Global Warming: Is There Anything to Fear?

The recent controversy over the  melting of Himalayan Glaciers brings to our attention the infirm footing of the global warming arguments. Is climate change really happening?  And if it is how much are we contributing towards the change? Important questions that we need to find answers to.

The prime argument of the climate change supporters is that the planet is getting hotter and that the rising levels of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide is the reason behind this. Several computer models and their simulations of the planet’s state 100 years away have been made to support this argument.

Let us analyze the argument that the average surface temperature of the planet is increasing rapidly. The famous hockey stick graph that plots increasing surface temperatures over the millennium is used as a moot point to explain this. But several counter arguments have been put against this:

1. Nearly 79% of our planet’s surface is covered by oceans and it is a fact that there are no reliable temperature measurements of this area. All of the data in this aspect comes from shipboard measurements of the surface water.  The methods used for this and the frequency of the data vary significantly and an analyst has to make several adjustments to obtain any long-term trend.

2. Several parts of the world have actually cooled down in the period shown in the hockey stick graph.

3. Post 1998 there has actually been a drop in the surface temperatures with 2008 one of the coolest recorded years.

4. Even more critically satellite measurements of temperatures discounting the effects of volcanic eruption and non greenhouse warming effects (viz El Niño) actually show no rise in global temperatures post 1979.

Now, the second argument is that rising levels of CO2 leads to increasing temperatures. There is no actual historical record that CO2 levels have increased significantly before mean temperature levels increasing, in fact the opposite is true with CO2 levels increasing after an increase in the temperature levels. The record level of CO2 emissions since the birth
of the new millenium do not coincide with any temperature rise per se. And contrary to popular perception CO2 is not a pollutant, as even a third grade student would tell you CO2 is a needed ingredient in the photosynthesis process of the plants.

Studies comparing the increase in solar activity to the temperature rise have a better co-relation to the actual data, with increased solar radiation leading to warmer El Niño cycles that could drive the temperatures around the world. The 1979-98 temperature rise would thus be explained by the high solar activity in this period. This explanation is backed up by recent NASA reports showing the temperature records of many entities in our solar system including Mars and the Moon.

The over-dependence of the predictions on Computer models is another flaw. We cannot predict the next flood or drought with even a remote level of accuracy but we claim to predict glacier levels a hundred years hence? And that too based on sparse and contradictory data? The state of the investment banks that relied on similar computer models should set a precedent here.  Else let us go back a hundred years to 1900’s.  Do you think they could have made any prediction that would have come true today?

Lastly looking at the cost of several of these policy changes – the recent drive for bio-fuels has led to the diversion of several food crops including maize, sugar cane, wheat and palm oil for the fuel production. The hard fact here is that 200 kg of maize enough to feed a person for an entire year provides only 50 liters of fuel. An important side effect is the rise in food
prices because of this. Banning of the cheap Fluro Carbons and DDT is reported to have led to an increase in deaths related to malnutrition and malaria in several third world countries.

So instead of trying to second guess Mother Nature we can actually try to solve tangible problems like the abject poverty of large parts of the world. The booming carbon credits industry is not going to benefit anyone and would only perpetuate status-quo while making the rich richer. An example is Warren Buffet increasing his stake in Munich Re as the company is expected to rake in billions once the US Clean Energy Act is passed. Here’s hoping that we can wake up from this State Of Fear and work towards the Utopia we desire and deserve.

Praveen Desabandu