3/20/2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle

Channel 4 Documentary: The Great Global Warming Swindle.




I was sorely tempted to title this post "Young Martin Durkin comments on Emperor Al's new Clothes", but the BBC's original title for the documentary is perfect. I had heard about this film from several sources, but hadn't made the time to watch it. Foolish me! Twenty years from now, this work will be remembered as a pivot point in the greatest global conversation of this century, much as the child's remarks about the naked emperor changed a kingdom's conversation.

Part grade-school science lesson, part "what's driving this debate" (hint: follow the money), part "how to swindle the world", this film is engaging, entertaining, and educational. The first third of the show, covering the science of global warming is particularly good, explaining the historical record and atmospheric science in terms that anyone, including grade-schoolers and those of us who have forgotten most of what we learned in grade school, can easily grasp. I can only add one thing to the thorough treatment of the show: extraterrestrial warming. This half hour will profoundly change the way you think about the topic of global warming.

The rest of the film may just make you sick. It carefully documents how the debate got out of hand over the past several years, and how laughably shaky theories became global conventional wisdom. Like the tale of the emperor's new clothes, it's one of vanity and greed and "going along to get along" on a massive scale.

This film might just be the small child's voice that gets the global villagers talking...



posted by Mike at 12:29 PM


6 Comments:

Anonymous Julian M said...

Mike,

I want to point out a few things which may be reasons of conflict on this particular piece. Some of the people interviewed for this film have another interest or should I say income, like Professor Patrick Michaels who has received nice sums of money from Exxon in the past.

A second point that I want to address is that if I wish to make a film addressing an issue I could clearly find someone or several people who argue in favor of my particular point of view. I would agree that global climate change has become politicized but that beyond the politics there are more important problems not being addressed.

The fossil fuel in the form of oil that we now use for the majority of our energy needs came from mostly sea vegetation that was trapped in sediment. So this carbon that exist within this oil or for that matter the carbon that exist in coal did not exist before in the atmosphere in the form of CO2. It did not exist in the atmosphere until we came along and released it. Imagine if over the course of 200 years we release more carbon into the atmosphere yet at the same time we begin deforesting 16 million hectares of land a year. We begin removing the vary things that will absorb the CO2 and convert it. I understand that most people think we are being responsible about our logging practices these days but we are not because as we log and clear land we replant only the plants that are useful to us but that are not in fact healthy to the diversity of the land. This of course is another story.

I want to address another issue with CO2 that is not being addressed and that is the affect on precipitation. CO2 causes what is commonly called acid rain, it actually causes acidic precipitation of all kinds but regardless it falls at a pH of 5.5. Aquatic life begins to die off at a pH of 6, vegetation begins to die off at a pH of 3 or 4 but overall the quality of life is harmed. The average human body has a pH of around 7.14 if our body pH were to change slightly from that we would be dead. That is a similar equilibrium for the natural environment. I also want to point out something else that acidic precipitation causes and that is it can bring out certain minerals from the soil, like aluminum which may in fact be a culprit to diseases like Alzheimer.

There is also the concern that if temperatures rise as they are slowly that the frozen tundra of the northern hemisphere will melt and release a great deal of methane into the atmosphere. There could come a point when Siberia may be great land for agriculture, then the U.S. would not be the bread basket of the world. There are a plethora of examples I could continue to give of environmental abuse on our part but will cease to further make a point.

Aside from the environmental factors let us consider the social/political implications of our desire to continue business as usual. We have seen what the earth’s limited resources do to those who claim they need the resources the most to survive. It drives war and destruction or oppression of people in other parts of the globe. Oil has done this incredibly in Africa and the mid east where governments change weekly because we support the newest most oppressive regime. We support or actually supply (military arms) the newest most oppressive dictators because they guarantee us access to their resources at the cheapest cost.

The reason why I am pointing all this out is just maybe the bigger picture is not global climate change but global degradation environmentally and socially. Perhaps the global climate is not changing and let us hope for our sake that it is not. The problem is that we continue to take from the earth and give nothing back. In human relationships if one person is always giving and the other taking the relationship usually fails or harms both involved. We sometimes pollute because we do not understand the consequences of our actions, sometimes because we just do not possess the foresight or knowledge to actually see the problems we create. But when we become aware of our ability to impact the world around us negatively, should we not be responsible to change that to a positive impact? If not for anyone else’s health then why not our own. It is often said “out of sight out of mind” perhaps global warming individuals like Al Gore are simply just trying to put these issues back in front of us or maybe he just wants to be in the spotlight. Maybe all of the talk of global warming is just trying to say take a look at how you may be impacting the environment.

Thank you for blogging this, it is always good to receive a different viewpoint.

Julian

4:24 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Julian,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. While we may disagree on what conclusion to draw from the facts in this debate, we agree that responsible stewardship of the planet is the imperative.

I lived through the acid rain revelations of the 70's in North America. With the exception of the nickel mine in Sudbury ON that supplies the key material for the Toyota Prius, this problem has been addressed in NA. Sadly, not so in China.

As for the tundra melting causing a natural disaster, why was weather less severe in the Little Climate Optimum (medieval warming period in the film), when the same release would have happened due to global warming? Why didn't everyone die, like they did (okay, only 50% in Europe), when global cooling happened afterward?

Subterranean vents pollute our oceans orders of magnitude more than we do each year. Volcanoes DO affect temperatures measurably. Cosmic rays alter the climates of all the planets in the solar system. As omnipotent as we humans like to feel that we are, it's just not so.

Mike

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

Mike,

Thank you for finding correspondence in terms of environmental stewardship.

