Sunday, 2 January 2005

Global Warming, The Issue of 2005

Apparently, the reason global warming has been all over the news is that Tony Blair will be heading the G8 for 2005, and he’s decided to make it an issue. The Financial Times has a pretty balanced write-up on the issue:

Polar bears could be extinct by the end of this century, scientists predict, if nothing is done to halt global climate change. Already, the Arctic ice sheet is half the thickness of 30 years ago and 10 per cent less extensive, according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the work of more than 250 scientists over four years. They blame global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and warn of consequences all over the world if ice covering solid ground melts and sea levels rise.

Warnings such as these and fears that the heat waves, floods and hurricanes of last year could have been early consequences of global warming have prompted Tony Blair, the British prime minister, to make tackling climate change a priority for world leaders in the coming year.

“Our effect on the environment, and in particular on climate change, is large and growing . . . We cannot afford to ignore the warnings,” Mr Blair told business leaders in September when he announced plans to put climate change high on the agenda during Britain’s tenure as chair of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations from January. Mr Blair will also make the issue one of the main themes of the UK’s six-month presidency of the European Union from July 2005.


But the science behind predictions of global warming has come under fierce attack. Sceptical scientists have brought out their own reports to show that though some regions are warming, others appear to be cooling. They also argue that the world experienced many periods of warming in the past much greater than those we are witnessing today. Such warming allowed vineyards to flourish in England in the Middle Ages. Malaria affected northern Europe and cattle grazed in Viking settlements in Greenland that were subsequently abandoned as the “little ice age” took effect in the 14th century, lasting until the 19th. Any increase in global temperatures could therefore be the result of a natural variation in the earth’s climate, rather than the effect of any human activity. Sceptics also attack the scientists whose computer models predict dangerous levels of global warming. Others contend that although global warming is happening, and will be costly, there is little we can do about it and therefore we should concentrate our efforts instead on more pressing issues, such as the HIV epidemic and poverty. The champions of this view are the Copenhagen Consensus, a group of economists led by Bjorn Lomborg, professor of political science at Aarhus University in Denmark. He says: “We can only do very little about global warming, very far out into the future, and at a very high cost. If we spend a large amount of money on global warming, we are taking away money that could be spent elsewhere to do much more good.”

I’ve mentioned using carbon sequestration, the Geritol Solution, and so forth, and it hasn’t been well received. There’s almost no chance of the U.S. actually implementing Kyoto, so I have another proposal taken shamelessly from Gregg Easterbrook:
Methane isn’t the only substance to which global-warming policymakers should pay more attention. Hansen’s work suggests that strict regulation of a few rare industrial gases, whose emissions have no economic utility, would also be more cost-effective than carbon dioxide rules. Short-term reform, he also suggests, should focus on heat-absorbing industrial particulates, or “black soot,” which has been nearly eliminated in the West (which boomed during the elimination, evidence that economic growth and soot regulation are fully compatible), but which spews from the factories and power plants of developing nations by the millions of tons. The resulting pollution-caused diseases annually kill more children under age five in the developing world than all deaths from all causes at all ages in the United States and the European Union combined. Any money the West spends on global warming would be far better invested in reducing industrial soot in the developing world than in the carbon crash programs environmental orthodoxy demands.
In this country we could focus on reducing methane and use our dissolving soft power to get countries like China and India to focus on industrial soot. It will help with global warming and will provide an unambiguous benefit to both countries since it is so heavily tied to human illness.

I suspect that’s about the most Mr. Blair can hope for in the coming year. Joe Gandelman has more.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

Prediction: Michael Crichton’s new novel, State of Fear, will prove to be a more powerful countervailing argument to the environmentalists on the question of global warming than has been mustered to date by any “reactionary.” As a thriller it is OK; as an anti-environmentalist polemic it is remarkable.


Of course, you know that soot is mostly carbon. And obviously, the best way to get rid of soot is to burn fuel in such a way that the carbon is converted into a convenient, non-toxic gas.

Such as, for example, carbon dioxide.

Prediction: anti-soot environmental efforts in developing nations will be protested as worsening the effects of global warming.



I thought soot was mostly carbon or sulfur; I didn’t know that avoiding it might increase CO2 levels. Getting rid of soot still seems like the smart thing to do. If you’re right, your prediction will probably be right as well.

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