Opinion: Generating electricity – why we should push for renewables, not fracking

Green wind farmThis article is about how we generate electricity in the UK, and makes the case for electricity generation to be 100% carbon-neutral, and to be frack-free.

Climate change remains one of the greatest risks of our age. We know that the climate is changing: we can either accept the risks and take what comes, or we can mitigate the risk by using technology to end our dependency on fossil fuels. Liberal Democrats campaign for the latter.

In 2013, figures for the UK and the whole EU for electricity generation are as follows:

energy sources

On these figures, we have some catching up to do. Many would think that given the particular advantages of wind and tides our islands have, we would be doing more than catching up – we would be leading.

For the moment, though, we are trying to catch up. Renewables accounted for 11% of electricity in 2012, up to 15% in 2013. The EU average is 24% and Denmark, for example, generates 33% of its energy from wind. The potential for further development of renewables in the UK is considerable.

Vince Cable’s industrial strategy is supporting technology development for offshore wind and nuclear, and, within the Catapult Programme, tidal energy. The UK is developing new renewable technologies – thanks to Lib Dems in government.

So how should we look at the headlong rush into fracking? We use gas in two different and separate ways: the first for the generation of electricity in the UK; and the second for the use of gas for direct heating within homes and businesses. This article does not deal with the latter, which is a different discussion.

Taking the arguments for fracked gas to generate UK electricity, I note three points. First, security of supply within the UK; second, cheap price; third, keeping the lights on. I will discuss them in relation to choices between the different ways of making electricity.

Security of supply: the UK wants its energy to come from within the UK and not rely on imports. Replacing our current gas and coal usage with renewables – for example, at an extra 4% per year – would give us security of supply, but there needs to be a powerful political will to change to renewables.

Cheap price: Fracked gas is said to be cheap, but whether it really will be in the UK is a different matter. The most likely outcome is that it is a similar price to other gas. Onshore wind is expected to be the same price as gas within a few years, and coal remains cheap.

Keeping the lights on: Fracked gas will not come on-stream for a few years, and by then government can equally have brought on-stream more renewables. The argument for fracking is particularly persuasive only if government fails to increase renewables.

Finally, I want to make a political point.

Liberal Democrats are rightly wary of fracking. We remain a green party. We have of necessity agreed compromises within the Coalition with a Conservative Party that has a very different attitude both to climate change and to fracking.

We do not need to fight the General Election on a compromise. So let us be much more uncompromising about fracking, and where, how and if it fits into our energy policy for the next parliament and beyond.

* William Hobhouse lives in Bath and is co-founder of the Lib Dem Campaign for Manufacturing.

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80 Comments

  • Get real renewable will never generate enough constant power also extremely expensive and environmentally bad on the eye an bird/bat/insect life fracking at least will be our own source of power not imported coal / oil fuels which also has a environmental footprint. So fracking it is to any logical way of looking at it.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Aug '14 - 9:11am

    It’s all in the numbers. Our electricity consumption is around 40GW, so the 63% of carbon fuelled identified above is about 25 GW. Mackay estimates that 29GW of offshore windfarms would cost around £36 billion. ( http://www.withouthotair.com/c28/page_214.shtml ) However, electricity isn’t all that we need to cater for, and probably wind alone isn’t the best way to go. A blend of concentrated in solar in hot sunny places, long haul HVDC grids, tidal and probably some more nuclear (but built by the government, not the Chinese!) + some solar thermal and PVs on roofs would reduce intermittency. And some easy to switch off things like smart meters, nitrogen fertiliser manufacture.
    Denmark’s wind is often available when ours wouldn’t be, so an interconnector to Denmark would be good.

  • Steve Coltman 18th Aug '14 - 10:59am

    William’s article does not address the issue of gas being used for heating, which is a pity, because this accounts for a large percentage of the gas consumed. Only about 20% of the energy consumed in this country is consumed as electricity, about a third is as gas through the gas grid and nearly half as liquid fuels, mostly diesel and petrol. The arguments in favour of fracking are very powerful; I refer you to the Assoc. of Lib Dem Engineers & Scientists web-site for a more in-depth discussion: http://www.aldes.org.uk/?p=1313
    Whichever party is in power, these arguments will bear heavily on the government of the day. There can be no doubt that fracking brings with it a number of issues that have not yet been properly addressed, but we will be using gas for decades yet, we are so very dependent on fossil fuels of one kind or another (for well over 90% of our total energy needs) that it would be impossible to phase out fossil fuels quickly, and gas is the least bad fossil fuel.

  • It is not an either/or question. However the issues of security of supply, security of provision (‘keeping the lights on’), sustainability and cost are the correct considerations.

    The other issue is that gas supply is important for direct domestic and industrial consumption. This means that there will always be an incentive to extract gas by fracking. It is fruitless to pretend otherwise. The clever tactic is surely to introduce it cautiously and to reduce risk by using well proven technology. The same goes for nuclear energy, which needs to be double its present contribution.

    Clearly the writer has a point that renewables are under represented, but it would be foolish to pretend that the environmental issues are insignificant: the Severn estuary could provide a lot of electricity, but at considerable ecological damage . The start up costs would also be a problem and with the issues involved not something I would like to see entrusted to private companies.

    ‘Renewables’ is in any case a too broad category. Solar and wind power have obvious limitations, yet good old photosynthesis is woefully underemployed: we need to increase the use of organic waste and algal sources, developing technologies that can convert it into methanol, methane and renewable plastics.

  • Stephen Hesketh 18th Aug '14 - 11:07am

    Good points William. I suspect the high EU nuclear figure has a large contribution from France but your figures clearly reveal us to be lagging behind other parts of Europe regarding renewables even though we are blessed with a significiant proportion of Europe’s wave and wind power and acres and acres of modern warehouse (if not manufacturing!) roofing we could easily use for solar generation.

    @Terry18th Aug ’14 – 8:58am Tery, I don’t believe it is William who needs to ‘Get real’. Do you monitor Lib Dem Voice waiting for someone to post something positive above renewables?

    I am only on a short work break so my response to you can only be brief. Please reread the article and Jenny’s comments and then post something constructive or visit Conservative Home etc where climate change sceptics and pro-frackers are much more mainstream in their ‘opinions’. So many ‘heads in the sand’ on that website that frackers might have some trouble in locating their drilling rigs though!

  • Steve Coltman 18th Aug '14 - 11:37am

    Jenny Barnes raised a couple of interesting issues: we have to be careful comparing generating capacity in the form of fossil fuel power stations with those from renewables, it is not comparing like with like. A thermal power station (be it nuclear, coal or gas) is capable of running 24hrs a day, week after week, producing about 90% of theoretical maximum capacity over a calendar year (although some gas-fired stations are deliberately used for matching supply with demand so are not used anything like maximum capacity). By comparison a wind-farm produces about 26-28% of maximum capacity and solar panels about 9%.
    The other point was about nuclear. The way we are going about this new nuclear program is the most expensive way imaginable. The cost of nuclear rests largely in the building costs, and this is heavily influenced by the cost of capital; governments can borrow cheaper than can any commercial source. The speed of construction is another factor in cost and building a fleet of identical reactors will bring down costs as the expertise of the constructors improves. The first of type is always the most expensive. This is how the French did it in the 70s and 80s and why they have the cheapest electricity in Europe.

