Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Peter Rhodes column in the JEP

Peter Rhodes writes a column published in the JEP. The  persona we see is that of a grizzled old cynical hack who has seen everything, got the T- shirt and is sceptical of it. He is a borderline climate change denialist as he sometimes writes scoffing about  the dangers. He eventually got on my nerves so I just fired off this response to his latest assault on the clever men of science - who actually know what they are talking about.


Dear Mr. Rhodes,

                       My attention has been drawn to one of your JEP columns, published on Thursday 29th December.

You wrote:

"Over the yule period, some parts of the United Kingdom were 30° C warmer than they were this time last year. Tell me again. Why exactly will an average rise of 2° C be a global catastrophe?"

Well, with a nod to Ronald Searle, as any fule kno, averages can be deceptive. Indeed, they are often used to deceive. Perhaps a reductio ad absurdum would illustrate this?

For example, the average annual temperature in the South of England is around 11 degees C. Imagine though if one day there was an extreme solar flare which pushed the temperature up for one day only to 100 C - boiling point. Hot enough to cook eggs on the pavement, and everything else, everywhere in Britain, including us.

The change in average temperature for the year? 0.24 degrees C. 11 deg C -> 11.24 deg C. By your "logic" nothing bad could have happened and there would be nothing to worry about.

The average rise of 2 degrees C by 2050 is a globally averaged figure. It does not mean that winters will be 2 deg warmer than normal, similarly summers won't just be a bit warmer either. It will not be smooth gentle and consistent. The 2 degrees C figure actually relates to the increase in temperature that satellites would see for the whole Earth, if it was measured from sufficient distance to iron out all the variations over the surface.

The true danger of global warming is in the increased variation and severity of temperature swings outside normally expected levels. Take a look at this recent article to see the horrendous probabilities, then remember also that the 2 degrees figure you quote does not stop in 2050 but will continue to increase for centuries, although not at the same rate - unless the methane clathrate "gun" is "fired", in which case it's sayonara civilisation and also to most species on Earth. Worth gambling with? Is there a dangerous bullet in the climate gun or a blank? Do you feel lucky, punk?

The IPCC indicate that during the 21st century the global surface temperature is likely to rise a further 1.1 to 2.9 °C (2 to 5.2 °F) for their lowest emissions scenario and 2.4 to 6.4 °C (4.3 to 11.5 °F) for their highest, so the figure of 2 degrees you quote, and that, for the sake of the argument, I have used, is a gross simplification of the full risks we face.

Before you print any more "sceptical" climate related stuff, please reflect that we only have one Earth, that we are experimenting with the gaseous composition of its atmosphere in an unprecedented way and that we are unable to do "test tube" science to establish beyond all doubt what the outcome will be. The only test tube big enough is the Earth, unfortunately we are stuck in that test tube so we can't escape any consequences and we can't go back in time to try another path. Real life is not like a video game. We can only try to predict what might happen based on the best available knowledge and risk assessment and take action to avoid it. Predicting risks and avoiding them is actually one of the better uses of intelligence. Cheap scoffing is probably the opposite.

Nick Palmer

Media spokesman for J-CAN - Jersey Climate Action Network

Member of Planning and Environment's J.E.F. - Jersey Environment Forum

On the side of the Planet - and the people - because they're worth it

Blogspot - Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer


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