Every generation chooses its heroes and heroines. The current generation of students has chosen Greta Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome and the product of “green” Public Relations agency “We Don’t Have Time.”
She has suddenly appeared as if from nowhere to lead a movement and revolt of upper middle-class teenagers calling themselves “Extinction Rebellion,” who bravely bunk off school on Friday afternoons to protest about the 0.7OC rise in average surface global temperatures over the last 250 years.
They have recently been joined by several thousand students who have been equally courageous in spending their Easter holidays gathering around a pink boat in Oxford Street, London to protest in between trips to Starbucks to refill their biodegradable coffee cups and posting pictures of themselves on Instagram.
The students were joined by the equally courageous actress Emma Thompson who flew first-class across the Atlantic Ocean to address the crowds of brave latte-supping tweeters, carefully omitting the detail that her flight produced more CO2 in seven hours than an African subsistence farmer makes in seven years.
The climate change catastrophism at the heart of the message however is over-hyped nonsense, which does more harm than good.
For as long as most people can remember, climate catastrophists have been talking up the notion of an environmental Armageddon and threatening that unless everyone changes their habits right now, the world will end. This is simply not true.
The trouble with catastrophism is that genuine science is subsumed by propaganda, followed closely by ditching common sense in the political sphere, which is followed closely by extremely poor decisions by politicians who don’t have the foggiest clue about science, and have no idea of the difference between an observation, a model, a conclusion, a law and a hypothesis. Politicians are easily and often willingly hoodwinked and make poor decisions to virtue-signal their green credentials to the Twittersphere which makes things worse rather than better in the real world.
Real scientists are far more cautious than public relations propagandists in their conclusions, and their measured tones are a world away from the wild and deliberately emotive rhetoric of climate catastrophists.
What is known for certain is that CO2 levels have increased since the beginning of regular, systematic and calibrated measurements from 315 ppm in 1958 to 415 ppm in 2019.
What is far more spurious however are computer generated models which predict that temperatures will rise in the future based on past trends in atmospheric CO2 levels. It is known that global surface temperatures fell between 1940 and 1970 despite rising CO2 levels, so there is no consistent correlation between the two variables. During that period the mainstream media was concerned with the threat of global cooling rather than global warming.
The business of science is to make observations, devise theories and then test those theories by making predictions. If a theory is correct, the predictions it generates should also be correct. Al Gore made just such a prediction in 2008 when he postulated that the Arctic ice sheet would melt completely by 2015.
This prediction did not come true; in fact, the opposite occurred. In the last five years, the Arctic ice sheet has gotten thicker and covers a larger area. Similarly, the Jakobshavn glacier, the biggest in Greenland, has begun to grow again in the last three years, confounding the predictions of alarmists. If these instances are anything to go by, then most of the other predictions of catastrophe will also prove to be false.
The idea that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are the only factor in determining global temperatures is patently false. The Earth has been warming since the middle of the last ice age 23,000 years ago, when deep pack ice covered half the northern hemisphere as far south as modern-day Paris and New York City. All this melted without any human activity whatsoever, but climate alarmists fall strangely silent when asked for an explanation of how this occurred.
In more recent times, we know that temperatures have fluctuated on a shorter time scale. Mild and balmy conditions were recorded in northern Europe during the Medieval Warm Period of the 11th and 12th centuries, before temperatures plummeted in the Mini Ice Age of the 16th and 17th centuries. During this period, London was so cold that the Thames froze over year after year for decades and it became a regular feature of the winter months for funfairs to be held on the river.
The beginning of the industrial revolution of the 1760s coincided with the end of the Mini Ice Age and temperatures have been rising gradually since then, with smaller peaks and troughs along the way. Despite these well-known and recorded fluctuations, the myths persist that carbon dioxide is either some kind of demonic, toxic pollutant which is going to destroy all life on the planet, or that it is the master control knob that human beings can manipulate to increase and decrease the climate.
This hubristic notion is propagated both by both powerful vested interests and useful idiots like Thunberg and her fellow sheeple who have flocked around her to score virtue-signalling points.
The scientific fact is that increasing CO2 from its current concentration will not significantly alter global temperature or cause global warming. According to Beer-Lambert’s law, absorption of radiation by a substance dissolved in a fluid increases proportionally to its concentration at low concentrations, but less so at higher concentrations, and above ‘saturation’ absorption increases no further. Beer-Lambert’s Law can be applied strictly to solutions of a single substance in a laboratory. The atmosphere is a far more complex system, but it provides a good approximation for absorption by greenhouse gases.
CO2 is largely transparent to infra-red radiation, and only absorbs a small part of the infra-red spectrum in a narrow band at 15 mm. Water vapor is present in much higher concentrations than CO2 absorbs far more infra-red radiation across the whole of the spectrum. It was once quipped that there are 10 greenhouse gases: water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water and carbon dioxide. Even this is an understatement. Lightfoot and Manner (2014) estimated that water vapor is responsible for 96% of the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’ by which greenhouse gases like water vapor absorb heat and increase average surface temperatures from -19OC to 15OC. In contrast, CO2 is responsible for just 2.7% of the greenhouse effect.
