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Going Cold on Warming

Ian Katz, in a thoughtful Guardian article (Case for climate-change science) suggests today that climate activists will need to start again and make the case for climate change from from scratch, thanks to recent scandals involving the IPCC and East Anglia University, the unusually cold winter and the failure of Copenhagen talks. I'm sure he's right, but I wish him lots of luck in the attempt, as I don't believe a significant political movement will be mobilised around climate change any time soon.

That isn't because I deny the reality of the Greenhouse Effect - on the contrary I've been a "believer" in it (that's to say one who's aware of and accepts the scientific evidence) for 20 years or more. The problem is that climatic systems are so complex that no current (or foreseeable) climate models are good enough to produce the kind of cast-iron predictions needed in politics to convince people. The adoption of the term "global warming" was the environmentalists first and probably fatal error, linking the effect in the public's mind with things getting warmer soon, and where they live, a sore hostage to fortune. Also
the industrial revolution isn't yet completed globally, and the fact that China and India won't abandon it on the strength of current evidence is hardly surprising.

What we can say for sure about the
Greenhouse Effect is that we have unquestionably raised levels of atmospheric  carbon dioxide to levels not seen for many thousands of years, and have thereby caused more solar energy to be retained in the atmosphere. That makes all climatic processes operate faster, more extremely and more unpredictably, but doesn't leave us with any single politically-exploitable prediction. Drought and flood patterns will shift with dramatic social effects, perhaps triggering mass migrations and wars, but we can't say where and when.

After another 50 years or so of increasing global turmoil a generation will arise who do accept the connection and set about dismantling the growth-based industrial economy, if there's anything left to dismantle among the chaos. We're clearly not that generation, though perhaps my grandchildren are.
There's irony in this situation (as always), namely that those who own the most desirable bits of the world, hence with the most to lose, are the strongest climate-change deniers. Their dismay once the penny drops should be a sight to see.

originally posted 9 Feb 2010 11:25 by Dick Pountain


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