Last Thursday, I watched the documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle" on C4. More details can be found here:
The programme raised a number of questions not only about the science underpinning the theory of man-made global warming but, perhaps more significantly, it opened a political and philosophical debate about the way in which environmental concerns have come to dictate Government policy across the western world but also further afield. Indeed, today, the Sunday Telegraph reports on what seems an astonishing taxation policy proposal from the Conservatives that would probably have most Thatcherites apoplectic:
So, what are we to make of all this? Let's first consider the science briefly. The main thrust of the argument in the programme is that, contrary to much of what is being put forward by the majority of scientists and climatologists, there is no such thing as man-made global warming and that there is no relation between increasing temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. This is a hard argument to refute. The world was warmer in both the early mediaeval period (up to the early fifteenth century) and for a long period (some 3,000 years) during the "Holocene Maximum". Ice core samples and other data suggest that carbon dioxide concentrations rose after the rise in temperature.
The other "flaw" in the argument relating to man-made global warming concerns the link to industrialisation. Temperatures did rise during the twentieth century up to 1940 but from then until about 1975, despite a huge increase in industrial activity, temperatures actually fell before rising again from the mid-1970s onward. Indeed, there is also some evidence that temperatures have fallen slightly since the record year of 1998.
Proponents of the "no man-made global warming" argument cite the evidence of solar activity and argue that climate is far more strongly controlled and linked to solar activity. Again, the evidence is strong - we know the Sun was fairly quiet when temperatures fell from 1940-1975 and the Sun is currently passing through an active phase which will diminish after 2012. There are those who argue that global temperatures will fall after that date. To be fair, with that date so close, it may be that within a decade we will know for sure.
I have two issues with these arguments. The first is that the rate of increase in temperature and carbon dioxide has been so rapid in the past two decades that it may be overpowering the natural feedback mechanisms that normally deal with a much slower pace of change. The second is that the world itself is very different. World population has risen alarmingly since the medieval warm period:
We have gone from a world of 400 million to a world of 6 billion. We are therefore much more vulnerable to sudden climatic change in a way our ancestors weren't. Our civilisation is, as has been argued elsewhere, built on fragile foundations. Deprivation of electricity, medical care and easily-available food supplies would be catastrophic for most urban dwellers.
The conclusion is that even if global warming is proved not to be man-made, the consequences of any rapid climate change on the human population in many parts of the world would be significant.
As I said above, the second main aspect of the programme was, in my view, political and philosophical. Supporters of the arguments put forward by the programme, such as Lord Lawson, are proponents of free-market capitalism. For them, the free and unfettered movement of capital and labour is everything and Government involvement in the running of business and the economy is to be minimised.
They are clearly appalled by the growth of environmentalism and the way the agenda of "climate change" has influenced political thinking and been used by Governments to extend control over the economy and aspects of economic activity. If the theory of man-made climate change can be disproved, it would allow laissez-faire capitalism to re-assert its pre-eminence. In support of their argument, they wheeled out an African academic whose main argument was that the West was using the argument of climate change to prevent the economic development of sub-Saharan Africa.
It is clear to them that the population/electorate has been brainwashed by scientists and academics supporting the theory of man-made climate change into meekly accepting extended Government control over the economy and by definition their lives and increased taxation of things like long-distance air travel. Their anger and frustration was evident.
Are we any the wiser ? I suspect not. The science was compelling in parts, much weaker in others. It may be that if global temperatures do turn downward after 2012 that the arguments for radical action will weaken but if temperatures go on rising, those opposed to the theory of man-made climate change will have to re-consider.
I am now more sceptical about man-made climate change than before though I was always aware that the planet was warmer at many periods in the past. Aspects of the science BOTH in support and opposed to the theory of man-made global warming are questionable and clearly more research is needed. It could be that the years after 2012 will show a clearer trend. Can we wait that long?
Politically, it now seems that all the main parties have completely bought in to the agenda of environmentalism and man made climate change. This may be unwise though it's probably prudent. That said, punitive taxation of air travel seems an odd weapon to choose. It may illustrate of course that Governments (and oppositions) have very few cards to play. Taxing energy consumption means taxing individuals and industry and that is politically very difficult. It's easy for parties in opposition and I suspect UKIP will move swiftly to fill the "anti global warming" position.