  • Simon Oliver:

    The intermittency issue has been effectively solved

    – No source reference? Your assertion seems incredible to me.

  • @ Simon Oliver
    I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘we’ in :
    “is the fact that *we* reached the peak in conventional oil supply in the mid noughties”
    The table of oil producing countries in this link gives you the facts you need.
    http://peak-oil.org/peak-oil-reference/peak-oil-data/production-and-peak-dates-by-country/
    In world production terms, when you average out all oil producing countries, it is gauged that we probably hit *world* peak (conventional), oil in around 2005.
    This article by a BP geologist will give you a better insight to fact around crude oil?
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/dec/23/british-petroleum-geologist-peak-oil-break-economy-recession
    I guess the whole point of my comment here now is that when I see these articles on renewables, I’m not saying that renewables are pointless, far from it, but I fear that many who don’t really understand the relationship of fossil fuels with global growth, are somehow seduced into thinking that renewables are ‘our saviour’, for a return to global economic growth, now that we see the cheap, easy to access fossil fuel is in our ‘rear view mirror’?
    But, that *juicy* 150 years phase of global growth ended in 2008. (three years after we hit global peak oil ~ coincidence you think?) So, unless you can discover a *cheap* source of energy with the same calorific/BTU content of crude oil, [and renewables do NOT fit that bill], we are going to need a complete, from the ground up, *policy* re-think, and come to terms with low or zero growth in that new economic paradigm?.

  • @ Simon Oliver
    The links you give, just ‘tease us’ with broad meaningless unspecified and un-costed generalities such as :
    “Finally, a specialist fleet of highly efficient and flexible generators could provide the back-up we need for the times when these other solutions cannot balance supply and demand.”
    “……and ignores the innovations that mean we can get close to 100% renewables in the future.”
    “All we have to do is capture it [sunlight], , directly or indirectly.”
    Have you any links to these existing [or on the drawing board], innovations and technologies and highly efficient and flexible generators, with test data that can be validated, that are going to power the world back to Business as Usual? And have you factored in the changeover and updated infrastructure costs that would be necessary to get to a near ‘all electric’ world.?
    The bottom line is this. By all means go for a renewables energy policy, but it will NOT be consequence free. To sell the renewables route to the public, you will also have to get them to buy into a very much reduced, economic and social environment, which will likely be of a brand, close to the Cuban economic model.

  • Richard Dean 18th Aug '14 - 2:01pm

    The sun is free? Whatever energy we capture from it, that energy won’t be available for the rest of the flora and fauna and environment of this globe. And the environmental problems caused by that are as unknown now as the environmental problems of oil and gas used to be. They are potentially comparable to those caused by oil and gas, and as deniable now as those of oil and gas were then.

  • Simon Oliver: I have looked at your links which are more aspirational than substantive. [Also more applicable to the USA than the UK, or perhaps to a more integrated EU energy strategy]

    Not that this is really the current issue, which is that there is scope for a significant increase in forms of renewable energy. I do think, however that the overall issue has been ill served by unsubstantiated claims. I think that good reductions in output of carbon dioxide can be pragmatically be achieved without reliance on ambitious, doubtfully achievable technological aspirations such as ‘carbon capture’ and energy storage. In fact one of your links is quite clear that high land lakes, the most practical form of energy storage has limited potential in the UK.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Aug '14 - 4:04pm

    Humanity has already found more fossil fuel than we can burn. So fracking is just an attempt to find even more, just because it might be in the UK. If you think burning gas for electricity production is the best thing to do – I would agree it’s better than coal, for example – then there’s plenty in Qatar, and the infrastructure to ship it.

    Steve: ” By comparison a wind-farm produces about 26-28% of maximum capacity and solar panels about 9%.”
    Yes, I know. So does Mckay. the figures I used are effective output, not peak. (ie Peak* percentage available). It’s typically about 1/3 for wind. So 1,000 7MW turbines has a peak output of 7GW; which is equivalent to one large thermal power station at around 2.2-2.4 GW. Ferrybridge, for example.

    Intermittency is clearly an issue, although not as big as some fossil fuel enthusiasts would like to make out. A combination of renewable sources helps – tidal and concentrated solar and wind is clearly not going to be as prone to intermittency as just picking one. Storage – like Dinorwic, and flow batteries can deal with short term slews – 30 minutes or so; interconnectors to France, Norway, Denmark can pick up some of it, and turning heavy usage on and off can help too. It’s not as convenient as fossil fuel, for sure, but we will reach peak fossil fuel in the foreseeable future.

    The estimates I’ve seen for the assorted Severn Barrages is a peak output of around 8GW, which is equivalent to around 2GW continuous.

  • Wind power generation is totally useless. It is not a serious proposition, being hugely expensive, inefficient and intermittent. It kills birds and bats and spoils the countryside. The maintenance costs are high, the working life is short and the turbines are prone to blade failures, bearing failures and fires. When sited at sea, they are hazardous to maintain and prone to corrosion, pushing up the cost even more.

    Generating electricity on a national grid basis using wind power is therefore insane. It has only become a reality because the government is pouring massive amounts of consumer and taxpayers’ money into the scheme. It is a false situation, an expensive fantasy that makes developers and landowners incredibly rich. It will lead to fuel poverty and deaths in the winter months when the coldest weather is due to high pressure regions which are associated with an absence of wind.

  • A more sensible approach would be to apply rigorous scientific expertise to the mickey mouse climate science community. It is the only field of science where they use computer models that have not been validated and where the output of the models bears no relationship at all to observation.

    We are spending trillions to combat the problem of global warming without stopping to wonder why there has been no global warming at all during this century. It stopped 17 years ago. Serious scientists are predicting global cooling.

  • That is not true.

  • @Richard Dean: “The sun is free? Whatever energy we capture from it, that energy won’t be available for the rest of the flora and fauna and environment of this globe. ”

    I hope this was intended sarcastically, though the humour escapes me. I fear that Richard might actually believe this, despite its obvious absurdity.

  • Peter, your call for rigorous scientific expertise to be applied to the climate science community is two years out of date. I direct your attention to the 2012 study conducted by Richard A. Muller and others, under funding kindly provided by Koch and Koch in the United States, aimed squarely at exposing the ‘mickey mouse science’ in the service of Messrs Koch and their stated goal of ending climate change as a political issue.

    I would also direct your attention to the conclusions of the Muller study – climate change is real, temperatures have increased by 1.5 degrees over the past fifty years and the direct impacts of human activity, particularly carbon dioxide emissions, is the extremely likely cause of 78% of this effect.

