23 January 2010

Is climate change the real issue?

This one might upset a few people but I only ask you to read it all and think about it. I am not what I really think about this and I am interested to hear your views

The much hyped climate conference in Copenhagen failed to find a solution to global warming. Call me cynical but the only thing that surprises me about that is that people were surprised. There are way too many different agendas at the table, too much poor science mixed with politics and too little understanding of Earth history.

I am not a climate scientist although I am reasonably familiar with the debate, at least on a superficial level, I am a geologist and I think that being comfortable with the inordinate scale of geological time and the magnitude of past changes gives a very differnt perspective on the issues. "Never arrange to met a geologist at the pub, they refer to 10,000 years ago as recent."

As a geologist I am used to looking at millions of years worth of sediments. A 10 m sea-level rise is what bounds the parasequences in the Book Cliffs in Utah. Don’t worry about what a parasequences is, just understand that, in a single cliff section that records less than 1/1000th of Earth history, there is evidence for at least 38, ten meter sea-level rises. Low lying coastal plains that were very similar to modern day Holland or Bangladesh were drowned, repeatedly. Each flooding of the low lying areas and landward migration of the coast line was not a disaster it was part of the geological heart beat of the planet. Over a geological time scale a 10 m sea-level rise is nothing. In the 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age global sea-level has risen 120 m. We worry about warming yet we know that global temperatures and sea-levels have been much higher than they are today and for much of the Earth’s history there has been very little ice at the poles.

There are good data that suggest that teh Earth's climate is warming and that anthropogenic CO2 may even be the cause. I totally accept that global warming is happening, but climate change and even the rates we see today are not extraordinary, even if the cause is different this time. The point is that the Earth is in not danger, the earth is just doing what it does and what it has always done for the last 4.6 billion years, it is the human race and our way of life that is threatened! That is is the problem and in trying to address this problem I think that we are asking the wrong questions.

Around 1800 Thomas Malthus published an essay entitled “on the principals of population”. His thesis was that any population is controlled by limiting factors such as, but not limited to, the availability of food, disease and war. He proposed that without these controls the population would expand exponentially while resources would only expand linearly. This lack of resource would in turn control the population. His concepts were central to Darwin’s later work on natural selection and form the basis for our modern science of ecology. Malthus had some other more wacky ideas and his theory on population was challenged by many, including Marx who claimed that the ability of man kind to manipulate the environment meant that the population could grow unhindered. I think Malthus was right although he underestimated the mans ability to prolong the inevitable.

Mankind has spread like a plague across the planet occupying first the good bits and then, progressively the more marginal areas. There are now so many of us that when the environments changes for what ever reason, there is no room for migration. The clever ape has used his large brain to reduce the impact of the natural processes that moderate population without accepting the responsibility that goes with that, consequently the population has doubled 4 times in the last 250 years.

To put it more simply, there are two choices, you can have 10 children and expect two of them to survive or you can have 2 and use our knowledge of science and medicine to ensure that they both survive. You can’t have both.

If we do not control the growth of the population the Earth system will. In most populations the moderation happens gradually but we are smart enough to by-pass those minor moderations, but all we are doing is storing up trouble. We understand this yet because of our politics and ridiculous, bronze aged superstitions we are powerless to do anything about it. While the catholic church instructs its followers to breed like rats the followers of other religions believe that they have a divine right to the earth and to die trying to enforce that right its ok because they will go to a mystical better places. No wonder we are doomed!

Maybe we can control CO2 and we may even be able to slow global warming. That what we a temporary solution but it is not addressing the real problem which is the spread of the human "ecoplague". Cyclic climate changes are inevitable and even if we learn to control the climate, something else will control the explosion of the naked ape.

We have to accept the responsibility that comes with knowledge or we pay the consequences.

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