Most will remember the spats around the time of last year’s Referendum on UK membership of the EU. Much of the argument centred around the £20 billion per year that the UK contributes to EU coffers. Was it gross or net? Could it all be spent on the National Health Service or not? There was a lot of nonsense talked, mainly on the Remain side, but the subject was serious enough. It was vital that it was debated.
But the proverbial elephant in the room stalked about during that debate and still does. Very few want to talk about the other £20 billion per year which is the cost to the UK economy of implementing the 2008 Climate Change Act. Some may think that there is little to talk about. We need, they will argue, to divert these resources to avoid climate catastrophe.
After all, we are told, “the Science is Settled,” (a term I have only ever heard in connection with Climate hysteria). “Science” has “agreed” that Carbon Dioxide is a so-called Greenhouse Gas which absorbs heat returning to space from the surface of our planet and thereby causing “Global Warming.” Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are currently increasing. What is more, august bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are, apparently, 95% certain that this increase in Carbon Dioxide is due to human activity (mainly burning fossil fuels).
Carbon Dioxide concentrations continue to increase. Recently, however, since a period of warming that had started in the 1970s peaked in 1998 and Mean Global Temperature has since been falling at times or static at others, the term “Global Warming” has been quietly replaced with “Climate Change.” The latter term is bandied about as something to fear and be combated regardless of the fact that climate never has been static. The assumption that we are expected to swallow is that, for the first time ever, climate would be static were it not for human activity. We humans can, we are told, set everything to rights reversing our industrial and technological development. This is, of course, ludicrous. It is also total hubris. King Cnut’s courtiers have risen and walk the Earth.
Let us examine the pseudo-science behind persuading the developed world from not only destroying its own wealth but also depriving the developing world of a prosperous future.
Carbon Dioxide is the fourth most abundant gas in the Earth’s dry atmosphere. (The dry atmosphere is the total atmosphere minus its variable water content.) Even so, Carbon Dioxide only accounts for 0.04% of the atmosphere and is a trace gas. Even the inert gas, Argon, is 22 times more abundant. Oxygen is 525 times more abundant than Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen 1,950 times more so. Approximate figures.
At present the Carbon Dioxide concentration in the dry atmosphere of just less than 0.04% w/v is low compared to the long term record. Ice core records suggest concentrations of up to 0.22% w/v in the distant past. Indeed, briefly during the 19th Century concentrations were higher than now. Carbon Dioxide is essential to plant life. It should never be regarded as a pollutant.
Carbon dioxide absorbs some wavelengths of long wave radiation mainly in the 13-16 micron range. This accounts for some 3% of the total long wave radiation (heat) emitted from the surface. Most of this radiation is already being absorbed and re-emitted by Carbon Dioxide so an increase in concentration will have little effect.
In most radiation absorption and re-emission scenarios the absorption rate begins to tail off and become non-linear as concentration increases.
Contrary to what present accepted wisdom suggests Carbon Dioxide concentrations appear to follow temperature increases, not the other way round, although the mechanism and time scales are not clear. There is some credibility in the hypothesis that global temperature increase causes release of stored Carbon Dioxide from the vast ocean reservoirs and a time scale of very approximately 1,500 years is hypothesised, possibly as a cyclic system. Much remains to be learned in this field.
Warmest times ever?
We should at this point take a look at the global climate record for the past 2000 years. It should be stressed that all methods of determining historical global climate and temperatures are fraught with great difficulties and high levels of uncertainty. Proxies for ancient temperatures include tree rings, oxygen isotope relative concentrations in ice core bubbles and ocean sediments, Carbon 14 dating (fraught with pitfalls) and others. Historical records, ships logs, old paintings and many other occasional sources also help.
2000 years ago the Earth was in the middle of a period known as The Roman Warming, Generally benign climate conditions and temperatures, probably warmer than today, played no small part in Roman expansion.
These conditions lasted until the middle of the first Millennium AD when a marked deterioration in climate known as the Dark Age Cooling took place. This lasted until about the tenth century when the temperature rose again (there is some evidence of very rapid increase) reaching a peak in the 13th Century. There was a cooler period in the middle of the 11th Century before temperatures started to increase again. This was known as the Medieval Warm Period It was fairly likely to have been much warmer than present times and agriculture prospered. Vineyards became viable much further North than would be the case today, The Norse dairy farming settlements in West Greenland were consolidated during this period as coastal areas in that region remained mostly ice free. Work at mines high in the Alps, which had been impossible since the Roman warming ended, was resumed as glaciers retreated. There is a host of evidence to suggest that The Medieval Warm Period was a global phenomenon.
