The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Oct 25, 2010


One of the advantages of working at a company with a strong bent towards sustainable and responsible investing is that we can get to hear of interesting products and innovative outfits that our company might want to invest in. We also get to listen to interesting speakers once in a while. The most recent interesting speaker was Professor Chris Rapley, chief Mugwump of the Science Museum, and head honcho of the British Antarctic Survey.

He came to talk to us about Climate Change, the facts and the interpretations, the factions and the policking. A good time was had by all.

Here's a quick summary. The good professor pointed out that

  1. the facts about global warming are not in dispute, but only (mis)interpretations by various vested interests.
  2. even those who supposedly agree with global warming, e.g. Greens, do not necessarily support the hard choices required to lessen the impact of greenhouse gases (e.g. nuclear power).
  3. both parties - Deniers and Believers - often have identical rhetoric as regards solutions, but will just not listen to each other because of fundamental biases.
  4. energy costs are roughly 5% of world GDP because gas/petroleum is so cheap; any replacement available now will require maybe 20% of world GDP to provide the same amount of energy, so unless radically cheaper methodologies appear, there's little possibility to switch out of polluting fuels.
  5. to get public attention to the problem, it's not enough for scientists to talk loudly and slowly as if to slow foreigners, but to get public figures involved in communicating the issues.
  6. people need to think outside of their own immediate experience to realise that 'average rising temperatures' doesn't mean that temperatures will be rising everywhere: last winter was colder than the average in Western Europe and the eastern seaboard of the US, but at the same time, most of the rest of the planet was having much warmer times.
I asked him if there were times in the Earth's history when global average temperatures / carbon dioxide concentrations were higher than they are today. He said shocks similar to our own effusions (about a trillion tons of CO2 since the dawn of the industrial age) have occurred before. For instance, about 65 million years ago, there was a supervolcanic eruption somewhere in Siberia that released similar amounts of greenhouse gases, resulting in spikes in global temperatures that lasted several thousand years. That fact by itself, he said, should convince anyone who denies that today's CO2 levels pose no warming threat. The recovery from those temperatures, too, took longer than human timescales, so we shouldn't expect to get out of this unscathed. The societal tensions and pressures alone will be beyond anything we've encountered before.

All in all, an intellectually enlightening and emotionally depressing presentation.


km said...

Thanks for this excellent summary. Enlightening and depressing indeed.

Space Bar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Space Bar said...

and when you consider the stored time that is fossil fuel, and how impossible to replace, i'm amazed it isn't more expensive than it is.

glad we won't live to see the end of this.

Fëanor said...

SB: Unconcerned about the next generation, etc.?

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