    The study goes so far as to conclude that their position on the magnitude of the issue and its human cause is stronger than that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming’

    So, your call for action has already been taken up by an arch-sceptic, climate science has been tried in a biased court propped up by hostile funding, and yet it seems still to have been acquitted.

    And as for your 17 years claim, and the suggestion that serious scientists are now predicting cooling, well, all I can say is Citation Needed.

  • Paul in Wokingham 19th Aug '14 - 3:47pm

    The evolution of graphene super capacitors continues. The latest super capacitors offer energy density (i.e. watt hours per kilogram) comparable to that of lithium-ion batteries but have the ability to charge completely in seconds and can go through many thousands of charge/discharge cycles without degradation.

    As I have noted several times on this forum, graphene is a game changing technology that eliminates the long charge time issue with traditional Li-ion batteries and allows potential for mass storage of electricity from renewable sources – see for example this from the University of Manchester, the place where grapheme was first isolated: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/article/?id=12163

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '14 - 4:03pm

    @David-1. No, it’s not absurd. It’s basic arithmetic. A certain amount of energy arrives here every day from the sun. If humans use some of it, less will be available for other inhabitants and processes on our planet.

  • @Richard: Are you a professional comedian, or just an amateur?

  • I may need to take shallower breaths to make sure that Richard gets all the oxygen he needs.

  • It is certain that increased greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and from land use change lead to a warming of climate, and it is very likely that these green house gases are the dominant cause of the global warming that has been taking place over the last 50 years.

    Whilst the extent of climate change is often expressed in a single figure – global temperature – the effects of climate change (such as temperature, precipitation and the frequency of extreme weather events) will vary greatly from place to place.

    Increasing atmospheric CO2 also leads to ocean acidification which risks profound impacts on many marine ecosystems and in turn the societies which depend on them.

    The Royal Society has worked on the issue of climate change for many years to further the understanding of this issue. These activities have been informed by decades of publicly available, peer-reviewed studies by thousands of scientists across a wide range of disciplines. Climate science, like any other scientific discipline, develops through vigorous debates between experts, but there is an overwhelming consensus regarding its fundamentals. Climate science has a firm basis in physics and is supported by a wealth of evidence from real world observations.

    On 27 February 2014 the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences launched a new publication ‘Climate change: Evidence & Causes’. This new guide gives an overview of climate science, making clear what is well-established, current areas of active debate and ongoing research. It is written and reviewed by a UK-US team of leading climate scientists. It builds upon the long history of climate-related work from both national science academies, as well as the newest climate change assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The guide is available for download https://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/climate-evidence-causes/

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '14 - 4:16pm

    @David-1. Neither of your two recent comments makes any substantial point or contribution to this debate.

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Aug '14 - 5:06pm

    Richard Dean
    “@David-1. Neither of your two recent comments makes any substantial point or contribution to this debate.”

    Firstly, I think you should consider the transparency of your own walls before lobbing brickbats.

    Secondly, I believe David-1 was referring to the law of conservation of energy. Energy that we use isn’t thereby lost. (After all, the energy that we get from oil and gas was already used, by the plants that grew using energy from the sun.) I’m sure you know this really.
    It’s true that the fans of reusables sometimes talk as if their favoured technologies have no environmental impact whatsoever, which can’t be true — and I think they know that too, when they stop to think about it. But I don’t think using up energy and thereby depriving the natural world of it is an issue.

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '14 - 5:34pm

    @Malcom Todd
    You need to get your head around the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
    Energy cannot be re-used in the way you assume.
    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/thermo/seclaw.html
    You cannot re-use the waterfall energy, because the water has fallen and you need to input more energy back into the system than was used if you want to repeat the fall!

  • It is true that the earth warmed significantly in the latter half of last century. Climate scientists at that time attributed all of the warming to carbon dioxide and based their modelling on that relationship. They stated that natural climate variability could not possibly produce such an effect.

    Then the warming stopped. Carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas, does continue to rise at an almost linear rate, but there is no longer any correlation with global temperature. It is now crystal clear that natural variability has been negating the expected warming of the last 17 years and it is legitimate to question whether natural variability also contributed to some or all of the earlier warming.

    Carbon dioxide does contribute to warming, but not to the extent assumed in the climate models which run extremely hot compared with reality. The climate sensitivity that was assumed was wrong and the future level of warming is very likely to be benign rather than a danger. There is mounting evidence that multidecadel ocean cycles and solar activity are significant drivers of climate change and these were ignored by the climate community in their eagerness to promote alarmism based on carbon dioxide.

  • Peter,

    the Royal society evidence report https://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/climate-evidence-causes/ includes a number of Q&A’s, one of which is -Does the recent slowdown of warming mean that climate change is no longer happening? The answer give is No.

    Since the very warm year 1998 that followed the strong 1997-98 El Niño, the increase in average surface temperature has slowed relative to the previous decade of rapid temperature increases. Despite the slower rate of warming the 2000s were warmer than the 1990s. A short-term slowdown in the warming of Earth’s surface does not invalidate our understanding of long-term changes in global temperature arising from human-induced changes in greenhouse gases.

    As the climate system varies naturally from year to year and from decade to decade, reliable inferences about human-induced climate change must be made with a longer view, using multi-decadal and longer records. Calculating a ‘running average’ over these longer timescales allows one to more easily see long-term trends. For the global average temperature for the period 1850-2012 (using the data from the UK Met Office Hadley Centre relative to the 1961-90 average) the plots show: (top) the average and range of uncertainty for annually averaged data; (2nd plot) the temperature given for any date is the average for the ten years about that date; (3rd plot) the equivalent picture for 30-year; and (4th plot) the 60-year averages. Source: Met Office, based on the HadCRUT4 dataset from the Met Office and Climatic Research Unit (Morice et al., 2012). (larger version)
    Decades of slow warming as well as decades of accelerated warming occur naturally in the climate system. Decades that are cold or warm compared to the long-term trend are seen in the observations of the past 150 years and also captured by climate models. Because the atmosphere stores very little heat, surface temperatures can be rapidly affected by heat uptake elsewhere in the climate system and by changes in external influences on climate (such as particles formed from material lofted high into the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions). More than 90% of the heat added to Earth is absorbed by the oceans and penetrates only slowly into deep water. A faster rate of heat penetration into the deeper ocean will slow the warming seen at the surface and in the atmosphere, but by itself will not change the long-term warming that will occur from a given amount of CO2. For example, recent studies show that some heat comes out of the ocean into the atmosphere during warm El Niño events, and more heat penetrates to ocean depths in cold La Niñas. Such changes occur repeatedly over timescales of decades and longer. An example is the major El Niño event in 1997–98 when the globally averaged air temperature soared to the highest level in the 20th century as the ocean lost heat to the atmosphere, mainly by evaporation.

    Recent studies have also pointed to a number of other small cooling influences over the past decade or so. These include a relatively quiet period of solar activity and a measured increase in the amount of aerosols (reflective particles) in the atmosphere due to the cumulative effects of a succession of small volcanic eruptions. The combination of these factors, both the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere and the forcing from the Sun and aerosols, is thought likely to be responsible for the recent slowdown in surface warming.

