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Wednesday 9 November 2016

Don't Panic!

I happened to catch the last few minutes of the ABC's QandA last night. The topic at the time was Climate change. It was the usual one-sided ABC panel with the usual one-sided audience clamoring for immediate action against carbon pollution. It is the greatest "moral challenge of our time", "without real action today we are facing climate disaster!" the various calls coming across as rather shrill.

Of course there was the sacrificial token representative of the 'dark' side. In this case it was James Paterson a rather youthful Victorian Liberal Senator. During the few minutes I watched he acquitted himself well, responding with commendable equanimity in the clearly hostile atmosphere.

I was struck by the passion of the climate change advocates, the foam-in-the-mouth, frothy passion, the no-argument-or-discussion-is-allowed passion, the disgust-for-anyone-wanting-to-question passion.

These are without doubt intelligent people, who on any other subject would listen to the information, seek alternate views, apply some filters as to the veracity of the information and then come to a balanced judgement. But it seems that with Climate change it is different. Yes it is a cliche to call it a religion, but I do recall from decades past I did note the same visceral passions in the occasional discussions on religion.

As I have noted in my earlier posts, my own beliefs have evolved over the past year. (See the Climate Change page for a list of my posts.) I have been swayed from the most foreboding predictions of "runaway" climate change by just a few observations.

  • The Earth's average temperature has been more than 5C degrees higher than today and yet it supported a rich biodiversity.  For example, during the Jurassic period the average temperature of the Earth was ~25C. This is a full 10C degrees higher than today. Yet during the Jurassic life was abundant. So what is so special about a 2 degree rise from the current average of ~15C. 
  • CO2 concentration has been much higher than today and yet the Earth supported abundant animal life. Again during the Jurassic CO2 concentration rose to >2500 ppm yet supported life. 
  • The historical record shows no evidence of a "tipping point". The geological record shows a wide variation of temperatures and CO2 concentrations (see Graphic above). Yet there is no evidence that there is a "Tipping point" whereby if the CO2 concentration exceeds some threshold there is a runaway temperature increase. On the contrary the geological record shows cyclical changes in temperature and CO2 concentration with most temperature higher than today. 
So lets all calm down. Yes, there is global warming. The earth has been in a steady warming period after the mini-ice age of the early 17th century. Yes, it is probable, but not certain, that man made emissions of CO2 are contributing to this warming. It is possible, but again not certain, that if our civilization can reduce its emissions, we could mitigate some of the temperature increase. Indeed it may even be worth doing this in a sensible, equitable and gradual process. After all I am all for sustainability.

But there is no need to overreact. The world will not end in a ball of fire if we fail to control our emissions. Planet earth will not turn into Venus if we fail to close brown coal power stations in Victoria next year. Nor indeed can any of our virtue-signaling state governments on their own make any measurable impact on the Earth's temperature. Neither can all of Australia. It requires a coordinated world effort to make even an iota of difference. Will such a coordinated effort occur? We are yet to see.

My expectation is that our significant investment in energy research will generate breakthrough technologies. Technologies that provide abundant base-load energy at lower cost than fossil fuels. When that happens the world will quickly shut down fossil fuel power stations without any coaxing.

We do have time. Even if the world carries on business-as-usual our civilization will survive a 3 degree increase in temperature and a doubling of CO2 concentration. Indeed it would be a warmer wetter and greener world, perhaps more pleasant that today's. 

QandA's shrill calls for no-holds-barred-urgent-action remind me of the advice printed on the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" , "Don't Panic!"

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