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Democrat July-August 2013 (Number 136)

Global warming and climate change

Contribution to discussion by Jean Johnson

As a child, living in the centre of Liverpool after the war, I watched as timbers, taken from properties being demolished because of bomb damage, were burned in the streets. Almost every street, it seemed to me, had its own bonfire. And this disposal process was being repeated, not only in other British cities, but across Europe too as its population prepared for life after war.

The inevitable outpouring of carbon dioxide, which the wood burning would have produced, was combined with the CO2 from industry as Europe geared up to supply a world long starved of manufactured goods. This was augmented by the emissions resulting from the expansion of motorised traffic and the completion of the electrification programme started before the war. They did not cause global temperatures to rise, as today's global warming theory would have predicted. In fact, the period from the 1940s to the 1970s was particularly cold and included the two coldest winters of the 20th century – 1947 and 1963.

As the cold weather begun in the 1940s continued into the 70s, some scientists began to predict that the earth was entering into a new Little Ice Age, such as the one which produced the ice fairs of the 17th and 18th centuries – the last one being held in 1814. This long, cold period led to famine and revolution across Europe as crops failed. It also resulted in Napoleon's troops freezing on their way to Moscow. In order to ameliorate what was believed to be a repeat of this earlier cold period, it was proposed that the ice caps be covered in soot which would warm the planet by preventing heat from the sun being radiated back into space. Fortunately, a few years later, global temperatures began to rise again, the ice caps were saved from contamination by soot and some scientists slipped seamlessly from creating a panic about global cooling to creating a panic about global warming.

Towards the end of the 1970s, when it became clear that temperatures were rising, plans to promote the warming of the planet were aborted. But, when temperatures began to fall again at the beginning of the 21st century, so many people were making so much money out of this, still unproven, theory that CO2 drives global temperatures that it had become a major industry. From books to films to conferences and research funding and, topping all the rest, the massive subsidies paid to producers of electricity from renewable sources (and paid for by consumers on their electricity bills), all constituted an enormous vested interest in "keeping the party going". Similarly, politicians who had invested political capital in global warming could not be expected to recant just because the weather was getting colder whilst CO2 emissions were increasing. Such politicians included those of the EU who, at the instigation of Tony Blair, (who appeared to have placed global warming in the space where Clause 4 used to be) produced a Renewables Directive* setting targets for all EU countries to reduce their CO2 emissions through the use of renewable energy.

Political pressure and vested interests form a powerful combination, particularly when joined by the support of the media whose English graduates apparently consider themselves appropriately qualified to pronounce on scientific theories such as global warming. Nevertheless, this coalition was not powerful enough to prevent temperatures falling, or to prevent the public from noticing that this was the case and, as a consequence, becoming sceptical of global warming. According to the last YouGov poll on the subject, only 39% of those polled still believed that the global warming theory was correct.

This year saw the winter period last until the end of May and the electricity regulator, Ofgen, issue a warning about future electricity supplies (that is power cuts) and the potential for a "colder than usual winter to tip the electricity supply into crisis".

What do you think? Contributions are welcome but limited to 650 words.

*EU Renewables Directive 2009/28/EC

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