    Despite the decadal slowdown in the rise of average surface temperature, a longer-term warming trend is still evident (see Figure 4). Each of the last three decades was warmer than any other decade since widespread thermometer measurements were introduced in the 1850s. Record heatwaves have occurred in Australia (January 2013), USA (July 2012), in Russia (summer 2010), and in Europe (summer 2003). The continuing effects of the warming climate are also seen in the increasing trends in ocean heat content and sea level, as well as in the continued melting of Arctic sea ice, glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet.

  • Paul in Wokingham 19th Aug '14 - 6:55pm

    @Joe Bourke – you might add that this year (2014) is the hottest in the history of the state of California – this graph (from zerohedge.com) is nice as it shows the peak year of 1997 but superimposes the trend line on top : http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user3303/imageroot/2014/08/20140818_cali1.jpg

    California is also suffering from a record drought – worse than the 1930’s – with 58% of the state now in the highest level of drought (“exception drought”) as shown on the US government drought portal : http://www.drought.gov/drought/area/ca, and water levels at Lake Mead (which supplies Las Vegas) at levels not seen since the lake was constructed in the 1930’s.

  • I refer to “Keeping the lights on: Fracked gas will not come on-stream for a few years, and by then government can equally have brought on-stream more renewables. ”

    How on earth do “more renewables” ensure security of supply? How can they ensure the lights will stay on?

    I presume by renewables you mean wind turbines that do not produce electricity when the wind speed is too low and have to be disabled when the wind speed is too high. Their reliability when the wind speed is normal is not very good either.

    If you include solar (PV) as renewables then these obviously cannot work at night when we would prefer our lights to work and during short overcast winter days I would recommend having a stock of candles.

  • JoeBourke
    I don’t disagree with most of your points. They do not invalidate the points I made earlier. Even the IPCC is moving steadily towards the conclusion that catastrophic global warming was a huge exaggeration. However, as a highly politicised organisation set up to achieve redistribution of wealth using AGW as the vehicle, they are not likely to abandon the cause.

    The point is that the models did not predict the pause and they have deviated significantly from reality. Climate scientists cannot explain it and they have no idea what will happen next.

  • Stephen Hesketh 19th Aug '14 - 7:22pm

    @Richard Dean 18th Aug ’14 – 2:01pm
    “The sun is free? Whatever energy we capture from it, that energy won’t be available for the rest of the flora and fauna and environment of this globe.”

    @Richard Dean 19th Aug ’14 – 4:03pm
    “@David-1. No, it’s not absurd. It’s basic arithmetic. A certain amount of energy arrives here every day from the sun. If humans use some of it, less will be available for other inhabitants and processes on our planet.”

    Richard, the crucial fact here is that the energy reaching the earth each day is massively higher than that consumed by the organisms (including humankind) which inhabit the planet. Much of the energy is absorbed by the atmosphere, sea and land or simply radiated back into space.

    For Deans first law of thermodynamics to hold true, the energy reaching the earth and that being used directly or indirectly by its life forms would have to be close to parity. This patently isn’t the case as, as you allude to, the sun also powers our weather systems and oceanic thermal currents. I am sincerely hoping that Dean’s second law of thermodynamics doesn’t predict wind farms, solar panels and wave power might be able to take sufficient energy from the global environment that the weather might also cease? If this is indeed your prediction, I have fears for your hopes of that Nobel prize.

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '14 - 9:47pm

    @Stephen Hesketh
    People said the same thing about carbon dioxide: “the world is huge and the little bit of CO2 and other pollutants we add won’t have any effect”. Now look where we are! Somehow people have to get over this survivor’s guilt – lots of natural organisms exist on the brink of extinction, and whatever energy we take there’ll be something that suffers somewhere. But that’s natural, each species fights for its own survival, and most for growth.

  • Guys, I remember having almost exactly this argument with Richard a year or two ago! Not sure what that shows.

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '14 - 10:16pm

    @Tim13. It shows you have a memory. One may comment on that, but perhaps not of one wants one’s comments to escape Big M and be published. Apart from that, it appears to add nothing much to the discussion! 🙂 Those who criticize those who deny climate change are often those who also deny that their own alternative actions can also affect climate!

  • Stephen Hesketh 19th Aug '14 - 10:28pm

    @Tim13 … Dean’s third law … don’t let a few simple facts interfere with a good argument! Oh he does love a good argument 🙂

    Richard, massive amounts of solar radiation … remove a tiny amount … no effect.
    Low level of important greenhouse gas CO2, held in equilibrium by global forests. Remove much of aforestation, burn its wood, then turn to coal, oil and gas … adds a tiny but measurable amount of CO2 to atmosphere but causes disproportionate greenhouse warming effect.

  • I am not bothering to engage with Richard Dean on this because his argument is so silly that I cannot believe he believes it himself. It’s like someone saying “don’t catch a snowflake on your tongue because then we might have a drought!” That’s the kind of argument I might expect in the works of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll, only perhaps there with more logic.

  • jedibeeftrix 19th Aug '14 - 10:51pm

    “adds a tiny but measurable amount of CO2 to atmosphere but causes disproportionate greenhouse warming effect.”

    disproportionate yes, for it has a positive feedback, but exactly how much of a multiplier it is rather influences whether it is dangerous to civilization or merely something civilization adapts to.

  • Richard Dean – The sun emits about 1367 watts/m2. After allowing for the portion of the earth illuminated at any moment, and the amount of energy reflected back to space, this leaves around 240 watts per square metre.

    This radiation warms up the area on which it impinges. if you are sunbathing on the beach and I decide to join you, this will not result in you having a reduced sun tan. I’m afraid that your idea that consumption of energy leaves less for everyone else has no basis in science, or arithmetic. The only way that would work was if I stood between you and the sun so that I received sunlight and you didn’t.

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '14 - 11:25pm

    I’m really surprised how some climate change supporters cannot do arithmetic. The sun emits a whole lot more than 1367 watts/m2. But perhaps that’s the flux at the radius of the earth (though experience of standing in sunlight on a cloudless day in the tropics suggests otherwise).

    If humans take 10 watts per square meter and use it for electricity, that leaves only 240 – 10 = 230 watts/m2 for everything else.

    The incoming 10 watts would have arrived at an effective high temperature. The Second Law implies it would be dissipated at a lower temperature as a result of humans’ use of it. The Second Law also implies that, because it is at lower temperature, it cannot be used in the same way.

    Trees and other plants are nature’s way of dealing with CO2. So why knock them why not instead let them do their thing? They’re far better options than being mesmerized by the apparent cleverness of other technologies of carbon capture, and much more effective than a carbon tax!

  • Here’s an energy-saving suggestion – could someone turn the power off to Richard Dean’s PC?