From the mid-14th Century onward the climate deteriorated seriously as The Little Ice Age began. A few decades later the Norse Greenland settlers vanished from the records as sea ice and glaciers from the ice cap advanced. This was a prolonged cool period not finishing until the Modern Warming began in the mid-19th Century. It was not consistently cold with warmer interludes in the 16th Century and at other times. The latter part of the 17th Century and early 18th Century were particularly cold. Glaciers advanced into inhabited farmland in the Alps. High Alpine mines were overrun by advancing ice and evidence of these is only just emerging from some retreating glaciers at present. Frost fares took place from time to time on the frozen Thames at London. There were also, paradoxically, some very hot dry summers. In 1665 London was in the grip of a drought, heatwave and plague. A similar summer in 1666 coincided with the Great Fire of London. Some of the coldest weather later in the 17th Century coincided with a Solar event known as the Maunder Minimum when the Sun remained free of sunspot activity for long periods. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dismiss solar activity as being insignificant many organisations research into links between solar activity and terrestrial climate.
There were further cold spells early in the 19th Century before temperatures started to rise steadily mid-Century. From about 1850 onward the present Modern Warming began with a peak in 1933 and a slightly smaller one in 1998. A lull and even a reversal in warming occurred between the early 1940s and approximately 1974. There is tentative evidence that we are experiencing a leveling off of the Modern Warming but this may be just a cooler interval.
The bigger picture is that we are probably heading in fits and starts into to the next major glaciation of the current Ice Age. This is probably a few thousand years off yet so is not of great concern.
Incidentally, while many of the the World’s Great and Good hubristicly declare that we can stop global mean temperature rising by more than 2ºC, it should be noted that global mean temperatures vary by more than 3ºC each year. The uneven distribution of land mass between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is responsible for this phenomenon.
In conclusion, we are mad to assume that, but for the activities of mankind, temperatures and climate would remain constant.
Ice Caps, Glaciers and Sea Level:
Data on sea ice extent is mainly anecdotal until satellite measurements commenced in 1979, less than 40 years ago. Since then here has been great variation but with a tendency for decreasing minimum areas (in September) for Arctic Sea Ice while an opposite trend of increasing minimum area (in March) of Antarctic Sea Ice. However, 38 years is an insufficient period to determine any long term variation nor to assign the role that climate change is playing and, especially, to assign any human cause.
There has been a lot of recent panic about retreating glaciers. However, apart from the Antarctic, Greenland and a few smaller Ice Caps, ice bores in glaciers usually hit bedrock at about 4,000 years before present. This suggests a warm period around that time with few glaciers while now glaciers are common in mid-latitudes. Where records exist evidence for glaciers advancing and retreating is common. I have already mentioned the impact of advancing glaciation on farming communities in the Alps and Greenland. Evidence of a retreating glacier has been well illustrated in recent days when the preserved frozen bodies of a Swiss couple who went missing near their home in 1942 have been found in a melting area of a glacier.
One of the icons of those who advocate man made global warming is glacial retreat on the upper slopes high mountains, such as Kilimanjaro, in Equatorial Africa. There is a problem with this hypothesis. Temperatures in the region have not really risen in recent decades so the retreat of the glaciers cannot be attributed to increased heat. There has been a decrease in rainfall in the region in recent decades and, of course, glaciers need a good supply of rain, in the form of snow, to advance or mark time. There have been suggestions that post-colonial forest felling may have catalysed the rainfall decrease but the picture is probably much more complex. Huge variations in climate, often accompanied by vegetation changes, over periods of a few years are common in Tropical Africa.
“The ice caps are melting, boo-hoo, boo-hoo, boo-hoo….” to quote (or paraphrase) the singer Tiny Tim.
Apart from a couple of much smaller ice caps the only considerable large bodies of ice are West Antarctica, East Antarctica and Greenland. Both Antarctic ice caps remain firmly frozen and are not melting. The only part of Antarctica where temperature has risen in recent decades is the Antarctic Peninsula which extends Northwards from the Antarctic mainland towards South America. There are active volcanoes under the Antarctic ice caps which can cause considerable changes in the ice when erupting.
