A very interesting newsletter from the Global Warming Policy Foundation has come my way and I recommend anyone remotely interested in the issue to visit their site thegwpf.org. This particular paper has relevant observations to make.
First of all is the news that James Hansen, the founding father of climate change theory, has co-authored a study which reports that the big event is actually no event. There has been no global warming over the last 15 years; there has been a temperature standstill. Nevertheless, he evidently maintains that global temperature continues at a high level that is sufficient to cause a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme warm anomalies.
This at the very least supports my view that the science behind climate change policy is not as solid as proponents would have us believe. There may well be climate change taking place, but our geological history going back over 500 million years tells us such change is not new. In recent geological time we have experienced several ice ages. We can be fairly sure that the main determinant of our climate is the sun and the solar cycle. The question is whether man’s activities can really over-ride natural factors and to what extent. I concede that these are questions not answers but you can guess what conclusion I draw.
Another piece of news concerns ice cover. The prophets of doom like Sir David Attenborough are predicting the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap by 2020 based on the shrunken size of the ice cap last summer. Yet now we hear that Arctic sea ice extent is now virtually back to normal (possibly due to winter in the Northern Hemisphere?) Whilst people were fretting about this last summer, the extent of the Antarctic ice cap was increasing. Arguably, if we put the two together then there is not much change.
Talking of changing ice caps leads me to another straw in the wind. We think affectionately of polar bears (though that feeling might change if confronted by a hungry, angry one on the ice cap) and greet news of their declining numbers with considerable concern. Yet it seems all is not as bad as the doomsters would have us believe. A report by the Polar Bear Specialist Group on “State of the Polar Bear” suggests there are 22600-32000 polar bears world-wide or rather more than the 2005 figure of 20000-25000. Maybe it’s a case of now you see them, now you don’t!
So what are the implications for policy from all this? Does it mean we can forget about climate change and ditch all our policies such as Ed Milliband’s 80% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050 target or building loads of windmills, (aerogenerators!), and littering every south-facing roof with solar photovoltaic cells? Or at least stop subsidising these things by charging extra on everyone else’s electricity bill. Or does it mean we should resolutely stick to existing policy and take the long-term view that global warming will recommence sooner or later and the need to tackle emissions remains valid?
I think it means we should take another look at the scientific case for the sort of alarmist statements of Al Gore and his ilk. Then we should reconsider our slavish worship at the temple of renewable energy (it does seem almost like a religion in some quarters) as the main policy mechanism to combat climate change. Put another way, let us agree upon the objective and then determine the means rather than just say we need more renewable energy. http://www.gileschichestermep.org.uk/Sustainable-Secure-Energy.pdf
I believe renewable energy is a part of any energy strategy but I wish people wouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket as recommended by the last Labour Government White Paper of a decade ago which said wind energy alone was the way to go. The energy efficiency of wind generation is exaggerated and relies heavily on back-up stand-by generating capacity. Solar PV is even less efficient and cost-effective. All of which tells me we should pursue renewable energy much more cautiously and think three times before blighting the countryside.
Whether or not climate change is being driven mainly by CO2 emissions alone (which I doubt), it is prudent to look for alternative energy sources to fossil fuels of coal, oil and gas on grounds of security of supply. Eventually these fuels will become so scarce they will price alternatives into the market. We know some of the alternatives already. Nuclear energy is the most obvious as a mature, proven technology in fission reactors. http://www.gileschichestermep.org.uk/In-praise-of-nuclear-energy.pdf
Energy efficiency and conservation are always viewed as the low hanging fruit of energy policy, yet we are not doing very well in achieving them. Given our massive dependence on oil, particularly for transport, we must look to electric cars, hybrids and fuel cell propulsion. Our longer term needs may be met in large part through nuclear fusion powered electricity. And who knows, someone may come up with a new technology. Failing that, we may have to resort to the bicycle or shanks’s pony. That would be good for our waistlines!