The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has produced yet another report on climate change. The report states clearly that, based on the evidence, more than 97% of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening. When I first started at university almost 20 years ago, the nature of climate change was a live debate. However by the late 1990’s, when I graduated, the evidence had become overwhelming and the debate was settled. Since that time, more and more evidence has accumulated, but the policy makers have stopped listening, as we hurtle towards the cliff edge. NOW really is the time to put the brakes on climate change before it is too late…
For the record, I have a BSc in Ecological Science at The University of Edinburgh and an MPhil in Plant Ecology, my thesis was on the potential affects of climate change on mountain vegetation in Scotland, so I am in a position to know what I am talking about.
There is much talk these days about the threat to our world from climatic change driven by the release of fossil carbon in the form of CO2. However, this is not the only pollutant gas released by the burning of fossil fuels (and from other sources), and one that is far less talked about is nitrogen. This week there is an international conference in Edinburgh reporting the results of a five year project (NitroEurope) funded by the European Science Foundation programme “Nitrogen in Europe”. 200 scientists/experts in the field produced “The European Nitrogen Assessment”, which explains the state of the threats to water, air and soil quality and the impacts on biodiversity and climate change in Europe, and highlights the possible solutions. I thought I would flag up this video which explains why should we care.
Listening to the Today programme radio this morning I couldn’t understand how John Humphrys could decide that the Climatic Research Unit at UEA had some how mislead us all on the basis of a reports he hadn’t even read. What ever happened to objective, fact based, reporting? The news agenda seems to hijacked by small lobby groups, it used to be Greenpeace on the loony left, but they have been replaced by the loony right climate deniers, nether group bothered with the science or with all of the facts. The facts and the science are somehow lost along the way, it doesn’t help that Humphrys, by his own admission doesn’t understand the scientific issues, and can’t count (later in the programme he was insisting that 1968 was over 50 years ago). Professor Tom Burke, did try his best to show the story up for the a storm in a tea which it really is, but was constantly interrupted by Humphrys, who was determined to show the depth of his ignorance. He also seemed to be insisting that one small group of climate modellers, were central to the whole of the climatic change research, which is also a massive exaggeration. Some members of the group may have egos big enough to think they are the centre of the universe, but the fact is this group only plays a small part in trying to predict the future impacts of climatic change. Their work is based on a far larger body of evidences which shows clearly that the global climate is changing and that the current change is largely driven by human activity. That is the thing we need to understand and focus on.
Listening to The World at One, Martha Kearney was asking if there where any “climate sceptics” on the review panel which looked at the work published by CRU. This is worrying as it show that BBC News readers can tell the difference between science and politics. The word Science is from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”, it includes the use of careful observation, experiment, measurement, mathematics, statistical analysis, and replication. To be considered a science, a body of knowledge must stand up to repeated testing by independent observers. The word “Politics” comes from the Greek word politika, it is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions, this is based opinion (facts are not . Politics can be informed by science, but science should not be driven by politics, that just leads to bad sciences.
Back in the 1980s the big environmental issue was Acid Rain, but now you never hear about instead all the talk is of climate change. So what ever happen to acid rain, was it real or just a myth?
During the 80’s I spent several summers working on a farm in Norway, where I was told about the about dead lake in the mountains. These were lakes where all the fish had died due to acidification of the water due to airborne pollution, which I was regularly told, that came from British power stations. It wasn’t just in Britain that was the culprit, in other parts of Europe, tree were dying in the Black Forest, blamed on East Germany and other countries in Eastern Europe. In Sweden and Finland there were forest and lakes were being poisoned by acid rain which came from West Germany and Eastern Europe. In North America the Canadians were complaining of acid rain from the Us of A.
So what was this acid rain and where did come from? Well acid rain or more correctly acid deposition is due to a mixture of air pollutants which can lead to acidification of freshwater and soils (for more information see the Air Pollution Information System). A major component of this long distance acid deposition is Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is caused by the burning of high sulphur fossil fuels electricity generation, industry and domestic heating. The traditional solution to dealing smoke pollution from this type of combustion was to build a bigger chimney and move the problem further away. As air pollution is no respecter of political bounders this lead to the problem becoming transboundary which need international action to solve. So starting with the 1985 Helsinki Protocol (the “30% club”) international action was taken and a number protocols agreed leading to the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
As result of these international agreements the problem of acid deposition (acid rain), in the developed world, have been greatly reduced, although there are still worries about the effects of acidification in upland areas (see Smith et al. 2000, etc for more information). In the developing world, especially in China and India acid deposition is an increasing problem as environmental legislation in these countries is not strong.
This show that where there is the political will to do something about it such transboundary, and indeed global, environmental problems can be tackled and solved. In a week when it has been made abundantly clear by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that climate change is a real issue and a largely man made one at that (see IPCC 4th Assessment Report), we all have a duty to do something about it.