River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Soapbox

December 2008

Ron cast severe doubts on the facts behind so-called Global Warming

Global Warming and all that.

Returning to my favourite topic. Global warming due to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide is, it seems, a universally accepted fact. There is a lot of supporting evidence but, in the end, there is no absolute proof that such warming that has occurred is entirely due to carbon dioxide and without proof, it is a belief, a faith. Anybody who questions this orthodoxy is either regarded as a heretic or, more kindly, slightly deranged. There is no doubt that global temperature has been generally a little higher than it was 50 years ago, nearly as much perhaps as 0.4oC. Polar ice is melting during the summer to a greater extent than it has done in recent decades. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased, perhaps by as much as 100% in the past couple of hundred years and there is no doubt that CO2 does have a warming effect. but 100% of very little is very little. The actual amount of CO2 is still relatively small at almost 0.04% and there is some question as to the extent of the effect this amount can have on our complex climate system. Furthermore there are other greenhouse gases including methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour.

There are a number of factors that tend to lead me to be rather sceptical of the accepted view:

As I reported in the March issue, the global temperature average for 2007 was lower than for every year since 1998 with the exception of 2000 which was even lower. According to the Climate Research Unit at UEA, the evidence for 2008 suggests that this year the temperature will be lower than 2007, thus the global cooling, albeit small, will have continued for ten years, this despite some further increase in CO2 concentrations.

What about the polar ice melt? The one interesting factor here is that, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre the summer Arctic ice this year at its minimum was 10% greater than it was last year. Another interesting factor is that the extent of the winter Arctic ice does not seem to vary very much, that is surprising at a time of global warming. The situation in the Antarctic is less clear with some contradictory evidence. In 2007 the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), the leading international authority, stated that Antarctica was the only continent where the human impact on climate change had not been observed. A more recent report from UEA challenges that view.

There is some evidence that global temperatures were higher than they are today in the period between 600 AD and 1200 AD, when CO2 concentrations were lower (and temperatures were lower than they are today between 1400 and 1900).

So whilst it seems that there has been some global warming whether or not it is continuing is not clear, neither is the extent that it is due to carbon dioxide clear. Despite this, and despite the fact that our contribution to global carbon dioxide is so small that, whatever we do will have negligible effect on the global situation, the greenies are telling us that we can save the planet. And now the government say they are intending to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. How on earth can they do that? First thing they would need to do would be to replace practically all fossil fuel power stations with renewable and nuclear. Can they do that and replace our ageing nuclear stations within 40 years? Their effort to date with windmills is not very impressive: It was stated recently that we now have 2.2GW of installed wind power. If that is true it corresponds to something like 1200 windmills and is the equivalent power output of just over half of the single Drax coal fired power station, or about 4% of the national generating capacity. Of course 2.2GW is the output when the wind is blowing sufficiently strongly. When the wind drops the output is a great big zero. The government's aim is to achieve 20% of our electricity from renewables by 2020. Presumably they mean 20% of the total annual output in GWh. In 2007 4.06 of the total output was generated from renewable sources but only 1.34% came from wind power. The remainder of that 4.06 came from hydro-electric schemes and from bio-mass. If the plan is to produce most of the rest of the 20% from wind they will need to build ten times the amount that they have built in the last ten years, about 12,000 at a cost of tens (if not hundreds) of billions in subsidies. Even then they would need to retain sufficient conventional power stations to cover the no-wind situations.

Can you imagine that you could cut your carbon emissions by 80%? Cut your central heating by 80%? Cut your car fuel use by 80%? Cut your electricity use by 80%? Very good home insulation could help but unlikely that it will it save 80%. If you could afford to install your own wind turbine and solar panels, that would help. If we could get sufficient additional electricity from renewable and nuclear power sources we could cut our emissions by using electricity for home heating, but the chances of achieving sufficient additional carbon free electricity by 2050 are slim. Heat pumps would help but they would not reduce the energy input by 80%. Get a more economical car! A 200mpg car? There are suggestions that we will have electric cars, if we do that will almost double the demand for electricity. How will we produce all that electricity? If it is produced by fossil fuels electric cars will not help at all. (The tendency to regard today's electric cars as a green option is a nonsense.) There are demands for more fuel efficient cars but there is little scope left for further improvements in engine efficiency and the truth is that, unless people will accept, or are forced to accept, using their cars much less, driving smaller cars and driving much more slowly, there is little chance for a big reduction in the fuel consumed by cars. The possibility of fuel cells does exist, that would yield a big improvement in efficiency but, at present the only viable fuel is hydrogen. The production and distribution of hydrogen presents its own problems and makes its own energy demands. What of industry? Can they cut their energy use by 80%. Air travel?

Despite the views expressed above it is clear that we cannot permit a continuous build up of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Whatever success we might have globally in reducing carbon emissions attributable to individuals, the current population growth rates and developments in Asia will tend to cancel out that success. The current EU agreement is that CO2 emissions should be kept below current levels, that seems sensible but that will probably prove difficult enough to achieve. Realistically, with the utmost effort, we might achieve a 50% reduction in our carbon emissions over the next 40 years but an 80% reduction is beyond belief unless we can switch most energy use to electricity and satisfy the consequently much increased demand for electricity from carbon free sources. Since the UK is only responsible for 2% of the global carbon emissions, whatever we do in this country will have negligible effect on the global situation. Unless we can be sure that other countries would follow suit it would be very foolish to attempt such a huge reduction in isolation, especially if there is a risk that it will impact adversely on our economy. Of course it is easy for the politicians to make this ambitious plan now - they will most likely be retired, if not dead, in forty years time.

The letter 'H'

This is just one of those silly little things that annoy me.

The letter 'H' is written 'aitch' and it should be pronounced 'aitch'. The annoying thing is that so many people will insist on pronouncing it as 'haitch'. Even some TV newsreaders have been heard to pronounce HBOS as haitchbos.

Ron Watts

Copyright remains with independent content providers where specified, including but not limited to Village Pump contributors. All rights reserved.