Climate Change: The Keywords (Part 1 of 3)

By Geraldo Luís Lino

In the not too distant future, it will likely be difficult to understand how so many educated people believed in and accepted uncritically for so long a scientifically unproven theory like the so-called Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Taken almost as a dogma, the AGW has been forcefully imposed by means of a barrage of scare stories and indoctrination that begins in the elementary school textbooks and is volleyed relentlessly upon us by the media and many scientific institutions (including some pseudo-scientific ones), while gullible or opportunistic politicians devise all possible means of inserting climate-motivated items into their power-seeking schemes.

The threat allegedly posed by that supposed world emergency would justify the need of at least halving the human carbon emissions until mid-century, meaning a draconian reduction of the use of fossil fuels worldwide. Despite the drastic potential impact of such measures upon the living standards of all nations, the failure to do so and of establishing a “low-carbon economy,” we are told, would usher the environmental apocalypse in. Well, fortunately for Mankind it won’t.

However, that avalanche has gone too far. So, it’s high time to turn the alarmist page and discard the buzzwords with which the subject has been marketed once and for all: (undeserved) hype, (unmotivated) scare, (unnecessary) restrictions and (unacceptable) sacrifices. In their stead new keywords are needed to put the climatic phenomena into their proper perspective again: proportion, knowledge and resilience.

Let’s begin with trying to give the climate theme the right proportion concerning its nature and relationship with Mankind.

The environmentalist propaganda machine has ascribed an intrinsically negative and threatening connotation to the expression climate change, as if the climatic oscillations of the last century and a half were something unprecedented and implying that it should be combated at any cost – even if this would hamper the development perspectives of most of the developing countries (and as if Mankind had the necessary knowledge and means to do so). Notwithstanding, changing is the natural condition of the Earth’s climate – in the historical and geological time scales there has never been and there will never be such a thing as a “static” climate (so, climate change is sort of a pleonasm). As a rule of thumb, during 90% of the Phanerozoic eon (the latest 570 million years) the Earth has experienced temperatures higher than the current ones, and 90% of the Quaternary period (the latest 2.6 million years) have elapsed under glacial conditions and temperatures much lower than the current ones.

The Quaternary has also witnessed the most frequent and rapid climatic oscillations in the Earth’s geological history, alternating between cool glacial and warm interglacial periods in 41,000- and 100,000-year cycles. In the last 800,000 years the longer cycles have prevailed and the Earth experienced eight Ice Ages approximately 90,000-year long separated by eight interglacial periods averaging 10,000-11,000 years (although there are controversies about their length).

During the Ice Ages the average temperatures were 8-10oC lower than the current ones, the sea levels were 120-130 m lower and much of the Northern Hemisphere was covered by an ice pack up to 4 km thick, down to the 40oN parallel (the latitude of nowadays New York). During the interglacials the average temperatures reached 4-6oC and the sea levels 3-6 m above the current ones. Our own interglacial the Holocene, which started 11,500-11,700 years ago, had average temperatures up to 4oC and sea levels up to 3 m above the current ones between 5,000-6,000 years ago (Middle Holocene).

The transition periods between the warming and cooling phases and vice versa, when the average temperatures rose or fell the 6-8oC that make the difference between an interglacial and an Ice Age, have lasted from a few centuries to a few decades. [1]

The genus Homo appeared on Earth soon after the onset of the Quaternary. Our species the Homo sapiens sapiens emerged during the penultimate Ice Age, somewhere between 150,000-200,000 years ago. And our problem-solver, city-builder, technological, scientific, industrial and artistic Civilization has been existing entirely in the Holocene and its warmer temperatures that allowed the advent of agriculture.

Some useful tips emerge from such facts:

The wild oscillations of the Quaternary are the general climatic condition faced by Humankind ever. We have been coping with them quite successfully and nothing suggests that we cannot continue to do so (as long as common sense and non-partisan science prevail).
They outline a background “noise” that by far overshadows the tiny rise of the temperature and sea levels (and their gradients) that have occurred since the late 19th century – respectively 0.8oC and 0.2 m, according to the IPCC. [2] This simply means that there is no scientific way to attribute causes other than natural to these, because the background “noise” has yielded much wider and faster oscillations of the temperatures and sea levels occurring before the Industrial Revolution.

The Quaternary climate dynamics seems to be “self-adjusted” to the boundary conditions outlined by the Ice Ages and interglacials. So, the suggested risk of a “runaway warming” or some kind of climate disruption from the human carbon emissions is far-fetched, specially regarding the much ballyhooed “magic number” of 2oC warming that supposedly could not be exceeded (a political contrivance admitted by its own author, the German physicist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber in an interview to the Spiegel Online website). [3] During the interglacials there were higher temperatures without any kind of “runaway” disturbance.

