their pocket. And they no doubt fund many “scientific” organisations to search for information favourable to their cause. They have the power to delay ameliorating changes almost indefinitely, thus eventually exaggerating the effects of global warming. Perhaps we all should be preparing for a worst case scenario.
*this piece a bit dated and pessimistic but unedited