Issue 5 Online Extra: Extreme Weather Events by Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen

This article is a companion piece to The New Idealist Issue Five: Doomsday Edition which you can download here.

Please note: This article was originally published in The New Idealist section of The Intelligent Review site in May 2014 before being transferred to this new site in July 2015.

In 2013 we experienced extreme weather events in both hemispheres. The Great Lakes froze (not for the first time) and Australians experienced a heat wave which, as historical records revealed , was not unique. Scientists agree why this happened, in the first instance. The jet streams,  high altitude polar air currents, especially in the Northern hemisphere, they occasionally become ‘wavy’ allowing  air currents from the poles to move to lower latitudes upsetting global  air circulation as ‘air masses’ or winds deliver – or not ­- energy and water vapour to lower latitudes. What causes a jet stream to wiggle more or get stuck? Some say loudly, this is due to ‘global warming’, others disagree but are hardly heard.

The angry and at times nasty slanging match between ‘deniers’ and the ‘warmists’, would become a civilised debate between scientific opinions awaiting resolution

If we knew the answer, mankind would have moved closer to solving the riddle of climate. The angry and at times nasty slanging match between ‘deniers’ and the ‘warmists’, would become a civilised debate between scientific opinions awaiting resolution. Why this has not happened, has been my research (1) and publishing interest. [2] Many factors other than the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere  – usually blamed for ‘global warming’ are discussed  in the full scientific literature, ranging from internal variability of the climate to factors not yet fully modelled ( clouds and forests) and extra-terrestrial influences like changes in solar activity. ‘Carbon dioxide should not be confused with carbon, it is a colourless trace gas that escapes as ‘emissions’ into air from plants, animals, and chimneys burning any organic matter, including fossil fuels. The warmer the air, the more CO2 it can hold. The air today does hold more CO2 than in the mid 19th century and the average global temperature has risen slightly. There has been no or very little warming since the early 1990s (depending who measures how), hence the search is on for new evidence that catastrophe has to be averted.

Since the late 1980s, a group of scientists has dedicated itself to supporting a policy agreed in the  early  1990s that blames the measured rise in average warming on CO2 and hence the  burning of fossil fuels where substitutes exist. With the help of computer modelling and large data sets but few theoretical insights, this ‘consensus’ group has advised ‘ policy-makers’ meeting at the UN and EU, both on what to expect and how to respond. Human causation and rapidly rising emissions attracted support not only from environmentalists, but from all groups expecting to benefit from disaster prevention by legislation, invention or changing human behaviour. ‘The war against carbon’ is now fought at many levels, involving pressures on personal consumption [reduce your carbon footprint] to the promotion and financing of ‘green energy’ to intergovernmental battles over aid, taxes and increasingly trade even in goods. Carbon emission certificates and carbon taxes are the tools.

Led by the United States and Europe a framework treaty was agreed in 1992 which assumed that the approaching catastrophe caused by emissions could be prevented by  government action. In the mid-90s the Kyoto Protocol added some numbers and dates to vague obligations, but some refused to sign or have since withdrawn. The EU is now battling for an extension of Kyoto and the potential  winners of decarbonisation are exerting pressures to continue the ‘war’. Extreme weather events if  believed to confirm man-made climate change, support an agenda devoted to persuading the public of the need for higher energy prices. More recently, energy security has been added. Ignorance of the future is always an invitation to politics and research. We do need more unbiased research and prepare to cope with extreme weather. We are living in a post-glacial era and another ice-age is due, geologically speaking. But care is needed when deciding whom to believe. Complex scientific issues usually take many decades of unbiased research to be resolved. We all need to weigh the risks without knowing what they are – that is politics. I recommend interest analysis.

By Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, Reader Emeritus, Department of Geography, Hull University; Editor of Energy & Environment (Multi-Science) and former  Senior Research Fellow at the Science Policy Unit (Sussex).

(1)    S A Boehmer-Christiansen: ‘Epilogue: Scientific Advice in the world of power politics’, final chapter (10) in Martens & Rotmans (eds.) (1999), Climate Change: An Integrated Approach., Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, December 1999.

S. Boehmer-Christiansen and  A. Kellow, International Environmental Policy: Interests and the Failure of the Kyoto Process, Edward Elgar Publishing, October 2002;

(2)    A Rorsch and P Ziegler (Guest Editors ), Mechanisms of Climate Change and the AGW Concept; a critical review) Energy & Environment Vol.24 3 and 4 Summer 2013.

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