Climate Change Debate – the Scientific Evidence

February 15, 2010 · Filed Under climate change · 1 Comment 

The severity and speed of man-made climate change is one of the key factors which will determine the amount of food that can be produced in the future. Most of us desperately wish it wasn’t happening and perhaps that explains why people are quick to believe anything coming from the sceptics. The East Anglia email scandal is an example of something fairly insignificant that is used to feed scepticism in the population, most of whom have not looked closely at the evidence or science.

I have heard people say that they would like to see the arguments explained by experts in an easy to understand way.

It’s great therefore that The Royal Society – as the UK’s national academy of science – has responded to eight key misleading arguments by setting out where the weight of scientific evidence lies.

We at Peak Food will show abbreviated versions of each of these arguments.

MISLEADING ARGUMENT 1

The Earth’s climate is always changing and this is nothing to do with humans. Even before the industrial revolution, when humans began pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on a large scale, the earth experienced warmer periods.

WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE SAY?

The world has experienced warmer or colder periods in the past without any interference from humans. The ice ages are well-known examples of global changes to the climate. There have also been regional changes such as periods known as the ‘Medieval Warm Period’, when less sea ice and larger areas of cultivated land were reported in Iceland.

However, in contrast to these climate phases, the increase of three-quarters of a degree centigrade in average global temperatures over the last century is larger than can be accounted for by natural factors alone.

The Earth’s climate is complex and influenced by many things- particularly changes in the Earth’s orbit in relation to the Sun, which has driven the cycle of ice ages in the past. Volcanic eruptions and variations in the energy being emitted from the Sun have also had an effect. But even taking these factors into account, we cannot explain the temperature rises that we have seen over the last 100 years both on land and in the oceans- for example ,eleven of the last twelve years from 1995, have been the hottest years since records started in 1850.

So what is causing this increase in average global temperature? The natural greenhouse effect keeps the Earth around 30c warmer than it would otherwise be and, without it, the Earth would be extremely cold.

The ability of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to act like a blanket and

trap heat has been understood for nearly 200 years and is regarded as firmly established science.

Any increase in the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere mean that more heat is trapped and global temperatures increase-an effect known as ‘global warming’. We know from looking at gases found trapped in cores of polar ice that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are now 35% greater than they have been for at least the last 650,000 years. The increase in global temperature is consistent with what science tells us we should expect when the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase in the way that they have.

It is alleged that the increased level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is due to emissions from volcanoes, but these account for less than one per cent of the emissions due to human activities.

TOTAL Oil Boss gives Peak Oil Warning

January 19, 2010 · Filed Under climate change · 2 Comments 

In the last few years there have been a series of remarkable u-turns from the world’s top oil companies. Not long ago they were saying that man-made climate change was a myth and funding scientists who were prepared to agree with that. Now, however, they all say that climate change is taking place and that greenhouse gas emissions are at least partly responsible. Indeed, they are all spending millions to prove their green credentials by starting projects that will reduce emissions to some extent.

Peak Oil and Peak Food

Peak Oil and Peak Food

 

Peak Oil is another matter. Until now the message coming from the oil companies is that Peak Oil – the time when a peak in production is reached, followed by a decline in production in the face of increasing demand, causing severe shortages – is many decades in to the future. Recently though there are indications that at least one company has changed its mind.

In this week’s Time magazine, Christophe de Boisseson, CEO of the French oil giant Total, speaks openly about the nightmare scenario oil shortages that most energy firms prefer to avoid or deny. De Margerie says the possible effects on the world economy of dwindling oil supplies are so great that, “I am not prepared to shut my mouth.” Shortly after taking over at Total he jolted executives at a London conference by stating that the industry would be unlikely to produce more than 100 million barrels a day, far below the 120 million or so the International Energy Agency estimates the world could produce by 2030, and which will be needed for Asia’s galloping growth. De Margerie now says 90 million barrel a day is “optimistic.”

This is worrying for the health of the world economy, but for the future of food production it is devastating. Western agriculture is totally dependent on oil and the rest of the world is rapidly becoming so.  It is expected that food production will need to double in the next 40 years as the population continues to rise and as more people demand a better diet. To increase food production using modern methods requires a corresponding increase in fossil energy inputs. A serious shortage would cause the farming industry to collapse.