Real global emergencies

As to the real global emergencies requiring urgent actions on new levels of international attention, cooperation, coordination and funding, there is no shortage of them. For those seriously interested in this business, here are some that do not exist only in supercomputer-run mathematical models and that would benefit very much from fractions of the colossal amounts of money – and human resources – that have been wasted with the non-existent AGW:

The world’s most serious environmental troubles, particularly in the developing countries, are those related to the lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, like water pollution and the water-borne diseases that kill a child every 15 seconds in the developing countries, according to the World Health Organization. [4] A 2007 poll conducted by the British Medical Journal among physicians all over the world elected fresh water and sanitation infrastructure as the greatest medical advance of the last 150 years – a “privilege” still unavailable for over 40% of the world’s population. [5] In Brazil, less than half of the population have access to sewage systems and two thirds of the child internments in the public health system are due to water-borne diseases. [6] (I’ve never seen Al Gore, Hollywood stars or the major environmental NGOs campaigning for sanitation.)

Hunger and its consequences kill a child every six seconds, according to the FAO. [7] Almost one billion people all over the world suffer from chronic hunger, a scenario that will surely worsen due to the current speculation-driven price rise affecting some basic staples. [8] Besides the immoral waste of productive lives, the annual economic cost of such a tragedy in productivity, revenue, investment and consumption losses is estimated in the order of hundreds of billion dollars. [9]
The lack of access by much of the world’s population to modern energy sources. Dung and firewood, the most primitive fuels known to Mankind, are still the basic resources for the daily needs of most of the Sub-Saharan Africans (besides being major sources of deforestation and respiratory diseases). Although with lower figures, the same happens in much of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. And, as over 80% of the world’s primary energy needs are provided by coal, oil and natural gas, it’s not difficult to ascertain the potential consequences of the intended restriction of their uses, as proposed by many scientists, environmentalists, politicians, carbon traders and all the people terrified by the AGW scare stories. Besides that, thermoelectric plants generate about two thirds of the world’s electricity, the rest being almost totally provided by hydroelectric and nuclear plants (also increasingly targeted by the environmentalists). [10]

The list of real troubles is much longer, but these few examples suffice to demonstrate the distortions of the agenda of global discussions, both among the policymakers and the public opinion in general (which, in the case of the climate issues, also reflect a widespread deficiency of scientific education among the educated strata of the societies).

In any case, make no mistake. Barring an unforeseen technological breakthrough, there won’t be large scale replacements for the fossil fuels until late this century at least. Massive national and international investments in efficient and integrated multi-modal and urban transportation systems may and should help to reduce the use of automobiles and trucks, particularly in the overcrowded big cities. For power generation, there are the options of harnessing the hydroelectric potential still available, the expansion of nuclear energy and the interlinking of continental and even inter-continental power grids in order to enhance both the energy efficiency and security for all countries involved (forget the current “alternative sources” for large scale uses, they are not technologically and economically feasible for energizing urban and industrial societies). However – and hence –, coal, oil and natural gas will continue to be sources of development and progress for a long time yet – and it is unacceptable that its growing use be hindered by an imaginary threat.

The author is a Brazilian geologist and author of the book “The Global Warming Fraud: How a Natural Phenomenon was Converted into a False World Emergency” (published in 2009 in Portuguese, with over 5,000 copies sold so far, and soon to be published in Spanish in Mexico).

Sources:

The Paleomap Project, website of University of Texas (Arlington) geologist Dr. Christopher R. Scotese, provides a good overview on the Earth’s geologic, geographic and climatic evolution over the past 1.1 billion years, with a well-written text and didactic animated maps that are useful and interesting for general readers and professional geoscientists alike (www.scotese.com).

For an excellent description of the Quaternary climatic history, see the Chapter 2 of Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science (Lanham: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2009). Spanish language readers may find particularly interesting the website of Dr. Antón Uriarte, a geographer at the Universidad del País Vasco, Paleoclimatologia: Historia del Clima y Cambios Climáticos

IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report – Summary for Policymakers .

Marco Evers, Olaf Stampf and Gerald Traufette, “A Superstorm for Global Warming Research”, Spiegel Online, 1/04/2010, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,686697,00.html

Oliver Cumming, Tackling the silent killer: the case for sanitation. London: WaterAid, July 2008,

Sarah Boseley, “Sanitation rated the greatest medical advance in 150 years”, The Guardian, 1/19/2007

Marcelo Cortes Neri (Coord.), Trata Brasil: Saneamento e Saúde. Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Getúlio Vargas, 2007.
Bread for the World, “Hunger Facts: International”,

FAO, “Hunger

FAO/Alessandra Benedetti, “Hunger on the rise: soaring prices add 75 million people to global hunger rolls”, 9/18/2008
International Energy Agency statistics page

Geraldo Luís Lino is a Brazilian geologist and author of the book “The Global Warming Fraud: How a Natural Phenomenon was Converted into a False World Emergency” (published in 2009 in Portuguese, with over 5,000 copies sold so far, and soon to be published in Spanish)

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