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '14 - 11:29pm

    Astonishing how un-liberal the liberals become when someone challenges their pet views!

  • The 1367W/m2 is not what is emitted by the sun but is the average solar radiation at a distance of 93 million miles from the sun. If you take 10W/m2 that’s less than 1% of what is available.

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '14 - 11:40pm

    @Mark Inskip.
    You forgot the reflection, which cuts the net flux to about 240 according to Peter. And 1% of the environment is a huge amount. It’s about equivalent to removing half of Europe from the map.

    You can check this for yourself if you know arithmetic or have a calculator handy. From Google:
    World surface area:…510,000,000 km^2
    Europe’s surface area: 10,180,000 km^2

  • @Richard Dean what Peter wrote “After allowing for the portion of the earth illuminated at any moment, and the amount of energy reflected back to space, this leaves around 240 watts per square metre.”

    So if the world surface area is 510,000,000km^2 that’s 122,400,000,000,000,000W using 240W/m^2.

    You say “And 1% of the environment is a huge amount.” but that’s nonsense because it’s only 1% where you have a PV panel. It’s a tiny figure in ppm once you consider that the vast majority of the solar radiation falls on areas not covered by PV cells.

    Or put it another way if you just used PV for UK electricity generation and covered the who of the UK in panels you would generate around 58,320,610,000,000W (using the 240W figure) or 58,320GW against an average requirement of 36GW. Or filling the equation around you would need 0.06% of the UK land mass to be covered in PV cells. 1% of 0.06% is 0.0006%. Now is 0.0006% of the environment a huge amount?

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 1:05am

    @Mark Inskip
    Clever, had me defeated for a while, but I am Phoenix …

    The UK is 1% of the world’s population, and appears to use about 36 GW. So when poverty is eradicated and the whole 100% of the world consumes at the same rate, the world will consume 3600 GW. And of course the US consumes more and progress will also come and double that to 7200 GW pretty soon. And pretty soon after that there will be more demand for more progress and the world’s population will demand 1440 GW.

    Now the surface of the earth may be 510 million km^2, but the cross-sectional area that intersects the sun’s rays is one quarter of that (pi.r^2 instead of 4.pi.r^2), so the actual energy being received is one quarter of 58,320 GW, or about 14,580 GW.

    So pretty soon the world will have eradicated poverty and be consuming 1440 GW of the 14,580 GW that it receives from the sun. Which is 10%. My previous estimate of 1% seems to have been way too low!

    Actually I rather hope you can prove me wrong. In a world where one species consumes 10% of the incoming energy, all other recipients and users of energy will be significantly affected. The human race will probably need to regulate everything, in order to stop itself from total disaster. It will not be the same world that we presently know and love.

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 1:26am

    … which means that so-called “renewable” energy methods – wind and wave power for example – are not actually sustainable in the long-term. Not if the global population stays the same or increases, and poverty is eradicated.

    If we get anywhere remotely near 1%, let alone 10%, we’ll need to find other energy sources. The remaining hydrocarbons are likely to be used, but they use more of the sun’s energy in photosynthesis by which the CO2 is used to produce oxygen and plants. And they will eventually run out for real. The only remaining energy source likely to be able to support the huge global demand will be nuclear.

    And we’ll need to find other ways of dissipating the waste, unusable heat.

    I hope you find an error in these calculations!

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 5:03am

    Fortunately, there are some 0’s missing from several of the calculations.

    The original figure for the whole earth is 122,400,000 GW. Dividing that by 4 gives 30,600,000 GW. The predicted consumption missed out a 0, and the corrected figure is 14,400 GW, ten times larger. So the predicted percentage is 100 x 14,400 / 30.600,000, which is about 0.05%. Which looks small but is not necessarily so.

    But at least it’s not 10%. Phew! It means we can all consume as much as the average US citizen, without worrying too much! Remember, this is a projection after poverty is eradicated and progress leads to more energy use.

    But it then raises the question, how could less than 0.05% of the incoming energy cause major climatic effects? It’s equivalent to one two-thousandth. On a straight linear scale it would raise the temperature by about 0.15 degrees Kelvin, and if a fourth power law holds it would only be 0.04 degrees.

    Are the amplification effects of CO2 really so great? The amplification factor would need to be around 100 to check out with existing climate change predictions of a few degrees warming. And that’s after progress and poverty eradication. With the world as it is now, the factor would need to be several thousand.

  • Mark Inskip 20th Aug '14 - 7:57am

    I see a further benefit to Richard Dean turning off the power to Richard Dean’s PC, not only the power saving but also the avoidance of public embarrassment at being several orders of magnitude out with his initial calculations!

  • Peter Watson 20th Aug '14 - 10:51am

    Richard’s comments and the ensuing debate have piqued my curiosity. It also makes me feel a little embarrassed by my own ignorance, but it’s good to learn.
    On the face of it, Richard’s notion seems plausible:

    “A certain amount of energy arrives here every day from the sun. If humans use some of it, less will be available for other inhabitants and processes on our planet.”.

    Equally some of the counter-arguments are less convincing, such as Peter’s “if you are sunbathing on the beach and I decide to join you, this will not result in you having a reduced sun tan”, since as Peter then points out, “The only way that would work was if I stood between you and the sun so that I received sunlight and you didn’t”, i.e. solar energy intercepted by a panel is not reaching the ground so could there be a negative impact? Taking the argument to an absurd limit, what would happen if we smothered the planet with solar panels to convert all of the energy from the sun?
    Are proponents of solar power (and to be clear, I am one and I am not sceptical about the effect of human activity on climate change) assuming that we would only be using a negligible portion of the huge amount of available energy from the sun, so the negative side-effects would also be negligible? Or are we invoking the laws of thermodynamics to say that since we are neither creating or destroying energy, ultimately the amount of warming of the Earth by the Sun will be unchanged, though we will have (negligibly?) reduced the amount solar radiation that would otherwise have been available for photosynthesis?

  • My sunbathing example, while accurate, was meant to be ridiculous.

    Let me try once more. The radiation from the sun is, to all intents and purposes, plentiful and any intervention by man is unlikely to have any measurable effect on the rest of the system.

    With regard to amplification of the carbon dioxide effect, there are some important points. A doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, say from 400ppm to 800 will, in theory, increase the temperature by about 1 degree Celsius before any feedbacks (feedbacks are consequences that can enhance or reduce the effect).

    Water vapour, also a GHG, is present at about 4% of the atmosphere near the equator and diminishes to around zero at the poles. Clearly, water vapour produces the majority of green house warming.

    The climate models predict that carbon dioxide will raise the temperature of the atmosphere and as a consequence, the atmosphere will hold more water vapour and as a GHG the water vapour will cause more warming. This positive feedback loop will cause catastrophic (runaway) warming according to the “experts”. Carbon dioxide warming alone is relatively benign and not a problem because the relationship between the warming and concentration is logarithmic. The effect diminishes to zero as the Infra Red absorption capability of the gas gets saturated.

