ON-LINE DEBATE

7 December 1998

John B Davies, London WC1


Climate Change – Disaster and Escape!

The Catastrophic Situation

ARMAGEDDON will begin within the next five years.

1998 will be by far the warmest year on record at 0.57ē Centigrade above the 1951/80 global average temperature. This is an astounding 0.1ēC warmer than 1997, the previous warmest year and 0.25ēC (ŧēC) above the 1990-96 global average. The three warmest years on record are all in the last four years. Leading climate research centres, such as the Hadley Centre, The Climate Research Centre of the University of East Anglia, and The Max Planck Institute would agree these figures. The fact that they would be in general agreement to these figure and the figures quoted below should be verified.

Human activity is increasing the concentration of six trace gases in the atmosphere which absorb infra red light reflected by the earth. The most common of these gases is carbon dioxide (CO2) which is also causing over half the additional heating from human activity. The second gas on both counts is methane.

During the Pleistocene era – the last two million years during which there has been ice at both the north and south poles – the concentration of CO2 has varied between 210 parts/million in the Ice Ages and up to 280/million in the warm interglacial periods. Since the middle of the last century (c1850) the concentration of methane has increased from 0.7parts/million to nearly 2 parts/million today, while CO2 has increased from 280 parts/million to 310 parts/million in 1950 to 367 parts/million in late 1998. In the mid-1990s the global temperature was 0.6ēC warmer than in 1900.

As CO2 is added to the air there is initially a negative feedback, as vegetation and the oceans absorb some of the CO2. Until two years ago this was about half the CO2 being added.

In the decade up until mid 1997 CO2 was increasing at 1.7 parts per million per year in the air. From October 97 till Sept 98 the increase was 3 parts per million. This happened because El Niņo - Pacific Ocean current which flows only intermittently and temporarily warms the earth - caused droughts in parts of the Amazon and in Indonesia as well as elsewhere. Large forest fires in Indonesia and Brazil added extra CO2 to the air.

One effect of warming the planet is that El Niņo becomes more frequent and will probably start again in 2001 or 2002. Quite separately from climate change, industry was adding Chlorine and Bromine to the stratosphere via the production of CFC’s and Halons. A very large volcano which put dust into the stratosphere (most volcanoes don’t put dust into the stratosphere) could prevent an El Niņo developing by reflecting some of the incoming sunlight back into space thus cooling the earth. Though industry no longer produces CFC’s and Halons, and the concentration of these gases in the stratosphere is just starting to fall, until 2005 their stratopheric concentration is such that should a large volcano put dust into the stratosphere, these gases would react quickly enough with ozone or dust particles, to turn a very large part of the ozone into oxygen. Thus enough ultra violet light would reach the earth to kill most species of plant and thus human beings. This is unlikely to happen after 2005. Hence we must hope that nothing puts dust into the stratosphere before 2005 which, if we are lucky, leaves us exposed to an El Niņo.

The conclusions about ozone are entirely mine as are the views about global warming which follow. However, if they are examined, even in a cursory way, by any climatological organisation, I feel sure they will be seen to be correct.

The next El Niņo will probably begin in 2001 or 2002. They nomally last from the middle of one year till the middle of the following year. The second calendar year is usually the warmer. From 1976 onwards temperatures have been rising at about 0.2ēC per decade globally. Since temperatures are below trend in non-El Niņo years and significantly above in El Niņo years then 1999 and 2000 are likely to be 0.4ēC above the 1951/80 average whilst the second year of the El Niņo is likely to be 0.65ēC above this average.

Since the 1997/8 El Niņo was so nearly a global disaster – the ecolological damage causing so much financial damage that stock markets came near to global meltdown, whilst the next El Niņo will cause worse droughts, fires and general mayhem from Alaska to Indonesia – then global financial meltdown appears likely with the next El Niņo. Thus begins ARMAGEDDON.

The next El Niņo will see a much larger flow of carbon dioxide into the air than the last one. Despite the financial chaos, civil wars and partial economic collapse, the human population will continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere.

El Niņos become more frequent in a warming world, so the warming trend accelerates as carbon dioxide continues to build up in the air.

