On precation and climate: PROSPECT-letter

Check out my letter published in the latest issue of PROSPECT magazine: 

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2010/03/letters-8/ [Link only works if you are a subscriber]

26th February 2010
Roddy Campbell and David Goodhart’s calls for a “proper scepticism” towards global warming data is completely wrong. Even if the illegal hack at UEA had undermined the data set showing an alarming global temperature rise, there are other similar data sets to rely on. Nasa’s evidence shows just the same warming-trend.

Campbell and Goodhart also ignore the most basic element of environmental safety: the precautionary principle. We do not require certainty for it to be rational to take “drastic” action to protect ourselves against the threat of global over-heat. If the risk proves to have been over-egged, we will merely have sacrificed some economic growth (and beneficially cushioned ourselves against the threat of peak oil). If we fail to act, and the dire predictions become reality, then we will have negligently signed the death warrant of our civilisation.

Councillor Rupert Read, Green Party


10 thoughts on “On precation and climate: PROSPECT-letter”

  1. Hi Rupert

    The precautionary principle does present a valid reason for being wary on the effects of releasing an ever increasing amount of CO2.

    The hacked e-mails reveal several features of the climate research experts at the UEA.

    1. “They” genuinely believe they are right
    2. “They” spend too much time on pr and back biting
    3. “They” obstructed access to data/ which data they used
    4. “They” perverted the peer review process
    5. Records/rigour was lacking (e.g. chinese stations)

    Re Nasa data, that is sourced from Hansen. The reliability of his temperature information has been questioned, and I have doubt over the data integrity. Just because it has a Nasa badge on it, doesn’t automatically mean it passes quality control.

    There have been numerous sources presenting compelling experimental evidence which undermines the feedback mechanisms assumed in climate models.

    I would rather see the money I earn go into projects to protect the environment, when the results of that spending can be stated (so performance can be measured). Otherwise precious resources could be thrown at projects when we have no standard to assess whether they are working or not.

    I want climate scientists to tell me facts. We are producing more co2, fact. Temperature has generally increased over this century, fact. Solar cycles have been stronger during the past 100 years than since directly measured records began, fact. Our methods for measurement have improved significantly since the 50s, meaning for examples measurements of ice cover are more sophisticated than ever.

    Experimental evidence from the Sky experiment (and soon Cerns Cloud) shows a direct relationship between cosmic rays, cloud condensation nuclei and the electromagnetic power of the sun. This fits in with records on so many levels (ice ages coinciding with passage through galaxy spiral arms) etc that I am far from persuaded that acting to cut Co2 will cool the planet.

  2. Hi Anonymous,
    Yes, scientists are human, and their work is not perfect. Agreed.
    We are also agreed that several factors affect climate: orbit, sea currents, volcanoes, solar cycles both 11 year and putative 205 year, sure, and maybe cosmic ray effect on clouds. But one thing is for sure, without the natural greenhouse effect, we would be 31*C colder than we are now, and by enhancing that effect, we most surely are pushing temperatures upward. Key is that we cannot explain present temps _without_ factoring in our contribution.
    Do not begrudge the cost of this science. The matter at stake means that we cannot dodge this study.

    In the end, both the precautionary principle and the Best Bet principle both say: decarbonise. And Peak Oil says the same. Decarbonise. So let’s do it. It creates good work. The science can continue while we do it.

  3. Hi Rupert,

    The precautionary principle is fine for individuals, but it should not be considered appropriate for establishing government policies.

    A huge amount of money is currently being spent by all levels of government attempting to impose renewable energy solutions that are not viable.

    A local community group has recently been awarded grants of £78k to install a ground-source heat pump and PV solar panels which will never produce enough energy to cover the costs.

    The Energy Saving Trust are also promoting PV and claim that I could ‘save’ £900 p.a. (over 25 years) by installing a 2kW panel. The cost of the installation will be in excess of £16k. To make matters worse the panels might produce 1700kWh p.a. compared with average U.K. consumption of 4100kWh p.a.

    If the argument is really about reducing CO2 then Nuclear is currently the only realistic option (but of course we then have to deal with waste disposal). However, it seems to me that the agenda behind renewable energy is mostly about job creation.

  4. Hi DocRichard,

    It is true that we need the greenhouse effect to keep Earth at a temperature that supports life. But it is also true that CO2 is not the only, or even the major, source of greenhouse effect. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that night-time temperatures can vary by at least 10 degC just because of cloud cover. Those arguing for CO2 effect are postulating a 1 or 2 degree change over 160 years.

    I have been attempting to understand the science behind the claims for AGW and I came across data from the Vostok ice core samples. Whilst this shows some correlation between temperature and CO2 levels it is not at all clear from the graphs which is cause and which is effect. In particular I find the most recent data quite revealing. Past cycles indicate a range of 200 to 300 ppm for CO2 with a corresponding range of -8 to +2 degC temperature (in the Antarctic). The plots show a very steep rise in CO2 in recent times – to 380 pppm in 2005 – yet the temperature is almost static over that same time period. This suggests that the current increase in CO2 levels is not affecting temperature, so perhaps in the previous cycles the CO2 levels were actually being driven by temperature.

