Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

Climate Change: To Act Or Not To Act?

I have another blog, to support my literary efforts, and one of the issues I have raised there is climate change. I originally raised this to show how hard it is to predict the future, yet in some ways this is a topic that is clearer than most while in others, I find it more confusing than most. It seems to me there are a number of issues that have not been made sufficiently clearly to the public, and the issue here is, what should scientists do about it, individually, or more importantly, collectively? Is this something that scientific societies should try to form a collective view on?
One thing that is clear is that all observable evidence indicates that the planet is warming. Are so-called greenhouse gases contributing? Again, the answer is, almost certainly yes. The physics are reasonably clear, even if the presentations of them to the public are often somewhat deviant from the truth. Are the models correct? My guess is, no; at best they are indications. Are carbon dioxide levels increasing? Yes. Our atmosphere now has 400 ppm of carbon dioxide, up from the 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution. I think that, on balance, however, most of the public are reasonably well-informed on what the so-called greenhouse effect is.
I am not convinced, however, that some of the aspects have made an adequate impact. For me, the biggest problem is sea-level rise. There is considerable net melting of the Greenland ice sheet, and in every one of the last four interglacials, there is evidence that the Greenland ice sheet melted and the sea levels were 7 meters higher. That was when carbon dioxide levels were 280 ppm. Now, check Google Earth and check how much land disappears if the sea is 7 meters higher. It swamps most port cities, and takes out a lot of agricultural land. Check Bangla Desh; a very large part goes. Holland is also in bad shape. Worse, if the climate scientists are correct at their more pessimistic greenhouse estimates, the 400 ppm will take out a significant fraction of the Antarctic ice sheets, and that could lead to something like a 30 meter sea level rise. Now, if such sea level rise occurs, where do all those people go?
One option is, do nothing, wait and see, and if the seas rise, tough luck. So now we have an ethical question: who pays? The people who caused the problem and benefited in the first place, or the Bangla Deshis, Pacific Islanders, and other people living in low-level countries? So, what are we doing? Apart from talking, not a lot that is effective. We have carbon trading schemes, which enriches the pseudobankers, we measure everything because some scientists like to measure things, and we devote a lot of jet fuel to having conferences. However, if the levels of greenhouse gases are of concern, we burn ten billion tonne of carbon a year, and d2/dt2[greenhouse gas] is positive for each of them. The second differential is positive! Yet it is the sum of the integrals that is important.
We are scientists, so we should be able to recommend something. What do we recommend? To the best of my knowledge, no scientific organization has recommended anything other than platitudinal "decrease greenhouse emissions". Yes, what to do is political, and everything that I can think of meets general objections. Whatever we do, many/most will be adversely affected. The problem is, if we do nothing, a very large number of different people will be adversely affected. So what do you think scientists or scientific societies should do?
Posted by Ian Miller on Jul 23, 2013 12:38 AM Europe/London

Share this |

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Linked More...

Leave a comment?

You must be signed in to leave a comment on MyRSC blogs.

Register free for an account at