Monday, 25 May 2009

EnvironMentalism – or – Shouldn’t the Netherlands be underwater by now?

Shouldn't this be Holland by now?

Jeremy Clarkson wrote a recent article about how he recycles; amongst other more unClarksonesque character traits (slowing down for school zones, smiling at pensioners) even though he’s not sure about his reasons for doing so.
I’ve been trying to do my bit for a while. The easy things – recycling, driving a bit more carefully – getting the insulation sorted, and turning the thermostat down (and putting on a jumper when necessary) but most of this is for selfish reasons. It keeps the bills down, keeps me out of petrol stations, and stops me needing a bin that takes up the whole (pretty small) kitchen.
I’ve been doing some reading recently, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that humankind’s impact on the planet isn’t quite as devastating as was once claimed. Having a quick search on the internet – I found sites such as this, which are pretty heavy conspiracy theories about how governments and industry are making up the whole climate change “myth”. It seems that they believe the melting of the ice caps, depletion of the ozone layer and the overall increase in the global temperature are cyclical changes, which have been used as an excuse to increase taxes, control oil production, and generally have an excuse to change how we live our lives – increasing control and surveillance (microchips in wheelie bins anyone?)
There are a few pretty undeniable facts (unless you are a creationist – they’ll deny anything) which certainly add weight to their theories.
A few thousand years ago, there was an ice age. In fact I seem to remember (from books – I wasn’t there) that there were four of them. Mammoths and rhinoceroses were woolly (I can’t get my spell checker to make that word look correct. I want an h in there). In between each ice age it goes to figure that there was a warm bit. Maybe this is just one of those warm bits.
The thermometer was only invented pretty recently – certainly not while ice ages were happening. When they mention that it is the hottest day “since records began”, they mean – “recently” or “in the last few hundred years”, not “since man didn’t have to wear clothes as it was so freaking hot” or “since man had to find a decent tool with which to remove the wool from a mammoth cos it was a bit nippy out there”.
Melting the ice in my cocktail doesn’t give me a wet hand. Melting the North Pole won’t raise the sea level. However – melt the South Pole, or big chunks of Greenland, and you might be in trouble. Of course – if the temperature is hot enough to melt so much ice, it is probably going to be hot enough to evaporate some of that extra water – creating more clouds, and making it rain more, filling the rivers and the oceans and raising the sea level. Maybe. I don’t have a doctorate in enviroclimatology – can you tell?
We aren’t the only ones producing greenhouse gasses. Even Greenpeace admit (possibly the wrong word – they are stating facts as they understand them.) that natural sources of greenhouse gasses are causing a large proportion of the changes. Methane is twenty times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – and there are massive amounts of that under the oceans and generally locked away. Imagine if it all bubbled to the surface of its own accord. Then there would be trouble.
Here’s a theory – lets but combi boilers into the atmosphere – gathering the methane, and burning it into CO2 – hey presto – each methane molecule becomes a CO2 molecule and a bit of water, and that CO2 is far less of a greenhouse gas. (I have no idea how much oxygen would be needed in burning off all the atmospheric methane – possible more than we have to breathe. Please don’t take this idea seriously until you’ve done the appropriate calculations. It might end up like the environmental equivalent of the (awful) movie “vertical limit” which I’ll spoil for you now – it is apparently worth sending 20 mountaineers to their deaths just to save one relatively pretty (but also pretty inept) girl.)
Remember when we were first told about this impending catastrophe? It was about 1990, and the figures quoted were that fossil fuels would run out in the first 25 years of the 21st century, that sea levels would rise significantly within 10 years, Holland, Norfolk, and large chunks of other low lying countries would sink – (of course – New Orleans did – but this would be due to a hurricane – not a gradual increase in sea levels – they were a bit mad to build a city below sea level anyway, and it did give the media an excuse to come up with a new phrase – climate chaos.)
It doesn’t help that with approximately 436 24 hour news channels, we now discover every detail of everything that happens everywhere. With more cameras than there are atoms in the universe (ok I made that up) we see all these horrific images of polar bears looking like the Glacier Mint advert – floating through the ocean on their own personal iceberg.

Every time a bit of ice falls into the sea – we know about it. Maybe this is because of the MTV generation. Who wants to watch a glacier form over 10,000 years, when you can watch one melt in 30 seconds? Which is exciting – which is more fun? Glaciers may well still be forming – the ice will refreeze, and the polar bears will find some more to sit on, and keep on eating the seals.

I don’t think there is 100% certainty that we’re making all the difference. Of course – I also can’t deny that we aren’t helping. Setting fire to large chunks of the world, and killing the aspects of it that would be helping produce the oxygen we breathe are undoubtedly really stupid things to do. So I’m going to keep on doing my bit.
Except for carrier bags. We're always being told about "fixed carbon" and "carbon capture" - what better way to fix carbon than to make carrier bags out of it, and leave them lying around my house. we should be stuffing our cavity walls with them, and insulating our lofts with them. Every extra carrier bag is another 0.000001 tonne of carbon fixed.
Recycling raw materials. Not filling holes in the ground with potentially useful stuff. Not burning fuel we don’t need to burn. Using power obtained in a more natural way. All these things make sense to anyone – whether you think we are to blame or we aren’t – these are easy things I’ll keep doing – they certainly won’t do anyone any harm.
And the world would be a better place with more polar bears. Unless you are seal.


Awallafashagba said...

I am concerned over the 3 changes of font ..... great piece tho

evergrowingbrain said...

I've not worked out how to control such detail.

now i've finished the holiday blogs, i'll get back to writing about something more interesting.