Antarctica was probably free of permanent ice until about 34 million years ago while the Arctic sea ice and ice caps appeared only about 2 million years ago – last weekend in geological time scales. There have been many predictions of the disappearance of summer ice in the Arctic Ocean. No less august a body than the BBC predicted that the Arctic would be ice free in summer by 2013. I’m not sure if the BBC reported on the rather obvious failure of this prediction to their listeners and viewers.
The Greenland Ice Cap is equally complex but it would take an enormous acceleration, probably by a factor of more than 20, of the glaciers emanating from it to leave Greenland ice free by 2100 as many have been irresponsibly predicting.
To use the constantly changing and little understood fluctuation of ice caps and sea ice in polar regions as evidence of man made global warming shows deliberate or serious ignorance of scientific method.
“The ice caps are melting, the tide is rising fast ….” to again quote (or paraphrase) the singer Tiny Tim.
Sea level rise has been constantly predicted. We have a set of dodgy links here. The IPCC use “super computers” are programmed to show a causal link between increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and increases in temperature. They surprisingly predict increases in global temperature when Carbon Dioxide concentrations increase. This links to the equally dodgy prediction that, as sea ice melts (probably with minimal effect on sea level as it is already displacing its own mass in the oceans) it will allow the coastal glaciers in the Antarctic and Greenland Ice caps to flow freely into the newly created open water and melt. I have discussed and dismissed this theory above.
Sea level is rising and falling in different places all of the World. Not untypical of this complex pattern is the situation in the British Isles. At the height of the last great glaciation, when sea level was extremely low and the coast line was well out into the present Atlantic Ocean of today, ice from the Scandinavian Ice Cap lay in vast quantities of most of the present day British Isles. The ice cap margins advanced and retreated several times but never extended South of a boundary which included the extreme South of modern Ireland and the South of England (roughly south of London).
The depth of ice in ice caps is measured in miles meaning that the underlying surface was subjected to pressure from the great mass above it. Rock topping the Earth’s crust with the hot mantle underneath is slightly plastic. A good analogy is to half fill a hot water bottle with cold water, lay it flat and lift the neck to allow the water to push out the air and stopper it. This represents the land surface. Now represent the ice cap by pressing down a suitably sized book on one half of the hot water bottle. The surface will be pushed to a lower level and this will be compensated by the other half of the bottle expanding as the contents are displaced in that direction. Take the book away again and the decompressed end resumes its original shape while the bulge at the other end disappears as it also returns to its original state. This represents the retreat of the ice cap.
While the hot water bottle resumes its shape in less than a second, the same process with the Earth’s surface takes millennia. The result in the British Isles is that the land surface is still rising over most of Scotland, more or less stationary over the Northern parts of Ireland, England and Wales but falling quite markedly in Southern England and South Wales. The general sea level around the British Isles, of course, rose spectacularly in the period between 17,000 and about 9,000 years ago as water once locked in the ice caps was released. But, now that effect has more or less stabilised, the North of the British Isles is still rising out of the sea while the extreme South is still sinking back into the sea.
So sea level measurement is a complicated difficult science and to predict, on the basis of flawed modelling, that there will be catastrophic rises in the present century due to humans burning fossil fuels is very dubious science (I was reluctant to include the word “science” in that last sentence).
The whole Global Warming/Catastrophic Climate Change Industry depend on “super-computer” modelling. The results of these model runs are then presented as data. However, modelling results are not data. They are the output of programming by organisations tasked with demonstrating the climate change effects induced by human activities. Increasing Carbon Dioxide concentrations are assumed to cause increase in temperature.
Whenever real events, including properly collected scientific data, come in conflict with the model the models or, worse still, the data are adjusted. It’s a classic example of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). I encountered such model worship myself occasionally during my career as a chemist in an environmental field. If real data disagreed with the model predictions then the dat must be wrong!
Why are we in the developed world being pushed to squander our wealth and arrest our development in a futile attempt to mitigate the unlikely effects of a disproven hypothesis? Why do The Great and the Good and those responsible for our Government swallow the whole snake oil mixture?
Why, indeed. I will attempt to answer these questions in a follow up blog.
Alan Love BSc 30/07/2017