Public Uncertainties on Climate Change

Since the early 1970s I’ve been concerned about carbon emissions.  I think what started to crystallise this concern in my mind was reading a brilliant book one winter in London. Murderous Providence: A Study of Pollution in Industrial Societies written by Harry Rothman. For the first time someone challenged that comfortable feeling shared by many who grew up through the 1950s and 1960s. Many of us were greatly impressed by the wonderful scientific and technological achievements that characterised the post war boom and the 1960s.  Despite the Cold War, for many these were times of immense confidence. Technology would solve all the problems, the Green Revolution would feed the world’s poor and we’d all live happily ever after. Clearly this hasn’t come to pass.

As the century progressed is became increasingly evident that some of the technological decisions we were making were having an increasing impact on our atmosphere. Our use of Hydrofluorocarbons was found to be associated with a hole developing in the ozone layer, most markedly over the Antarctic. Photo chemical smog became a dangerous feature of cities, increasingly reliant on internal combustion engines for transport. Our dependence on fossil fuels was increasingly criticised both for it’s fundamental unsustainability and because reliance on them was leading to a build up of green house gases and changing the composition of our atmosphere. As with the Hydrofluorocarbons skeptics argued that the concentrations were so small they couldn’t have a significant effect. We noticed increasing deforestation and loss of natural carbon sinks and an alarming growth in the Sahara desert that had clear anthropogenic causes.

Now with advanced climate science at our disposal the existence of anthropogenic global warming is accepted by scientists across the world as a reality. Sadly, a small group of skeptics and deniers have been given undue prominence by the media. This had had serious consequences amongst a general public that is understandably under educated on climate science.

After posting several comments on Global Warming recently, I came across some additional comments on the Floating Life Blog, maintained by a former collegue

He wrote:

You should also note that I can sympathise at least with Greg Sheridan’s dilemma (see yesterday’s entry) when he says: “I do not know whether the science that says we’re all doomed if we don’t de-carbonise the economy is true. Neither does anyone else.” Sympathise but not entirely agree, as I do think the odds are that the IPCC is more than likely right. Yes, we are talking about something which by definition cannot certain until after it has happened, and I probably won’t be around to see it. But Margaret Thatcher’s last line makes as much sense now as it did in 1990 when a great deal less was known on the subject.

I don’t think the government has done a good enough job of explaining the issues at stake, or what their ETS is actually meant to achieve. That is a shame. (New Zealand passed its own ETS the day before yesterday. Did anyone notice?) On the other hand there is much clear material on the Department of Climate Change website.

My opinions aren’t worth a lot. Lord May of Oxford is much better informed.

He also offered this YouTube clip from Lord May

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