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?

Alternatives To Carbon Taxes?

The logic behind climate change seems to be, greenhouse gases trap heat, the planet is warming because of the heat trapped by these greenhouse gases , therefore if we reduce our greenhouse emissions, we can maintain our current lifestyle, more or less. There is little doubt that greenhouse gases trap heat, there is little doubt that the planet is warming, but are these really the issues? In my opinion, the real questions are, what are we going to do about it, and is current science going about the answering of that question in the right way?


In my first blog I mentioned that the Greenland ice sheet had melted in the previous four interglacials, with a corresponding rise of sea levels of about seven metres. What I did not mention was that this sea level rise began to start approximately 10,000 years after the demise of the Canadian ice sheet. If this cycle is a repeat of the last one, we expect to see the sea levels start rising about now, and they seem to be doing that.


So, what can we do about the future rising sea levels? What science should be doing is to provide evidence that falsifies the above conclusions, or failing that, recommend that we move our cities or work on alternative options. What is science doing? The main efforts seem to be in modeling that give uncertain predictions, and we are gathering data furiously, measuring various emissions, many of which we cannot do much about anyway. These are followed by calls to reduce emissions, an approach that reminds me of the self-flagellating penitents in Bergmann movies set in mediaeval times. The message seems to be that if we maximize the punishment for our errant ways, somehow our sins will be forgiven. In my opinion, all self-flagellation achieves is a sore back, which appears to be slightly more than the appeals to reduce carbon emissions are currently achieving. Carbon emissions apparently increased by 5% last year and with the savaging of nuclear power following what appears to be a certain degree of incompetence, carbon emissions are almost certain to increase. (Why a nuclear power station had to be shut down when it was still working is unexplained. Why it was completely shut down is even more incomprehensible, given that it needed electricity to operate it. Why not leave one reactor going, just in case, and use its own power? They knew they were in tsunami territory, and they knew their emergency generators were downhill.) So what we see is that provided we wave a slogan (reduce emissions) everything will be all right, even if we do not actually achieve what the slogan requires. 


The obvious conclusion is that only geoengineering can permit us to defend the coastline in approximately its current position. There is, of course, no guarantee that it can, but surely the scientific method suggests we should investigate the possibility, even if only at a theoretical level. However, what we find is that geoengineering is usually rejected as being unnecessary.


Another reason for rejecting geoengineering is that "we don't know what the unintended consequences will be".  That is almost certainly correct, but given that a rise of sea levels of several tens of metres, which is quite possible with carbon dioxide levels at 450 ppm, surely we should make the effort to try to understand? However, we are not, seemingly because there is far too little funding of the necessary research. Why not? I have a theory on that too, but before I try that out, has anybody else any ideas?

Posted by Ian Miller on Jun 7, 2011 3:14 AM Europe/London

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