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Global Warming

These days it’s really difficult to escape the news about global warming; it’s everywhere: on the TV, in the papers, on the Internet and it seems that everyone is talking about it. The problem is that lots of the information out there is unscientific. Some of it is pure guess work and it really depends on who you get the information from in the first place. Arrrhhhggghhhh….so, what’s really going on? Well, this is a very tricky question indeed. First of all, let’s have a look at some of what’s being said and how it stands up against observation.

Montage
Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas

= True, but so are water vapour, methane and ozone

Carbon dioxide is the most significant greenhouse gas

Water Vapour

= Well, not really. Scientists think that water vapour is more of a problem than Co2, twice as much in fact!

Methane is also a major greenhouse gas

Methane

= This gas may have a really big impact in the future. If the Earth does continue to warm, millions of tonnes of methane will be released. This is because places like the Tundra and Siberia hold tonnes of rotting vegetation which contains just as much methane. If the Earth warms then the methane will be released as the ice melts. It may already be happening now. If it is happening already then it will speed up the process.

The multiplier factor

Multiplier factors speed up global warming once it has started. The best known is the ice factor. It works like this: ice at the poles and in glaciers reflects lots of the heat the Earth receives from the sun back out into space. But if the ice melts it reflects less heat causing the temperature to rise further; this causes more ice to melt. In science this is called a positive feedback loop. There may be many of them at work with global warming. Look out for them as they hit the news over the next decade.

Poles reflect heat into space

‘Wind power is the way forward for Britain’

The truth is that Britain is not a very good place for wind turbines. There either isn’t enough wind or it blows so strong that the turbines have to be shut down. The best sites for wind farms in Britain tend to be a long way from the population centres, but this is where the power is needed. The grid system will need to be extended massively to carry the power to the towns. This is very costly and requires a lot of energy to achieve. The energy used to extend the grid system will cause pollution. They also ruin the beauty of the countryside, and not to mention killing many wild birds.

Wind Farm

Can wind farms be relied on?

Not when the wind stops blowing. This is why conventional power stations still have to be kept running so that they can take over whenever the wind stops blowing. So the question is, ‘are wind farms really that environmentally friendly after all?’

New gas-fired power stations

These are currently being built in large numbers. They are considered to be a tiny bit green because they produce about half the CO2 output of a coal-fired power station. What you are not told is that all fossil-fuel power stations are inefficient. Only about 30% of the energy in the gas is turned into electricity.

But gas is in short supply

Not only is gas in short supply but it’s also very expensive. If the natural gas can be piped into people’s homes, over 90% of its energy can be converted into useful heat by a modern boiler. This is by far the best use of natural gas. The problem is if we use the gas to drive power stations we throw away nearly three quarters of its energy before it even gets to our homes!

An alternative view: climate change is always going to happen

The earth’s climate changes with time. It always has changed and it always will change. We are never going to be able to engineer the atmosphere to be able to keep the climate just as we like it. At some point in the future, no matter what we do, we will be faced with global warming. It has happened many times in the past and will happen many times in the future. We simply have to learn to live with the consequences.

The last bout of global warming

The last time a major bout of global warming happened was at the end of the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago. It turned out to be a huge plus for mankind. The sea levels did rise but people just moved inland. As the temperatures increased people could grow more food. The human population thrived.

What’s the difference between then and now?

The big difference between then and now is that politics has been invented. Nation states did not exist 20,000 years ago. People could move easily between countries and grow food in the most agriculturally productive land. If the sea levels rise again today then people will try to do what our ancestors did: simply walk inland. The big problem they will face is that they will walk to a border of another country. The border guard will have a machine gun a will probably say, ‘stay put!’ What do you do in this situation?

Places where the most food is produced will move. In fact, we even be able to produce more food, but it may not happen in the same places as today. Whole industries will have to up root and change location. The French wine industry may become the Scandinavian wine industry! Nice glass of château de Tromso Bjorn!
In reality, the planet does not need saving. We may need saving from each other.

The elephant in the room

Even if we did massively reduce carbon dioxide production we still have to deal with over population. If the whole of Europe and North America disappeared tomorrow the world would replace the population loss in only 30 years. The world population is set to double in only 60 years. Supporting an extra 6,500,000,000 people is going to be very difficult indeed, even without worrying about reducing the energy consumption of the human race.

Nuclear stuff

What will actually happen is that the world will become more and more dependent on nuclear power. Britain will be building nuclear power stations as fast as it can. At present it looks like even our education system will struggle to produce enough science graduates just to run them once they are built.

Future Nuclear Power Stations

Why nuclear?

Because it is the only reliable technology that can stop the lights going out in the next couple of decades! No government can let that happen. Nothing else can be done quickly enough.

Susquehanna nuclear power station

Make your mind up time

What do you think about global warming? What conclusions have you come to? What do you think is the best way forward? Every article you will ever see, hear or read will be to some extent biased to towards one view point. Make sure you have a view and can justify that view. Our future may just depend on you!

Our future may depend on you

Project

Produce a powerpoint presentation highlighting the many contradictory statements and frequent ‘bad science’ used during the global warming debate.

The big questions:

Is global warming unique to the present or has it happened in the past?

Can we prevent global warming?

What are the main causes of global warming?

To whom do we listen when trying to find out what’s actually going on?