Friday, March 16, 2007

Global Warming - A Swindle Or An Unknown?

The debate about Global Warming continues to rage as fiercely as the extreme weather many of us appear to be experiencing nowadays. Now a hurricaine-strength storm has been whipped up, taking me (and I suspect many others) by total surprise.

UK TV's Channel 4 aired a documentary called The Great Global Warming Swindle (available now on YouTube) recently which temporarily muddied the already-murky waters. Writer and director Martin Durkin put forward the 'truth' about global warming, that we have been deliberately deceived by a variety of all-powerful people (ranging from Margaret Thatcher to extreme-left fanatics bent on seeing the demise of capitalism and preventing third world development) and that the current warming trend is nothing more than part of a natural cycle encouraged by the activities of our Sun.

The arguments in the programme, if taken at face value, seemed to blow a hole right through the heart of the generally accepted climate change theory - the one that states that greenhouse gas emissions, primarily CO2, produced by humans (and partially contributed to by nature) is causing global temperatures to rise at a dangerous and uncontrollable rate. That's the theory I'd always accepted, not because I am an expert in climatology, but because the overwhelming majority of scientists all seemed to say it. Who am I to doubt so many 'experts'?

The Channel 4 documentary thrust a torrent of doubts into my overloaded brain, producing several top members of the science community (from MIT, various universities and professional bodies), all of whom said that my favoured theory was inside-out, upside-down and plain wrong. For example, apparently Al Gore, in his movie An Inconvenient Truth, had lied to us, using misleading statistics that should have shown global temperatures leading CO2 emissions and not the other way round. The whole 'environmental industry' is about 'jobs for the boys' and getting funding for pointless research under the guise of global warming research, they said.

I finished watching it as a semi-convert, actually toying with the idea that the worlds climate was ok, it was all supposed to be this way, it was the work of the Sun. I've always been open to the idea that fluctuations in solar activity may effect our weather and climate, and to an extent I still am, but all we have so far is data from a very narrow snapshot of our Suns existence. If its cyclic, we need to capture the whole cycle. If its random, we need to learn the cause and effect of these random changes and see if they match any of the data we have on our planets climate record. Durkin nearly had me convinced, but not quite.

The Independent has investigated the claims made in the TV programme and has managed to cast sufficient doubt to take me back to my place of origin, back to the 'man-made CO2' camp. Why? Here are extracts from the Independent article:

  • Mr Durkin has already been criticised by one scientist who took part in the programme over alleged misrepresentation of his views on the climate.
  • Mr Durkin's film argued that most global warming over the past century occurred between 1900 and 1940 and that there was a period of cooling between 1940 and 1975 when the post-war economic boom was under way. This showed, he said, that global warming had little to do with industrial emissions of carbon dioxide.

    The programme-makers labelled the source of the world temperature data as "Nasa" but when we inquired about where we could find this information, we received an email through Wag TV's PR consultant saying that the graph was drawn from a 1998 diagram published in an obscure journal called Medical Sentinel. The authors of the paper are well-known climate sceptics who were funded by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and the George C Marshall Institute, a right-wing Washington think-tank.

    However, there are no diagrams in the paper that accurately compare with the C4 graph. The nearest comparison is a diagram of "terrestrial northern hemisphere" temperatures - which refers only to data gathered by weather stations in the top one third of the globe.

    However, further inquiries revealed that the C4 graph was based on a diagram in another paper produced as part of a "petition project" by the same group of climate sceptics. This diagram was itself based on long out-of-date information on terrestrial temperatures compiled by Nasa scientists.

    However, crucially, the axis along the bottom of the graph has been distorted in the C4 version of the graph, which made it look like the information was up-to-date when in fact the data ended in the early 1980s.

    Mr Durkin admitted that his graphics team had extended the time axis along the bottom of the graph to the year 2000. "There was a fluff there," he said.

  • If Mr Durkin had gone directly to the Nasa website he could have got the most up-to-date data. This would have demonstrated that the amount of global warming since 1975, as monitored by terrestrial weather stations around the world, has been greater than that between 1900 and 1940 - although that would have undermined his argument.

    "The original Nasa data was very wiggly-lined and we wanted the simplest line we could find," Mr Durkin said.

  • The programme failed to point out that scientists had now explained the period of "global cooling" between 1940 and 1970. It was caused by industrial emissions of sulphate pollutants, which tend to reflect sunlight. Subsequent clean-air laws have cleared up some of this pollution, revealing the true scale of global warming - a point that the film failed to mention.

    Other graphs used in the film contained known errors, notably the graph of sunspot activity. Mr Durkin used data on solar cycle lengths which were first published in 1991 despite a corrected version being available - but again the corrected version would not have supported his argument. Mr Durkin also used a schematic graph of temperatures over the past 1,000 years that was at least 16 years old, which gave the impression that today's temperatures are cooler than during the medieval warm period. If he had used a more recent, and widely available, composite graph it would have shown average temperatures far exceed the past 1,000 years.

While I'm sure the burden of proof is not necessarily there yet, its only a matter of time before our suspicions are confirmed. Co2 emissions are a smoking gun and without anything better to go on we have to assume that these theories are correct since time seems to be against us. People with vested interests (of which there are far more on the corporate industry side than the environmental side) will try anything to breed complacency among us. They want us to continue our rabid consumerism, to promote the throw-away culture, for this is what shapes their world. Even if we're wrong and the climate eventually returns to 'normal' (if there is such a thing), think of the new world we'll be inhabiting, one with little pollution, minimal waste, virtually-free energy and no dependence on fossil fuels (one less reason to invade Middle Eastern nations). If they're wrong, its too late. The world might continue on, but the short era of the human race will be be over.

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