    So the main culprit is the water vapour, the carbon dioxide is rather like the lit match that ignites the forest.

    The water vapour does not seem to be cooperating with the models. Now there is no doubt about it being a GHG and its ability to “create warming” by reducing heat loss to space. The models predict a hot spot in the atmosphere. After decades of searching, there is no sign of it. The models predict increased humidity in the troposphere. There is some reduction. The models predict massive warming. Atmospheric temperatures have been static for 17 years and the oceans are starting to show a very slight temperature decline .

    So what is happening? Scientists don’t know and avoid this subject. I have a number of suspicions. The catastrophic positive feedback predicted by the models is highly unlikely. Positive feedbacks create very unstable systems. The earth’s climate is incredibly stable. Nature is full of negative feedbacks which restore stability and prevent extremes from happening. If some warming could kick off a water vapour spiral of warming, then in our long history it would have happened many times before, especially when the earth was much warmer than it is today.

    While water vapour does cause warming, it clearly has a natural limit. That is maybe not surprising, after all we live on a water planet. It covers two thirds of the surface. The water vapour can also produce negative (cooling) feedback. Those who visit the Tropics will know that when it starts to get too hot and humid, clouds suddenly appear. Clouds are a great sunshield. Incoming radiation from the sun is reflected back to space. Thunder storms funnel all the hot air upwards allowing cooler air to replace it. Mother nature has been doing this sort of thing for millions of years amidst carbon dioxide concentrations of 4000 ppm and other extremes.

    So, it seems that the water vapour concentration is limited and cloud formation is the great thermostat. When the clouds turn to rain, the water vapour is then reduced, the clouds disappear and the sunlight again reaches the surface.

    It is a pity that scientists cannot model clouds. They involve a scale and level of detail far beyond the reach of the computer models and will probably remain beyond the computing power (with regard to global climate modelling) for decades. Furthermore, scientists need to understand the climate before they can model it and they don’t know much about clouds. In fact, they don’t know enough about the climate, which is why it is a disgrace that politicians were allowed to base policy on models which have never been validated and now show such deviation from reality.

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 2:05pm

    @Peter
    “The radiation from the sun is, to all intents and purposes, plentiful and any intervention by man is unlikely to have any measurable effect on the rest of the system”

    Prove it!

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 2:28pm

    Have I created an alternative universe? Could someone call Capaldi quick please?

  • Richard is putting forward a slippery slope fallacy . The slippery slope fallacy is committed only when we accept without further justification or argument that once the first step is taken, the others are going to follow, or that whatever would justify the first step would in fact justify the rest.

    Logicians call the slippery slope a classic logical fallacy. There’s no reason to reject doing one thing, they say, just because it might open the door for some undesirable extremes; permitting “A” does not suspend our ability to say ‘but not B’ or ‘certainly not Z’ down the line. Indeed, given the endless parade of imagined horribles one could conjure up for any policy decision, the slippery slope can easily become an argument for doing nothing at all. Yet act we do; All politics takes place on a slippery slope.

    That’s never been more true, it seems, than now. Allowing gay marriage puts us on the slippery slope to the breakdown of marriage and commonly accepted moral standards, opponents say; surveillance activities by the intelligence community put us on ‘a slippery slope toward a totalitarian state’ . . .. a decision to arm the peshmerga, however meagerly, will all but doom us to another Western intervention in Iraq . . .. These critics may be right to urge caution, but in their panicked vehemence, they abandon nuance and succumb to summoning up worst-case scenarios. Decriminalizing marijuana doesn’t have to turn the U.K. into a stoner nation, nor does sending arms to Kurdish & Iraqui forces inevitably mean boots on the ground in Bagdhad. That’s not to say we shouldn’t monitor and adapt policies based on experience – it is not however an argument for taking no action in the face of what is widely acknowledged to be the major environmental challenge facing humankind in the coming decades.

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 3:12pm

    The slippery slope fallacy is what the proponents of climate change base their case on. A small change of temperature over a short time period could easily change into (a) a permanent one, (b) a big one!

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 3:18pm

    A tiny little earthquake, that did no damage, and that might or might not have been caused by fracking, could easily turn into a huge one that made whole swathes of the countryside into disaster zones!

    A nanoscopic risk that fracking might affect a small, local water supply could so easily turn into a huge risk, near certainty, that half the country’s water supply would be polluted and half the population will die from the toxins!

    Really?

  • Richard,

    the Royal Society report presents a balanced and sensible analysis of the evidence and observed effects https://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/climate-evidence-causes/ and concludes that climate changes of even a few degrees are indeed a cause for concern.

    Even though an increase of a few degrees in global average temperature does not sound like much, global average temperature during the last ice age was only about 4 to 5 °C (7 to 9 °F) colder than now. Global warming of just a few degrees are associated with widespread changes in regional and local temperature and precipitation as well as with increases in some types of extreme weather events. These and other changes (such as sea level rise and storm surge) are already having a serious impacts on human societies and the natural world.

    Both theory and direct observations have confirmed that global warming is associated with greater warming over land than oceans, moistening of the atmosphere, shifts in regional precipitation patterns and increases in extreme weather events, ocean acidification, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels (which increases the risk of coastal inundation and storm surge). Already, record high temperatures are on average significantly outpacing record low temperatures, wet areas are becoming wetter as dry areas are becoming drier, heavy rainstorms have become heavier, and snowpacks (an important source of freshwater for many regions) are decreasing.

    These impacts are expected to increase with greater warming and will threaten food production, freshwater supplies, coastal infrastructure, and especially the welfare of the huge population currently living in low-lying areas. Even though certain regions may realise some local benefit from the warming, the long-term consequences overall will be disruptive.

  • Peter,

    the uncertainties you refer to in climate change modelling are acknowledged in the Royal society report.

    Science is a continual process of observation, understanding, modelling, testing and prediction. The prediction of a long-term trend in global warming from increasing greenhouse gases is robust and has been confirmed by a growing body of evidence. Nevertheless, understanding (for example, of cloud dynamics, and of climate variations on centennial and decadal timescales and on regional-to-local spatial scales) remains incomplete. All of these are areas of active research.
    Comparisons of model predictions with observations identify what is well-understood and, at the same time, reveal uncertainties or gaps in our understanding. This helps to set priorities for new research. Vigilant monitoring of the entire climate system—the atmosphere, oceans, land, and ice—is therefore critical, as the climate system may be full of surprises.

    Together, field and laboratory data and theoretical understanding are used to advance models of Earth’s climate system and to improve representation of key processes in them, especially those associated with clouds, aerosols, and transport of heat into the oceans. This is critical for accurately simulating climate change and associated changes in severe weather, especially at the regional and local scales important for policy decisions.

    Simulating how clouds will change with warming and in turn may themselves affect warming, remains one of the major challenges for global climate models, in part because many cloud processes occur on scales smaller than the current models can resolve. Greater computer power may enable some of these processes to be resolved in future-generation models.

