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Copenhagen: who do we believe?

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As a scientist I am trained nay indoctrinated to find the truth, whatever that may be. Right or wrong. And no matter what the out come ultimately the job requires a certain amount of starring at nature, observing what happens and trying to make educated conclusions from these observations that will perhaps allow for the prediction of further instances. The problem is, I’m not just a scientist. I am human. And with humanity comes a certain amount of shying away from the facts even when they are staring us in the face, simply because we don’t like what we see.

My case and point is this. My office overlooks the Climate Research Unit here at UEA and over the previous few weeks I’ve seen many countless television vans turn up, park wherever the hell they like at much annoyance to everybody else on campus. I also saw the protesters. Which I must say I do admire. They (the 5 of them or so) turned up at around 830 one morning with a home made banner, stood there for 30 seconds to have their photo taken and then left again. No doubt they probably came back in a few hours so in the photos it looked like they had been there for some hours, but some of us actually have work to do.

The internal word here at UEA is that they didn’t really do anything wrong, the emails in question were regarding which type of regression line to add to a graph to get the best fit of data, something that any 10 year old would automatically do in Excel with their own lines of best fit. Externally this seems to be jumped upon like all the data is wrong and all the results are worthless. And as Hugo Rifkind so aptly put it the CRU at UEA discredits climate science no more than Harold Shipman discredits doctors.

The fact of the matter as far as I can see it is this. Science the most prestigious scientific journal that I can name last month ran a piece where they randomly sampled 928 journal papers by the world’s best with “Climate change” in the title. All 928 said that climate change was either caused by or accelerated by humanity. So even if we ignore UEA, that is still the opinion from (to name but a few) NASA, US environmental agency, Russian, US and Chinese Academies of Science, UK’s Royal Society, Indian National Science Academy, Academia Brasileria de Ciencias, Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina, not to mention the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change. Using every measure you can think of. They’ve used, satellites, sea level, bore-hole analysis, sea-ice, permafrost, glacial melt, drought analysis, tree rings, temperature readings, the works. And still choose to believe sceptics.

The equivalent comparison is something like this. Imagine that you and all those that you love are about to get a plane and you notice a small amount of smoke coming from the engine. Now a team of aeronautical engineers with degrees and 20 years experience in the field approach you and explain that they’ve examined the engine and then with a compelling amount of videos, examples, explanations and crashes of their previous predictions, tell you that if you get on the plane the engine will surely explode and kill you all. Now just to the side of the professionals is a vet, journalist and brick-layer. They tell you that they’ve looked at the same data and inspected the engine and the plane is fine. Do you get on the plane? I think the answer is obvious.

Or to take the argument further. Let’s ignore all fact and say that global warming is actually 50-50, a flip of a coin. Would you want to risk over 20% of this already over crowded planet’s surface on a toss of coin. Flooding large parts and turning even more into desert almost overnight just like the Sahara. So would you take those 50-50 odds, or would you start doing something to weight the odds in your favour just in case?

But then there is a little niggle in my mind. I know you cant get a GCSE in geography if you deny global warming. What chance does a researcher have to get funding off a research council? The oil and gas industries have been buying out technology and keeping people quiet for years to maintain our dependence on oil and profit in their pockets.

On Monday, I talked to a rather Norfolk individual. And his solution was not wind farms, not hydro-electric. No. He wanted the country covered in nuclear power plants. Granted that is much the case in France currently, but I’d rather have a windmill farm than a Chernobyl sat on every hill. And that’s ignoring the fact that all the nuclear waste from the 50′s is still sat in concrete barrels deep underground or at the bottom of the seas. But I can ignore that. Because if we all went nuclear, then nuclear power would be much higher in profile and the research would be funded to make the treatment and making safe of the nuclear waste. No what concerns me about that plan is you are simple replacing one evil for another. At the moment we are reliant on oil. If we go down that path then we are simple reliant on a few of the world’s uranium and plutonium mines and refinement plants (and let’s face it we don’t want one of them near us). And when you think about how volatile our oil prices are after a terrorist attack on an oil pipeline, think what could happen when they get their hands on some refined uranium.

I’m not offering any solutions here, because I know that I simply don’t know enough about these topics. In the meantime, the biochemists can keep us alive from the bugs, viruses, bacteria and general disease; the biologists can provide us with crops so that we can keep feeding ourselves; the engineers and physicists can build the things we need to keep us housed and progressing. Hell I’d even go as far as to say we need some artists out there so we can keep a smile on our face as we go.

I just wish that sometimes people would step back and actually take a look at the bigger picture. When it comes down to it, does it matter if a banker gets a bonus he’s legally entitled to? Does it matter who goes out of “I’m barely a celebrity – get me out of here even though I chose to go in there”? Does it matter if Tiger Woods is actually an adulterer (so long as his game remains)?

So Copenhagen. I believe you will make the right decision, even if it is only a matter of better safe than sorry. Just in the same way that the sceptics believe blindly that they are right. All I know is every year single year since 1917 has been hotter than the last. Think about it, will you see photos this year of people skating on the Thames in London? And that one good volcano like Mount St Helens will put up 20x more CO2 than 20 years of humanity not to mention the methane and sulphur compounds that are a hundred times worse for global warming than CO2.