The financial chaos will eventually lead to the close of coal power stations which put sulphur particles into the lower atmosphere - the troposphere - which come down after a few days. These particles reflect incoming sunlight back into space. The closure of all coal power stations would lead to a rise in global temperature within a few weeks of about 0.3ēC to 0.4ēC.

Coal power stations pour huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air,so they must be closed eventually. Their closure and consequent rise in global temperature would have two large knock on effects.

El Niņos would become still more frequent, thus increasing the carbon dioxide content of the air. Secondly, the Arctic sea ice, which is very thin - about ten feet thick - in contrast to the very thick ice sheets over Greenland and the Antarctic, would start to melt quickly. Ice reflects the sun’s rays, but water absorbs them, so the Arctic would rapidly warm. The consequent warming of the Arctic tundra would release billions of tons of methane and carbon dioxide into the air, rapidly increasing the atmospheric content, however much humanity cut its own emissions of carbon dioxide.

Within the last ten million years, the atmospheric content of the air has never exceeded 350 parts per million. It is now 367 parts. Over the same period the world has warmed up quickly and cooled down quickly many times. It has cooled from warmer periods than now to present levels, from present levels to ice ages and the reverse. HOWEVER, it has NEVER warmed quickly from the present temperature level to a higher level. It now appears that it is going to do just that.

This will probably lead to the dominance of a small number of plant species on earth, the disappearance of most plant species, and extinction of most mammals including humanity as new diseases spread by insects rapidly cover the globe.

There is even a slight possibility that as the air warms it could hold more water vapour, which is a powerful greenhouse gas, so the earth warms further, holds more water vapour and eventually the oceans boil - the Venus effect.

The Solution - Escape from Climate Change

Humanity is a very intelligent and adaptable species. There is almost no limit to what we can achieve if we all set out with only one object in view - in this case survival.

The first task is to inform everybody of the gravity of the situation. This can be achieved partly by e-mailing scientific institutions and obtaining a response to the above, and also by e-mailing the press.

Secondly, humanity must be told and must understand that we can solve this problem if we tackle it with unlimited vigour. This is the most important part of the solution. Once we seriously start tackling the problem, help and information will flow in from everywhere. This will lead to a more developed solution than that which is advocated below.

Thirdly, because of the gravity of the situation, we must act now. Immediate action is imperative.


A Technical Solution.

The agreements reached at the world climate conferences will achieve nothing. The reduction in CO2 emissions and the emissions of other greenhouse gases must be sufficient that allowing for El Niņos and the rise in temperature caused by closing coal power stations, the atmospheric content of greenhouse gases decreases if only very slowly. That does mean a reduction of 80% in carbon emissions globally which are caused by human activity, plus reducing the emissions of all other greenhouse gases by the greatest amount possible. These reductions should be made within three years.

The generation of electricity from nuclear power should also be phased out because generators are likely to become ‘slap happy’ if competing fossil fuel power stations are closed. There should be the greatest possible expansion of renewable energy.

These measures in themselves would solve most other environmental problems such as the production of waste, the over use of nitrogenous fertilisers, etc, because these other problems are caused by heavy energy use.

Very heavy taxes could be levied on fossil fuels and the revenue used to increase the income of the poor and invest in renewable energy. There should also be much higher taxes on wealth and high incomes as the wealthy have got us into this mess in the first place. The taxes would be needed to protect the incomes of the poor.

The targets for reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be for 1st July 2000.

The USA, Canada, Australia - 1.5tons of carbon/head (a 70% reduction on present levels)

All other states - 1 ton of carbon/head/annum.

On 1st January 2002, all nations would have to cut to 0.5tons/head/year and on 1st January 2003 to 0.4 tons. These cuts are so severe they preclude emissions trading. Severe hardship is inevitable.

In addition, the oceans may have to be seeded with iron to increase the growth of phytoplankton which would remove some of the carbon from the air. Every other possible way of removing carbon dioxide from the air should be examined and possibly introduced if it is safe to do so.

There are many other possibilities but the carbon dioxide in the air really must fall at between 3 and 5 parts per decade.

This might sound difficult, but it needs to be done if we are to survive. Once we have done this, modern science should eventually give us rewarding and happy lives.

John B Davies

John Davies is an Independent Green candidate in the Ceredigion by-election

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