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Global warming anguish might be just hot air

By Larry Mounser - posted Thursday, 30 November 2000

Throughout most of the 20th century some scientists, including the highly esteemed astronomer, Percival Lowell, were convinced there were canals on Mars. This delusion went so far that they published detailed maps in scientific journals. In 1969, photos taken by the Mariner spacecraft showed there were no canals.

Scientists can get it wrong.

A few months before the Mars photos arrived, The Observer in London published the first mainstream article about the Greenhouse Effect. Some scientists - and journalists and politicians - took up this doomsday prophecy with gusto.


The sky has been falling ever since.

The problem is this: the Earth is normally much colder than it is now. For millions of years, we've been in ice ages, with short, warm interglacial periods, lasting no more than 12,000 years. A cycle of about 100,000 shows up in the long-term record and 'our' interglacial has gone on now for 10,000 years, and we should be grateful for the Indian Summer in which we live. This warm period has led to human civilisation, as we know it. The next ice age will see a third of the planet under ice and cause mass extinctions. Well documented ice and pollen records show the onset of an ice age could take just 70 years. Being able to avert it by burning fossil fuels, purposely creating a 'Greenhouse Effect', could be one of the luckiest flukes in human history. Yet, strangely, it's the warming of the planet that we fear.

The widely publicised fact that '1998 was the hottest year since records have been kept' is one of the most startling incantations in all this witchcraft. Fifty million years ago the planet was temporarily so hot, trees were growing at both poles. It was far hotter then than in 1998 and the only 'extensive ecosystem damage' that occurred was there were more trees. The old 'since records have been kept' line, simply moves us into the realm of the last half millionth, of the last second, of our history.

That is not a representative sample.

If conditions in Alaska are anything to go by, just one thousand years ago the Arctic was two to three degrees warmer than it is now. This was known as the Viking-Norman Period, and all the 'extensive ecosystem damage' that occurred then was Eric the Red moved to Greenland and started grazing cattle.

Over the last century, the percentage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased from around 0. 02% to 0. 03%. At the same time, some measurements of the Earth's temperature indicate that it may have gone up by point six of one degree. Big whoop! Putting those two facts together and going into a panic is not only problematical because we may well want to planet to warm up if the other option is freezing over, but there's also no hard proof that CO2 is causing the warming anyway.


This century may be measurable as the warmest in the last thousand years, but even if that is true, there have been thousands of years before then when the Earth was far warmer.

Organisations like the CSIRO continually publish statements to the effect that the climate is changing as a result of the human-caused addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and they protest loudly if anyone in this country dare contradict their holier-than-thou stance. As recently as September (24/9/00), however, the Science Editor of The Times, Jonathan Leake, wrote, "The potential political impact is huge", as he related new findings from sources such as the European Space Agency that solar activity, and not CO2 etc, is responsible for the sweltering 0.006 degree annual increase in temperature we're experiencing as we gallop head-long into Death Valley.

The supporters of the validity of the Greenhouse Effect typically refer to 'the hundreds' of studies and facts that support their hypothesis while neatly ignoring 'the hundreds' that don't. One important one is the fact that the hypothesis that rising CO2 levels might cause increase in temperature was first suggested in 1896 by Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, but the idea was abandoned in the 1940s because temperatures had come nowhere near the 1 C rise predicted, and the rate of warming has dropped, even though there's been an acceleration in industrialisation and CO2 emissions. There had been decade-long plunges in temperature during this time as well. (Remembering that all these climbs and plunges are in the order of half a degree per century! The startling fact is, really, just how incredibly stable the Earth's temperature is.)

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About the Author

Larry Mounser has worked as a geophysicist and an environmental campaigner, and now teaches physics, and lectures in mass communications at UNSW where he is an Honorary Research Fellow. He has been invited to speak before the Federal Parliamentary Treaties Committee regarding global warming.

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