    This seems reasonable to me since the CO2 absorption occurs over only approximately 2microns of a 50 micron spectrum of radiation, and the absorption is in the region of 98%, therefore I would expect that a change in CO2 concentration would only have a very small effect on the altitude at which absorption occurs.

    I would be interested to hear your views.

  5. In response to DocRichard:

    Thanks for your response. Although I am not convinced we need to decarbonize at all (as an attempt to reduce the green house effect).

    Take for example some excellent work by the Hungarian, Ferenc Miskolczi, on the green-house effect in semi-transparent planetary atmospheres. The implications of this work is that the green-house effect is largely maximized – if it could have increased further it would have, given the ample reserves of water in the oceans. The saturation point suggests that the climate will adapt naturally to increased CO2. Then the main changes to the climate will be due to forcings from the sun and changes in cloud formation. The conclusions of this work is that temperature increases at the top end of predictions (of up to 7 degrees) are physically impossible on account of CO2 emissions. I recommend you read it for yourself.

    I recently looked at global dimming (as Rupert suggested). Now I actually agree with global dimming, but I would not arrive at the same conclusions as Horizon did (i.e. climate change models are on the optimistic side if you take global dimming into account). If anything, it underlines the crucially important role that clouds play in controlling climate on Earth.

    Just as a matter of interest, Stahill who repeated the pan evaporation experiments of the 50s again in the 90s, found a 22% drop in the pan evaporation rate. This is thought to be due to human pollution induced cloudiness. During the 50s decade, the sunspot count averaged 92 per year, compared to 67 per year in the 90s (my own research using NASA data). This is about a 27% drop in sunspot count.

    I am not trying to link the sunspot count to pan evaporation directly. A theory by Svensmark (supported by evidence from his Sky experiments) is that when the sun is weaker (electromagnetically), it will be easier for clouds to form, which it was (hence a drop in pan evaporation as less photons could get through). Our pollution may indeed make it easier for clouds to form. We should be worried about global dimming (due to human pollution) because it is all about variation in cloudiness in areas which can disrupt natural cycles (causing the sorts of problems covered by Horizon such as the drought affecting sub-saharan Africa). This is the real reason we should be concerned – and not because it means the climate models are too optimistic as Horizon concludes.

    Now you might come back and say that there was a decline globally in the pan evaporation rate over the decades between. I agree. 1950s – 92 mean annual sunspot count, 1960’s – 61, 1970’s – 60, 1980’s – 84, 1990’s – 67, 2000’s – 55. They even say in the Horizon program that the sun is the dominant driver – and rightly so. They also say, “the pollution particles were stopping some sunlight themselves, but far more significant is what they were doing to the clouds – they were turning them into giant mirrors”. Ash, soot and sulfur dioxide where the main pollution particles identified as being the culprits.

    It’s not CO2 we need to worry about – it is feeble. Aerosols are now at the top of my list. Nearly half the aerosols are from human sources, and they are known to alter cloud formation (making it harder for rain clouds to develop) or sometimes frustrate cloud formation entirely. They also can be the origin of many health problems etc etc. We should be cutting the use of aerosols, not CO2.

    Why isn’t the precautionary principle being evoked to call for cessation of industrial & urban aerosols? There is increasing evidence (not silly computer models) that they are driving major parts of climate. I am staggered that we are still going on about CO2, still wasting resources on trying to limit it etc.

    Is it because many have now bet too much on CO2 causing climate chaos to risk the embarrassment of abandoning it?

  6. Hi Rupert,

    The current government seems to be set on a course to make fossil fuels less affordable. Unfortunately this is a rather blunt instrument which also results in increased costs for essentials like food(due to increase in transportation costs). For those living in rural areas it also creates problems with mobility since public transport is usually quite poor and people have to rely on cars. However, earnings in these areas are generally low so we obtain a situation where the indigenous is ‘priced out’ and ultimately only the rich can afford to drive cars and live in the countryside. What is the Green Party solution to this problem?

  7. Great question, Mike.
    We want to introduce a ‘carbon rights’ scheme. Giving everyone an equal right to a fair share of carbon emissions.
    Such a scheme would mean that we could actually REDUCE (and possibly eventually eliminate altogether) fuel tax.

  8. Hi Rupert,

    That sounds like a good general principle, but I can imagine all sorts of difficulty in establishing individual rights. Clearly carbon emissions arise from all sorts of sources. For example – these days I never use air travel, but some of my home appliances might not be up to the latest energy efficiency standards. How would you assign emissions to individuals without an overly intrusive monitoring system?

  9. What would you deem to be a fair share?

    If the total carbon emissions of the world are capped at a certain level, call it Cmax (in order to reduce the ppm), and everyone has an equal share, the share they will have will be determined by Cmax divided by the population ‘P’ giving you a rectangular hyperbola ( Cmax/P = my share). As the population increases, our share will fall. What if the share falls below the ‘carbon rights’ level, will fairness outweigh attempts to ‘decarbonise’?

  10. Thanks Mike, Verum.
    Good questions: you can find answers to them in the detailed developments of this policy instrument that have been undertaken by Mayer Hillman, Richard Starkey, etc.
    Btw, this policy is Green Party policy: no other Parties have yet backed it. As so often, we are leading the way on this. [The Miliband brothers are interested in the policy, apparently.]

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