    Dozens of groups and research institutions work on climate models, and scientists are now able to analyse results from essentially all of the world’s major Earth-System Models and compare them with each other and with observations. Such opportunities are of tremendous benefit in bringing out the strengths and weaknesses of various models and diagnosing the causes of differences among models, so that research can focus on the relevant processes. The differences among models allow estimates to be made of the uncertainties in projections of future climate change, and in understanding which aspects of these projections are robust.

    Studying how climate responded to major changes in the past is another way of checking that we understand how different processes work and that models are capable of performing under a wide range of conditions

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 3:54pm

    @Joe
    It’s not checking “that” we understand. It’s checking “if” we understand. And the answer is likely to be No!

  • Richard,

    a frog in boiling water that does not jump out is going to be boiled alive whether the amphibian fully understands what is happening or not. Adopting the conservative Ostrich strategy of burying our head in the sand to avoid potential danger, is unlikely to be the answer to the environmental risks identified by the scientific community as being associated with global climate change.

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 6:35pm

    @Joe Bourke
    I knew the frog would come into it somewhere! It’s either the frog or the slippery slope! Or is it the slippery frog?

    Just think, if we didn’t have climate change, we’d have to invent it. How else can we assert our superiority over the rest of the world? How else can we justify preventing poor nations from living the lifestyles of the rich? And the beauty is that industry is the villain! Our own industry! So none of the poor nations can claim we’re being unfair!

    Academic theories come and go. This one probably has some merit to it, but we won’t know that for sure for many decades yet – another aspect of its beauty, it can fund academics in their research for years and years!

    But there’s value in reducing pollution anyway, even if climate change turns out eventually to have been a very red herring. We don’t have to rely on contestable claims about climate to know that poisoning the environment is a wrong thing to do.

  • JoeBourke
    I think your perception of the scientific research and learning process may be more generous and rosy than the reality. Unfortunately climate science is highly politicised with many agendas and interest groups. It is a tremendous opportunity for tax on energy, aviation, motoring, industry, in fact almost anything that consumes electricity or gas. It is about saving the planet which appeals to greens and environmentalists especially those with the more extreme views. The feed-in tariffs are a moneymaking gift to those with cash, property and land. Globally, governments spend several trillions on global warming each year.

    Climate scientists have benefited hugely provided they toe the party line. The climategate emails disclosed details of pal-review, a corruption of peer review. Journal editors who publish papers critical of the science were threatened and intimidated as were the authors.

    This continues today. Recent examples are the didtinguished scientists Lennart Bendtsson of Reading University and Murray Salby of Maquarie University. The former was driven to the risk of ill health by threats and abuse. He described his experience as McCarthyism. Salby was sacked for correctly stating that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration follows global temperature since its solubility in the oceans is a function of the water temperature

  • I should have added that the climate scientists who disagree with the accepted hypothesis are forced to keep their mouths shut and do as they are told. The alternative is to have funding cut, loss of employment, abuse from colleagues and the end of their career. This has been going on for decades and as a result there has been hardly any research on alternative climate forcings such as solar activity, ocean oscillations and the chemistry of cloud seeding. The science has stagnated with increasing uncertainty and declining credibility while the establishment claims the opposite. It is a very sad and disgraceful situation.

  • JoeBourke
    If I may, some final comments from me on this debate.

    Thank you for your courteous contributions. I suspect you have some connection with the topic. I have avoided responding to your various quotes concerning the Royal Society and other well respected pillars of the international scientific establishment such as USNAS. To be honest, I find the Good and the Great completely disappointing in their handling of climate science. I fully expected them to challenge this pseudo science on obvious deviation from the scientific method, but the people who hold high office in these organisations have chosen instead to support and reinforce the so-called consensus view as though consensus somehow equates to scientific proof.

    These people, I believe, will experience the wrath of their more discriminating members in due course. It should not be the role of the RS to reinforce the Government line if the science is flawed by uncertainty. Paul Nurse clearly knows nothing about climate science and has transgressed this line on frequent occasions.

    The reviews by these bodies recycle the views of the experts. In climate science the experts are a very small clique who have gained fame , fortune and massive funding from the beliefs they have promoted with religious (rather than scientific) fervour. I would rather have a review carried out by objective physicists from outside this unhealthy club.

  • It’s funny, isn’t it. Pick any academic field you like – dyslexia, First World war, GM crops, whatever – and there are a host of well-established proponents of all the various theories, happily arguing their different points of view. You hear a lot of disagreement, sometimes heated. But you almost never hear it claimed that Professor Bloggs got hounded out of academic life because he dared to take a different view about dyslexia, WW1, etc, than that of the all-powerful Professor Moggs and his gang.

    But climate change is totally different. We are asked to believe that there is an army of brilliant academics, who all know the truth, who all know that climate change is a fiction, who can all prove it – And they have all been suppressed. They have been kicked out of their jobs by a more powerful group of rogue, dishonest academics, the ones who are getting rich by telling “warmist” lies.

    Clearly the “warmists” must be funded by multinational behemoths, the massive companies which make zillions out of solar panels and wind turbines. Clearly these behemoths are far more powerful than weak little companies like the Big Six and the oil majors, who just don’t have the financial muscle to compete with the Great Green Ogre Machine, Inc.!

    Pull the other one, denialists!

  • The Thames used to freeze over. It stopped doing so long before human influences on climate change. There are points in recorded history when Britain was warmer than it is now. The Earth goes through cycles of rapid climate change. It is difficult to deny climate change but far more difficult to convince the masses that it is led by human activity and we can do something about it other than adapt. The drive for renewables should be founded on undeniable truths – pollution is bad, reliance on oil and gas from overseas is bad. Renewables are not free – the technological investments are enormous and there are always environmental impacts of some sort. Nevertheless we must invest for energy security reasons. Nigh impossible to argue against whilst the man made climate change argument, regardless of evidence, is too contentious so why bother with it. The science is too difficult for most people to clearly understand so why try when there are better reasons.

    Why do new house building regulations not compel the installation of photovoltaic roof tiles on south facing roofs? And the inclusion of micro-generating wind turbines on all new buildings? What about allowing councils to invest in wind farms with profits returned to the local communities rather than sent to France and Germany? Is it possible to tap into Icelandic geothermal energy somehow? These can all be sold on energy security and pollution reduction.

    Right idea, wrong argument.

  • On the critical issue of whether human activity is a cause of climate change, Science has been able to establish that recent climate change is largely caused by human activities from an understanding of basic physics, comparing observations with models, and fingerprinting the detailed patterns of climate change caused by different human and natural influences.

    Since the mid-1800s, scientists have known that CO2 is one of the main greenhouse gases of importance to Earth’s energy balance. Direct measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere and in air trapped in ice show that atmospheric CO2 increased by about 40% from 1800 to 2012. Measurements of different forms of carbon (isotopes) reveal that this increase is due to human activities. Other greenhouse gases (notably methane and nitrous oxide) are also increasing as a consequence of human activities. The observed global surface temperature rise since 1900 is consistent with detailed calculations of the impacts of the observed increase in atmospheric CO2 (and other human-induced changes) on Earth’s energy balance.

