Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The political science of global warming continues

Today I see that global warming is being used as a reason for us to stop sun-bathing and start pulling down our homes. The latter is, apparently, a requirement of signing the Kyoto Protocol. When politicians and scientists get together, we have political science:

Case 1 - skin cancer will increase three fold over the next 30 years, experts predict. Why, because of global warming and the fact that more people will go to sunny seasides for their holidays and burn themselves in the process. As I have said before, the first premise is unproven. The second "fact" simply requires education and it will be eradicated! If you have fair skin, take more precautions and tan carefully rather than not at all. Meanwhile, I'm off to the beach.

Case 2 - Eighty-thousand houses need to be demolished yearly for the next decade if the UK is to meet its climate change commitments, research suggests. This is because these old houses are energy inefficient and contribute too much CO2 to the atmosphere, directly or indirectly. So, we bring in the bulldozers, scrape them off and replace them with new structures. We won't, of course, add any greenhouse gases to the atmosphere while doing all this, even though bulldozers use fossil fuel and cement plants burn energy, because the Kyoto Protocol says this is all right. Lord Whitty, a government minister and scientist, declared "Climate change is a present and serious problem that needs to be tackled. And what better place to start with than our homes." And while 800,000 homes are being demolished, no doubt the families who lived in them will sit around an open fire at night, enjoying the view of the stars shining through the ozone layer. Little Johnny will ask his Dad "Why are we doing this?" and his Dad will say "I haven't the foggiest idea, go get another floorboard and put it on the fire."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The global warming hockey stick

The BBC carries a report today that reveals a split in the scientific community (now there's a thought) concerning the use of statistics to support a theory. In this case it is the "hockey stick" graph that appears to demonstrate a rapid increase in (?anthropogenic) global warming since 1900. Here's the graph:

Several points are worth commenting on about this graph. The first is that the rapid increase in temperature since 1900 is based on instrumental data whereas older data is based on inferred observations. Nowhere on the pre-1900 portion of the graph can be seen the "mini ice age" that occurred between 1600 and 1850 AD. This was a time when winters were extremely severe with the tidal River Thames freezing over frequently. Going back in time the Medieval Warm Up period (800 to 1400 AD) also doesn't show up with any statistical significance.

But what everyone seems to be missing is the fact that this graph, as complex and scientific as it may appear, only represents a very brief span of geologic time. We have 1000 years of history on the graph. That's a long time relative to a human lifetime but in the context of Nature it is extremely short. The Pleistocene (Holocene) Period, which basically covers the span of the most recent ice ages, lasted 1.7 million years. During that time four major episodes of ice development occurred. Here is a good article about the ice ages that actually suggests we could plunge into a fifth ice age at any time, regardless of "global warming trends". Food for thought.