Transport Watch UK Focusing on UK's Traffic & Traffic Systems

Topic 21: Climate change – some disparate views

November 2006
Wp Ref Climateweb

We do not pretend to expertise in this area but, since the fear of global warming is driving many policies, we feel some comment is appropriate.  The following is by way of generating discussion.  We welcome contributions particularly from those who believe that Global Warming is largely man-made so as to redress the balance in this note.

All, scientists acknowledge that climate change has been happening naturally for billions of years, at times reaching faster rates and greater extents than now. However, the presence of a human signal in the data is disputed. The IPCC itself has acknowledged that the entire degree of climate change being discussed may be natural.

We do not take sides in that debate but do sense that the sceptics have been shouted down rather than defeated by rational argument. E.g. Professor Carter of James Cook University, Queensland, points out, in the Telegraph of 9th April 2006, that we had warming from 1918 to 1940, substantially before the post-war surge in emissions, cooling from 1940 to 1965, warming from 1965 to 1998 and flat ever since.  He goes on to castigate the Government Scientist, Sir David King, as alarmist when he says that perhaps Antarctica will be the only habitable place on the planet.  In contrast Professor Cook points out that during the last 3 interglacial cycles temperatures were up to 5 degrees warmer than today’s and that a cooling is likely to be the greater threat.  He concludes that the Government –

 “Urgently needs to recast the sources from which it derives its climate advice. The shrill alarmism of the public advisers, and often eco-fundamentalists policy initiatives that bubble up from the depths of the Civil Service, have all long since been detached from science reality.  Internationally, the IPCC is a deeply flawed organisation and the Kyoto Protocol has proved a costly flop”.

We continue by noting that the UK produces perhaps 2% of the world’s carbon emissions and that one quarter of that is from the transport system.  It follows that if we brought the entire nation to a complete standstill the effect on global emissions would be a trivial reduction in carbon emissions of half of one percent at a time when China is said to be opening one coal fired power station per week.  Hence it is clear that, unless the rest of the world, or at least the majority, acted in concert the only effect of our self denial would be the destruction of the UK economy.

Certainly persecuting those who have four-wheel drive vehicles can have no effect other than creating publicity.  After all such vehicles constitute 7% of traffic flow.  Hence if all of them halved their emissions then the emissions from the transport sector would be reduced by 3.5%, total UK emissions would be reduced by less than 1% and global emissions by less than 0.02%.

Further the overall total of annually cycled carbon dioxide from mankind is dwarfed by the 96.6% that comes from natural sources (IPCC).

Meanwhile a call often heard from the Greens is that the developed world should reduce its emissions by 60-90% and that world emissions should be reduced by 50%. We comment, some say that if that is heeded then billions may starve forever, as they now do, and the economy of the West may collapse while others say precisely the reverse. E.g.

  1. Lombard Street Research has produced a report that claims it is many times as expensive to deal with global warming as it is to live with it.  That is because (a) warming, and its effects on sea levels, may take decades or centuries and (b) the land released from the ice may outweigh that lost.
  2. The Stern reports says summarise its finding by saying “Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year”.
  3. A UKIP environment paper says "Full implementation of Kyoto could cost up to $75 trillion"
  4. Richard S.J. Tol (of the Research Unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University and Centre for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Hamburg, Germany Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Center for Integrated Study of the Human Dimensions of Global Change, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA) provides: If CO2 emission reduction were the only possibility to meet the target, the net present value of consumption losses would be $45 trillion. ..............

Separately from the economics Mike Arthur, a Transport-watch supporter, commented on the BBC Radio 4 Programme of 20th November 2006 as follows.

“My biggest criticism of GW as presented by politicians & media (especially BBC) is the lack of time context. Most of the time they present in terms of several decades, maybe back to about 1830.  However, none of the changes in those periods can be understood without going back to at least 11,500 years ago (end of the last full glacial), & considering the Medieval, Roman & Atlantic Warm periods within those 11,500 years.

The hottest period since the start of the present interglacial is between 6000-5500 ago.  The mean temperature was then 2.5 °C higher than today, climate was then at its balmiest and life for man at its most convenient... The sea rose to 3 m above its present level and the tree lines on northern mountains rose by 2000-3000 feet (600 to 900 m)". Reference,

Against that background, how is it that the Greens believe that a 2.5C temp rise will bring disaster, unprecedented sea levels etc, etc? After all Jericho had been a 'city' for the 4000 years by the year 4000 BC

Similarly, the present 11,500-year inter-glacial cannot be understood without being placed in the context of the approx 19 inter-glacials and glacials back to the start of the current Ice Age, about 2 million years ago. Further the last 2 million years of low temperatures and low CO2 are anomalous.  Hence the impact of 'Global Warming' upon ecosystems and sea levels cannot be understood without reference to the approx 278 million years of warmer climate (from 2 million years to about 280 million years ago - back to the previous Ice Age, and especially the Cretaceous Greenhouse (65-145 million years ago).  At that time when CO2 concentrations were, 5 to 10 times higher than today’s.

Faced with such disparate views, who on earth would dare to develop any policy?  Instead we speculate that, whatever the truth, Global Warming may be no more than a red herring. Instead perhaps the real problem is world overpopulation.  After all, if all of us were to consume as does the West then world resources would soon be exhausted.  Possibly there should be a 90% cull but it is difficult to find volunteers.  Hence, can we do more than watch and wait, while defending our own?

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