Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Global warming: "Everything you know is wrong"

I haven't watched The Great Global Warming Swindle yet, though it's only a matter of time, I guess. But even without watching it, I am aware of certain presumptions that are made in the debate that seem rather shaky.

I spoke below about the fact that low-energy lightbulbs aren't as unequivocally good as people suggest (particularly those who are making them) - because at some times of year, the heat generated by lightbulbs means that the heating system doesn't need to be on so much.

The March 10 New Scientist had an article (abstract only - payment needed for the full article) pointing out that carbon offsetting is not being properly regulated, opening the door to "Enron-style accounting" (as Amsterdam-based lobby group Transnational Institute put it - though if ever there was a tag for a libertarian, globalising, free-market lobby group, that would be it). Also, in the case of forestation, offsetting merely delays the arrival of CO2 in the atmosphere - the assumption being that in a hundred years or so when these trees come down again, we will have managed to sort the problem out. Given that India and China seem to show little inclination to do anything that would hamper their economic growth, and the focus in some parts of the developed world seems to be on buying our right to continue generating CO2 from other countries, it seems likely that we are simply handing the problem to our grandchildren after all.

Incidentally, for those Westerners who think that this is all the fault of India and China, the New Scientist article has a reality check, in the form of a table of emissions per capita. CO2 emissions per capita per year in India are about 1 tonne. In China, about 2.4 tonnes. In the UK, 11.2 tonnes. In the US, 20 tonnes. I've had Americans commenting on here getting huffy about the air quality in Beijing. But can they really insist on the right to generate as much CO2 as eight people from China?!

On a slightly more positive note, could somebody tell me what exactly would be the problem with doing what is supposedly unthinkable - burying thousands of tonnes of plastic underground? It doesn't decompose for ages, we are told, and yet by weight it is predominantly carbon. Surely this must be one of the securest ways of getting significant amounts of carbon out of circulation?

From my point of view, as I believe I have written before, I think that as a steward of God's creation, it is right for me to do what I can to use it in a sustainable and careful way. So I will continue to do what I can to try and reduce my environmental impact. One side effect of my recent change in job is that I should be driving several thousand miles less this year, though my career is hardly renowned for its overall environmental benefit ....