The truth about our situation is so unpalatable that most people will prefer to not believe it, but it must be said. The carrying capacity of the Earth has been temporarily increased by the massive use of finite resources. When these resources become depleted, the Earth’s carrying capacity and therefore its population will be reduced – in other words mass starvation and we in the West are the most vulnerable.

Is Sir Richard Branson Green.

August 4, 2009 · Filed Under climate change · Comment 

Richard Branson’s book, “Business Stripped Bear” is a fascinating account of how he started his businesses and how he likes to manage them, but the most surprising fact is that despite running transport companies that consume vast amounts of fossil energy, and is starting a space tourism company, he obviously understands the problems of climate change and oil depletion, and actually is determined to do something about it.

This is in stark contrast to some other business leaders who in the past have spent millions of dollars on campaigns to persuade governments and the public that there is no problem and that we can carry on with present practices.

Branson has taken the time to study the subject and once convinced, he used his celebrity status to contact people who could help him make a difference.

In typical Richard Branson fashion he has come up with headline grabbing but brilliant ideas.

First, he has announced that any proceeds received by the Virgin Group from their transportation businesses will be used to tackle environmental issues, which he hopes could be something like £3 billion over a number of years.

Next, he announced the Virgin Earth Challenge. To win the $25 million prize, participants will have to demonstrate a provable, commercially viable design that will result in the removal or displacement of a significant amount of environmental greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. The challenge will run for ten years.

Sir Richard is now using his money, contacts and influence to try to make a real difference and to get as many people as possible looking for solutions.

Good for him!

Climate Projections 09 and Peak Food

June 23, 2009 · Filed Under Uncategorized, climate change · Comment 
Climate change is just one of the factors that condemn future generations to having much less food per person then we have, so the latest projections should be a massive wake up call for us all.

Dr Vickey Pope, head of climate advice at the Met office described these projections as the most comprehensive analysis to date.

Whatever we do now, we are bound to have average the temperature rise by almost 2C compared to pre-industrial levels, but robust measures now could prevent rises above that level, which is where many scientists fear dangerous feedback effects will start to kick in.

The projections are that rainfall will stay about the same in the UK, but more will fall in winter with summer rainfall down by anything between 20% and 80%. The temperature on the hottest days could hit 41C by 2080.

This is exactly the opposite of what is good for food production. We need regular spring and early summer rainfall and moderate temperature to obtain the huge crop yields we now have in the UK.

Hilary Benn, commenting on these projections said they make very sobering reading and that climate change is the greatest challenge we face.

He said that we need to plan how to cope and protect people. He considers that the meeting in Copenhagen in December is the most important one in humankind’s history.

That’s quite a statement and does show that some government ministers do fully understand the situation. The problem is that the years are going by without the huge and far reaching measures being taken that would prevent warming going above the crucial 2C.

 

Sir David King on Climate Change

May 24, 2009 · Filed Under climate change · 1 Comment 

With newspapers and T.V. full of trivia, it would seem that the public are not worried about the factors that will cause severe food shortages if urgent action is not taken. Climate change, peak oil, rapidly rising population, soil losses and water shortages are mentioned but there is not the demand for action that should be expected when the survival of our children is at stake.

The most likely explanation is that people feel powerless to do anything meaningful and also they do not want to risk actions that would reduce the fossil energy powered way of life we enjoy. So they put it out of mind or believe any sceptic that argues we have nothing to worry about.

So far as one of the peak food factors , climate change goes, it is frightening to read a book co-written by no less a figure than Sir David King, the previous chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government.

Sir David explains the situation in a way that is easy to understand and he is unequivocal.

For example, he says, “ Human activity is to blame for the rise in temperature over recent decades, and will be responsible for more changes in the future. There are plenty of areas for debate in the global warming story but this is not one of them. If anybody tells you differently they either have a vested interest in ignoring the scientific arguments or they are fools.”

Sir David believes that the only choice we have is to keep greenhouse gasses below 450 ppm CO2eq. He believes that that is still possible because many of the technologies that we will need are already available or are in the pipeline, but we will have to act fast.

The sad fact is that most governments agree with what him and other prominent scientists are saying, but there is no urgent action and critical years are going by.

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