Climate change debate continues

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EDITOR – It was encouraging to note that the paper is apparently fostering discussion in something approaching the best traditions of scientific discourse.

That, at least, appears to be the case in respect of Peter Sanderson’s response (‘letters’, 24 October) to my earlier communication on the subject of climate change.

As writers in the scientific community do, he moderates or re-examines his position, or becomes more circumspect in expression when presented with a position that is different from his own.

Thus, whilst in an earlier letter he underpins his case with, ‘….all leading scientists…..’, he now writes, ‘……the majority of scientific thinking’ – although, as he warms to his subject, this then becomes, ‘…the vast majority’.

There is, of course, nothing wrong, per se, with the concept of ‘majority’ – after all, a ‘majority’ of leading scientists (one might say, the ‘vast majority’) once thought that the world was flat. He also remembers to remind us of the importance of a broad energy mix; that where climate change is perceived, it appears not to be universal, but varied and complex, that gas-fired power stations have a role in energy provision(though only in the ‘medium-term, apparently) and that no less a body than the International Panel on Climate Change has now acknowledged conflicting evidence on the subject. In deciding to paint on a broader canvas, Peter is to be commended for his reflection and re-statement of his material.

However, we are left, unfortunately, with one or two residual issues before we surge enthusiastically, rather like those unfortunate ‘inhabitants’ of Hamlin, behind the champions of global warming and the proponents of wind power (as part of the energy ‘mix’, or otherwise).

Firstly, it may be somewhat ill-advised to hold up the IPCC as a bastion of good practice and sound scientific thought, since this is the same organisation that made sweeping pronouncements on climate change on the basis of an article in ‘Nature’ magazine (one hesitates to refer to it as a ‘journal’, for reasons that follow), which in turn was based on a student dissertation.

This is not to disparage dissertations, of course (I’ve written a couple myself), but they are seldom, if ever, in my experience, the foundation stone for global action plans – something rather more substantial generally being required.

Then there is the question of ‘level playing fields’: do other forms of energy such as wave and tidal power, for example, receive the same investment and subsidy as wind turbines?

Sadly, not. Is there an appropriate correspondence between the extensive funding required from the taxpayer for wind power and its efficiency?

Sadly not: the billions of pounds required give us a technology which, at best, functions at 25 per cent of its ‘capacity’ (a term often used to maximise the attractions of wind as a source of energy).

Perhaps the Conservative Party’s intention to reduce the enormous subsidies paid to the industry by 25% (subsequently frustrated by the Liberal part of the Coalition and amended to a figure of 10 per cent) indicates some glimmer of recognition of this iniquity and indefensible investment?

I do agree with Peter Sanderson that whilst doubt exists about what is actually happening to our planet, there should be well-conceived research and enquiry and that the UK should continue to review effective alternative energy sources, on an economic basis, if no other. I am less convinced than he, however, that the debate of the last 20 years on climate change has been firmly concluded.

In any event, we cannot escape the fact that whilst investment continues at an exponential rate in the technology in question, in an effort to reduce the two per cent of the world’s pollution that the UK produces, some of the most populous areas on earth such as India and China have no such scruples, preferring, instead, to regard industrial and economic advancement as their primary goals.

Dr Mike Stopper