Thus, at low levels doubling the concentration of CO2 doubles the absorption of infra-red, but at high level increasing the concentration of CO2 will have a negligible effect, as it already absorbs most the infra-red being reemitted at the Earth’s surface in its absorption band.
Nova (2010) calculated that most of the absorption of infra-red by atmospheric CO2 occurs in the first 20 ppm. After that there is significantly less absorption in each subsequent 20 ppm by which the concentration of CO2 is increased.
This is coherent with work by Archibald (2010). His calculations imply that even if CO2 levels were raised to 1500 ppm, average global temperatures would rise by less than 0.3OC as a direct result.
The climate alarmists would of course disagree, perhaps citing the infamous and heavily discredited “hockey stick” graph by Mann et al (1999), or the IPCC report (2014) which claims that temperatures will rise by 3.7OC ± 1.1 OC by 2100 if there is no change in energy consumption.
Despite this, catastrophism persists, but in fact higher CO2 levels are beneficial for plant growth. Below 200 ppm plants die, but as everyone in the horticultural industry knows, elevated CO2 level of up to 1000 ppm are maintained in greenhouses in order to grow fruit and vegetables, which are bigger and juicier and faster-growing than in normal atmospheric conditions.
This has not stopped some appalling legislation from being enacted. The European Union compelled all of its member states to comply with its Emissions Trading System from 2005, which has produced an entirely artificial market in licenses to produce energy.
Governments complied by putting severe restrictions on carbon emissions. The unintended consequences have been devastating to rainforests and woodland around the world. In the UK for example, the largest power plant is Drax. It provides about 6% of the energy supplied to the National Grid for electricity. It began to convert from burning coal to burning wood pellets in 2014, because the EU considers that burning wood and other biomass is carbon neutral.
Nothing could be further from the truth: burning wood actually produces more CO2 than fossil fuels, as well as destroying precious and irreplaceable biodiverse habitats. Every year millions of tonnes of trees are cut down, including hardwood forests in Virginia and North Carolina ,which are chopped up into wood pellets, shipped across the Atlantic and burned.
Another EU directive requires for all petrol and diesel to contain 10% “biofuel“. Climate alarmists often cite deforestation as a cause of climate change, which is destroying the rainforest homes of orangutans in Indonesia and lemurs in Madagascar.
They are correct about its destructive force, but much deforestation occurs as a result of the suggested use of biodiesel as a solution to climate catastrophism. This has created a real catastrophe, rather than a false one. Primary rainforest is being decimated in Indonesia, Malaysia and many other tropical countries make way for palm oil plantations to produce the biofuel needed to satisfy climate laws in the EU. Without these laws, thousands of square miles of rainforest would still be intact. The longer they are in place, the more rainforest will be chopped down.
There is also a growing obsession with electric cars. The UK government has decreed that the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be prohibited from 2040, hoping for a total change to a fully electric vehicle fleet. Currently, the batteries for electric cars weigh hundreds of kilograms, and require huge amounts of cobalt and lithium, which are found in large quantities in the Congo. It is well known that there is a staggering amount of child labor is used to mine these minerals, but apart from lip service, little has been done to end the exploitation of children living in grinding poverty in the villages of the Congo and other such mineral-rich countries, for the sake of “going green.”
It will be counter-intuitive to the useful idiots of Extinction Rebellion, but the greenest and most ethical course of action is to stick to using fossil fuels in our vehicles and power plants for the time being. An end to the use of biodiesel will halt the destruction of rainforests. An end to the dash for electric vehicles will end the exploitation of child labor in the Congo.
In the future, small-scale nuclear plants could be constructed to diversify electricity production. These are cheaper and quicker to build and safer than the large-scale behemoths of the past. The future may hold an exciting new opportunity as the technology to produce electricity from Thorium-232 rather than Uranium-235 is explored. There is a functioning but experimental power station in Chennai, India that uses Thorium. Unlike Uranium-235, Thorium-232 produces no long-term radioactive waste, which is one of the major objections—if not the main objection—to nuclear power.
If properly implemented, it could be far cheaper than the so called “green” technologies like wind turbines that need immense government subsidies, and which would very quickly go bankrupt if left to compete in the free market. They are essentially a means to transfer wealth from poor people to wealthy “green barons” who produce very little energy despite their huge subsidies.
It is unfortunate that Thunberg and the useful idiots of Extinction Rebellion are unable to see the scam, or the destruction caused by their political demands. While they continue to ignore Beer-Lamberts Law and the destruction of the rainforests in order to gain accolades for their virtue-signalling, vested interests will continue to wreck the planet in order to “save” it, and pocket the generous rewards and subsidies on offer from the EU, the UN and other gullible virtue-signalling national governments in the process.
Hope for the future of the planet lies not with these vacuous entities, but with those willing to eschew the corrupt climate alarmism scam, and put substance and science before style, even at the risk of ostracization by the establishment class of politically correct trough-snouters.
David Kurten is a Brexit Alliance London assembly member