    Different influences on climate have different signatures in climate records. These unique fingerprints are easier to see by probing beyond a single number (such as the average temperature of Earth’s surface), and looking instead at the geographical and seasonal patterns of climate change. The observed patterns of surface warming, temperature changes through the atmosphere, increases in ocean heat content, increases in atmospheric moisture, sea level rise, and increased melting of land and sea ice also match the patterns scientists expect to see due to rising levels of CO2 and other human-induced changes.

    The expected changes in climate are based on our understanding of how greenhouse gases trap heat. Both this fundamental understanding of the physics of greenhouse gases and fingerprint studies show that natural causes alone are inadequate to explain the recent observed changes in climate. Natural causes include variations in the Sun’s output and in Earth’s orbit around the Sun, volcanic eruptions, and internal fluctuations in the climate system (such as El Niño and La Niña). Calculations using climate models have been used to simulate what would have happened to global temperatures if only natural factors were influencing the climate system. These simulations yield little warming, or even a slight cooling, over the 20th century. Only when models include human influences on the composition of the atmosphere are the resulting temperature changes consistent with observed changes.

    It is of course true that Climate science is still in its infancy and different models produce inconsistent results. This is equally true of the science of economics. In economics, the mainstream consensus prevails and heterodox schools of thought are marginalised in both academia and policy development. Policymakers must however work with the tools at their disposal in dealing with a complex global system over which they have limited control at the domestic level.

    The author of this article argues for ending the UK’s dependency for electricity generation on fossil fuels as a means of mitigating the risks of climate change. He argues that increasing investment in renewables is preferable to investment in fracking on the basis of three points. First, security of supply within the UK; second, cheap price; third, keeping the lights on. My own view on this is that we will probably need both i.e. increased investments in renewables and nuclear to at least EU averages and exploitation of domestic gas resources for heating at least, if not for electricity generation.

    Climate change risk mitiagation needs to be tackled at the global level – with the major CO2 emitters (the G20 countries) taking the lead. The UN meets annually to work towards a solution on climate change, but the G20 provides opportunities for open discussions between the world’s major economic players that can consider the balance between economic growth and climate change and assessing the potential financial risks and environmental consequences of heating the planet.

  • Richard Dean 21st Aug '14 - 3:58pm

    High volume does, so often, cover up for low substance, doesn’t it?

  • Actually, the reason the lower Thames no longer freezes over is only partially due to climate change; the changing shape of the Thames itself (embankments and bridges with larger arches that let the Thames flow faster) also plays an important rôle.

    As for human influence on climate change, people have been burning coal and wood fires for a pretty long time, and urbanisation and industrialisation increased the carbon output significantly starting in the late 18th century, *particularly* in the United Kingdom.

    Tested samples show above-average carbon dioxide levels starting in the early 19th century. The last Thames Frost Fair was in 1814.

  • jedibeeftrix 21st Aug '14 - 4:36pm

    @ jb – “Calculations using climate models have been used to simulate what would have happened to global temperatures if only natural factors were influencing the climate system.”

    These models make assumptions about the feedback ratio of ghg’s, not least our arch enemy co2. This ratio determines how much of the warming can be attributed to industrial civilisation, and thus how much future warming we can expect from the same source. This ratio is in dispute, with recent studies showing it is lower than has been assumed in older models.

    Why does this matter? It matters because it greatly influences the political decision on the cost benefit ratio of mitigation vs adaptation.

  • David Allen 21st Aug '14 - 4:37pm

    Brief rude crap also sucks.

  • jedibeeftrix,

    the conclusion to the Royal Society Report, while acknowledging the uncertainties that exist around the estimates of the magnitude and regional variation of climate changes, adopts what I think is a pragmatic and flexible approach by the scientific community, making a clear distinction between the current state of research and the options available to policymakers.

    “This document explains that there are well-understood physical mechanisms by which changes in the amounts of greenhouse gases cause climate changes. It discusses the evidence that the concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere have increased and are still increasing rapidly, that climate change is occurring, and that most of the recent change is almost certainly due to emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activities. Further climate change is inevitable; if emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated, future changes will substantially exceed those that have occurred so far. There remains a range of estimates of the magnitude and regional expression of future change, but increases in the extremes of climate that can adversely affect natural ecosystems and human activities and infrastructure are expected.

    Citizens and governments can choose among several options (or a mixture of those options) in response to this information: they can change their pattern of energy production and usage in order to limit emissions of greenhouse gases and hence the magnitude of climate changes; they can wait for changes to occur and accept the losses,
    damage and suffering that arise; they can adapt to actual and expected changes as much as possible; or they can seek as yet unproven ‘geoengineering’ solutions to counteract some of the climate changes that would otherwise occur. Each of these options has risks, attractions and costs, and what is actually done may be a mixture of these different
    options. Different nations and communities will vary in their vulnerability and their capacity to adapt. There is an important debate to be had about choices among these options, to decide what is best for each group or nation, and most importantly for the global population as a whole. The options have to be discussed at a global scale, because
    in many cases those communities that are most vulnerable control few of the emissions, either past or future. Our description of the science of climate change, with both its facts and its uncertainties, is offered as a basis to inform that policy debate.”

  • “On the critical issue of whether human activity is a cause of climate change, Science has been able to establish that recent climate change is largely caused by human activities from an understanding of basic physics”

    Significant swathes of the population don’t understand the science and are open to opposing views largely because it involves inconvenience and taking their money. You will never convince them. I’m a lapsed FRGS and even for me climate change science quickly becomes blah blah blah. Yet on the basis of blah blah blah proponents of man-made climate change want to hit my wallet hard with green taxes and levies. Large numbers of the electorate will not ever listen to these arguments and believe them, they think they are being conned by a green conspiracy. If you don’t convince the electorate you don’t get elected, and you don’t get the desired action. But argue that the risk of being held hostage over Middle East oil and Russian gas means we need to ramp up renewables and everyone will understand and agree with gusto. Same end result, full backing.

    The Romans used to grow grapes in the North of England. According to Jan Esper’s work on tree rings, quote from New Scientist: “The finding does not change our understanding of the warming power of carbon dioxide. In fact, it shows that human CO2 emissions have interrupted a long cooling period that would ultimately have delivered the next ice age.” So on that basis it would be very easy to make a popularist Mail / Express argument that even if there is man-made warming, it’s infinitely better than freezing to death. Save the Earth, go out and buy a gas guzzler before it’s too late. That is what you’re up against.

    Please, if you want renewables and I for one do, drop the counter-productive climate change arguments and use reasoning that resounds with the average man in the street.

  • This weeks economist has an interesting article http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21613161-mystery-pause-global-warming-may-have-been-solved-answer-seems noting “The mystery of the pause in global warming may have been solved. The answer seems to lie at the bottom of the sea.”

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