It’s very appropriate to review where we are on human induced global warming now. We happen to be in the immediate period before the summit at Copenhagen where decisions are going to be made about a successor to the Kyoto Treaty.
I happened to be speaking last week at a conference in Liverpool organized by the British Wind Energy Association. I was privileged to hear a speech by Tony Juniper on the current state of global warming.
It was a pretty frightening message that Tony delivered. The worst case scenario of ten years ago has been exceeded. The world is actually heating up faster than even the pessimists had anticipated. He showed a series of trend lines. I find it amazing to think how chilling a trend line can appear. All it is are numbers on a page, but these numbers spelt out an awesome message for humanity. We have heated up the world to .6oC above where it would otherwise be at. The Larsen B Ice Shelf has disappeared. It was it that held back the flow of many of the great glaciers of Antarctica which are now beginning to thin at an unpredictable rate. The last refuge of those who claimed that global warming was a somewhat distant “22 Century Phenomenon” has been blown away.
I am reminded of the time when I became convinced that global warming presented a serious threat to humanity which was in 1989. I have tried to recall why such considerations would have been meaningful to me. I was employed in managing Bord na Mona, the Irish peat company and part of our sales were to the Dutch Horticulture Industry. When the horticulture industry wished to increase the heating in their glass houses they injected CO2 from the heaters that were used to provide the heat. CO2 changed the frequency for the light entering the glasshouse, turning ultra violet radiation into infra red radiation and thereby providing some “free heating”. So I was familiar with the concept of the greenhouse effect.
We burn 85 million barrels a day of oil; we put it up into the atmosphere as CO2. As far as I can see right now we have all but destroyed the eco system which has allowed human kind to emerge from the primordial soup. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest it’s been for 600,000 years. We know this for certain, what we don’t know is whether this is the highest for 20 million years. There needs to be a deal done in Copenhagen but it may not happen. The forces of reaction are alive and well and still saying that these occurrences would and have happened naturally in the history of the world.
Nevertheless I believe there will be a deal done to try and limit the temperature rise in the atmosphere to 2oC.
Funnily enough one of the reasons that I think this will happen will be because China will demand it. Of all the countries in the world, China could have the biggest problem with global warming.
Its population is huge and it is very heavily reliant on the waters flowing from the three great river systems that emanate from the Himalayas.
Long before human induced global warming 60% of China was a desert. The desertification process must have greatly accelerated there and China must now be threatened with major challenges to its basic food production system.
What is the point of industrial growth and human development if it is at the cost of the great majority of the population dying from starvation?
Is there anybody out there who will still argue that all the CO2 that we are putting up into the atmosphere isn’t affecting our climate in the short term?