Long-time Troppo readers may recall that I was once a moderate global warming sceptic, a viewpoint more commonly found in people with far more rabidly right wing views than my own. It tended to confuse readers more than a jot. But my scepticism arose not from Don Arthur’s beloved Diderot Effect, but from my own non-expert assessment of the evidence. Consequently, I had no difficulty effecting a graceful somersault when I found that the evidence of actual global temperatures simply no longer supported even moderate warming scepticism.
A study released today starkly underlines the need for urgent and decisive action on global warming.
It was undertaken by a collaboration of experts at Oxford and Reading universities, The Open University, London School of Economics, Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory:
The study by British scientists, which is published today, found the planet’s global temperature could climb by between 2C and 11C because of skyrocketing levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
That more than doubles the current prediction of a 1.4C to 4.5C rise this century. …
“If this is the case, it’s very dramatic and very scary,” Mr Stainforth said.
Even rises that are more modest are expected to trigger disastrous changes, including melting glaciers, sea-level rises, shut-down of the Gulf Stream, and increases in droughts, cyclones and other extreme weather events. The new results follow two reports in last week’s edition of Science, showing that global warming probably caused the “Great Dying”.
Another study released earlier this week argues that the world may be approaching a “tipping point” on global warming, such that if decisive action isn’t taken within that time then major short-term warming will become unavoidable.
What makes me slightly cautious about both studies is that they’re based almost solely on computer modelling in an area where the magnitude of quite a few of the variables, and in some cases even the sign (positive or negative), isn’t known with any precision. What makes me even more cautious about the “tipping point” study is that the group producing it included Clive Hamilton’s Australia Institute, a thinktank whose apparent ideological skew doesn’t really inspire confidence in any but blind adherents.
Nevertheless, the accumulation of evidence in a wide range of areas must surely force any reasonably objective observer to the conclusion that urgent policy action is required on a global level. It again makes me wonder why people haven’t begun talking more seriously about wholesale conversion to nuclear power. It remains the only mature, currently-available option for large-scale power generation that doesn’t produce any greenhouse gases at all. Even with the evident risks of waste disposal and nuclear weapons proliferation, surely even a plausible possibility of a tipping point within a decade makes the nuclear option worthy of serious consideration indeed.
I still agree in principle with sceptics who argue that the Kyoto Protocol is rather pointless tokenism that will have a minimal tangible effect on the problem, but that just means we need to do much more; it certainly doesn’t justify doing nothing. I also agree with those sceptics who argue that kneejerk adoption of the precautionary principle in relation to scientific issues generally would be dangerously misconceived, but the accumulation of evidence on global warming has certainly reached a point where the onus of proof should be seen as having shifted decisively onto policymakers who continue to argue, expressly or by omission, that nothing much needs to be done. That applies particularly to policymakers in the US and Australia, both of which remain opposed to ratifying Kyoto. But it also applies to the Third World, which has until now been resistant to taking any action at all. Maybe the fact that the First World is currently delivering billions of dollars in post-tsunami aid to large slices of the Third World provides an ideal opportunity for prodding/pressuring these countries into concrete action on global warming.