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Future Proof Kilkenny

Great news. Global warming is a hoax! Despite the fact that our work has been a terrible waste of time, not to mention that of thousands of scientists, politicians and activists throughout the world, we can all rest easy now that burning fossil fuels isn’t affecting the climate.

Just think. No more guilt about flying. No more angst about leaving the lights on. No more fretting over food miles or worrying about the size of your carbon footprint. This is cause for celebration! Forget Copenhagen. Christmas shipping in New York anyone?

But wait… What about those pesky mountain glaciers that keep retreating? What about the disappearance of the arctic sea ice and the collapse of Antarctica’s ice shelves? What about multi-year droughts in Australia and Africa and the increased frequency of extreme weather events throughout the world? Then there’s the small issue of a global sea level rise of 20cm and that the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997. The evidence goes on and on; ocean acidification, melting permafrost, species migration… Can it be all a hoax? Part of some dark global conspiracy of misinformation? Perhaps the planet is flat after all…

Of course not. Though last week’s news that the miss-representation of data by a few scientists at the University of East Anglia has been jumped upon by climate skeptics as positive proof that its all a big lie it does not undo decades of research and observations by scores of scientists throughout the world. The revelations are, however, to be lamented and are deeply damaging to the work of those involved in raising awareness.

So it is both sad and tragic at this stage to have to go back to first principles but for the record here is a brief point-by-point explanation of why burning fossil fuels causes global warming. It’s primary level stuff. Simple to understand and free of any doubt or uncertainty.

  • Despite accounting for only 1% of the gases in the atmosphere water vapor and carbon dioxide keep the earth 30°c warmer that it would otherwise be.
  • This ‘greenhouse’ effect is a natural phenomenon and has been known for centuries. Simple lab experiments demonstrate their heat trapping properties. Without them life would not exist.
  • Water vapor is responsible for 2/3 (20°c) of the warming, whilst carbon dioxide (though much lower in concentration) is responsible for the remaining 1/3 (10°c).
  • A back of the envelope calculation would suggest that if you increase the amount of carbon by 1/3 you would get 3-4°c of extra warming. Carbon has increased by almost 1/3 and 3-4°c of extra warming is within the range of IPCC projections.
  • Ice core records, ocean sediments, pollen samples, tree ring analysis and other sources reveal that carbon dioxide and global temperature are very tightly coupled and correlate over the previous six ice ages.
  • Since the end of the last ice age for a period of 10,000 years the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere remained between 0.027-0.028% or between 270 and 280 parts per million (ppm).
  • In the last 150 years, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the concentration has risen exponentially to 387ppm and continues to rise at a rate of almost 2ppm per year. It is already at a level not experienced on the planet for at least 350million years.
  • The increase is a direct result of burning fossil fuels and land use change. Fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas) is ancient carbon buried within the earth’s crust that has remained outside of the carbon cycle since the time of the dinosaurs.
  • The rising concentration is measurable. Below is the data from Met Eireann’s weather station at Mace Head. The rise and fall each year is the terrestrial biosphere absorbing carbon dioxide as plants grow in the spring and releasing it out again in the autumn as they die. This is the cycle of life. It is nature breathing.
  • There is a similar exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere and although the quantities involved dwarf those made by humanity they are in balance. Our steady contribution, year after year after year, is disrupting this balance and threatening the survival of life on the planet.

You can read nore here.

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