I currently reside in Pennsylvania where large amounts of stream damage exist due to years of mining coal and minerals. This of course has caused many streams to become uninhabitable for aquatic life and has a current estimate of $6 billion dollars to clean the streams up. To date the project of actually cleaning the streams has received about $22 million from the government and the companies that once mined in Pennsylvania no longer exist. With that being said, I think it is easy for us to realize that human beings can impact their surroundings tremendously. In fact there are still incredible problems facing the Susquehanna valley region and the Chesapeake bay like farm runoff that is composed of high amounts of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus. This causes something known as cultural eurtrophication which has devastating effects on aquatic life.

What most people do not know is that it takes up to 10,000 years for a healthy couple of inches of top soil to form. This is why the regions that were part of the dust bowl in the early part of the 20th century still have land that is not very productive. But because of lack of knowledge and poor farming techniques roughly a 185,000 tons of sediment are washed into the Chesapeake bay each year. In terms of economy the Chesapeake Bay is roughly a $685 billion dollar industry a year, fishing, navigation, etc...

To borrow from Mr. Newton's laws of motion, his third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is the human impact on our natural environment, we cause reactions that are equal and opposite of our actions.

During the medieval warming period there are several things which factor in that should be examined and that is the human population was much less. The human population in the beginning of this particular cooling trend was less than 500 million and had a doubling time of 2300 years. This also meant there were less people to inhabit regions of that could have been affected by a warming period. It also means that an extremely low amount of the land in comparison to today was being used for farming or deforestation. If a region was affected before or after this period of global warming/cooling there were also less people that recorded the actual events. To go off subject slightly most people do not know about what is called the New Madrid fault. This particular fault exist in the mid western part of the U.S. During the early 1800's there was an earthquake that was the most severe we know of in the U.S. which measured close to 10 on the Richter scale but since very little information existed then many people now inhabit this region in cities like St. Louis. This is a problem because many people now inhabit this region and have built building that do not account for earthquakes. The point I am making is that there were less people there to understand that was going on and now the population has boomed to the point that there may very well be a huge amount of fatalities because of the lack of understanding.

Subterranean vents in the ocean do not necessarily pollute. Atleast not in the sense that we do because the conditions that exist down in the ocean are considerably different than the conditions that exist in the upper atmosphere. There is a different temperature and pressure at the bottom of the ocean than in the upper atmosphere. Also interestingly enough many single celled organisms have evolved down in the ocean to live off the sulfur spewed forth and live in temperatures of several hundred degrees. The environment at the bottom of the ocean is suited to handle certain levels of gases the subterranean vents vent. The atmosphere above is suited to handle certain levels of natural occurring pollution but like most environmental systems that exist in a dynamic equilibrium it can be unbalanced.

The comparison of the ocean floor to the upper atmosphere is somewhat of an apples to orange comparison in the sense that the conditions are extremely different. To point out something else you may have heard on the news or weather channel is that of ozone. Ozone in the atmosphere close to the earth's crust is extremely harmful to living organisms because we can not process ozone (O3) but in the upper atmosphere it is extremely important to the many processes that help the earth function. Ozone at our level is caused by reactions of hydrocarbons, thus automobile exhaust is a major cause of this.

Also, think of the smog over Los Angles or Mexico City, this was created by us and has terrible health effects.

There is another example worth citing for it is a small scale example of what can occur. This is the London Smog Crisis of 1952, which happened as homes burned coal and cars burned gasoline which exceeded the atmosphere's ability to remove or convert pollutants. In less than a week during this crisis 4000 people died as a result of the pollution.

The overall point that I want to make is that films like the one posted and the one done by Mr. Gore over simplify the problem and science. What concerns scientist in terms of global climate change is not the earth's ability to self regulate or it's regulation methods but our impact having a long lasting effect that would cause the dynamic equilibrium of the earth's atmosphere to shift to unfavorable conditions. Conditions that would cause an entire shift in the global climate that could result in land becoming flooded or no longer farmable. In terms of the other planets being altered by cosmic rays the difference is that none of those other planets are suited for life as we know it.

Thank you again for blogging this subject and opening the floor to debate. I am sorry for such a lenghty response.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Julian,

Please take all the bits you ever need to make your points; they are well-reasoned and well-stated.

I did some work in the 90's around EPA Superfund remediation and the NPL. The bottom line is that in the U.S. and the developed world there is a heightened awareness of the need for stewardship, and positive actions in that direction. The costs of this work is staggering, and most of it is borne not by the original polluters, but their insurers.

As for farming runoff, the damage to the Great Barrier Reef is an even more stark example of the damage that can be done through second-order effects and unintended consequences. That's the problem with most of the models and (as you pointed out) oversimplified posturing in the global warming debate. People have very limited abilities to anticipate these higher-order effects, but the consequences are real. Instead of a grand global approach which doesn't include the worst pollution threat on the planet (Chinese industrial activity), we need to have a global mindset of stewardship and then local actions in that spirit.

Thanks again for your thoughts. I've not had such a engaging discussion in some time!

Mike

7:51 AM  
Blogger fouro said...

Just wanted to see how real dialogue looks.

Julian: Excellent points on a complex system and problem.

Mike: Yes, I'll cut my grass when my neighbor does, not a minute before. And, then, only if he apologizes profusely for causing me to wait.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Hey Mark,

Thanks for stopping by. You really ought to be reading Google docs instead, though.

One nice thing about living in the desert is not getting into many arguments about the neighbor letting his grass get too long. When the rest of the planet is blighted, you'll see what a positive thing this is! ;-)

Mike

12:35 PM  

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