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Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 12:02 GMT
Climate change 'is the norm'
By Dr Martin Keeley
Geologist, and a Visiting Professor at University College London

Scientists use "proxy data" to reconstruct the ancient climate

Even as climate experts and politicians meet in Buenos Aires to mark the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, many sceptical scientists will still be arguing that the international consensus on "global warming" has got it wrong.

Those of us who study the pre-human history of the Earth find the current debate over global warming difficult to fathom. Climate changes - this is what it does.

To expect permanent stability in climate patterns displays a fundamental lack of understanding of the complexity and instability of weather.

If the global climate were not getting warmer, it would be getting cooler; stasis is not an option.

Ice caps either advance or retreat, and thank goodness. Following the last Ice Age, the climate is warming, and sea-level is rising - but well within their historical ranges.

As environments alter, so fauna and flora either adapt or die out; nature is very unsentimental.

But for the now-infamous and discredited "hockey stick" temperature curve for the last millennium, used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to add body to the case for Kyoto, most observers would not have suspended belief over claims that today's weather is the "mostest" "on record".

Time dependent

This expression is simply a lie. We know from the geological (and archaeological) record that weather variations and extremes are the norm.

Such extremes occur gradually and rapidly, and obviously were not human-induced (anthropogenic). How then can they represent a threat greater than that of terrorism, as the UK's chief scientist, Professor Sir David King, maintains, except to minds unwilling to accept the inevitability of planetary change?

Polar bear (AP)
On thin ice: "Fauna and flora either adapt or die out"
The factors influencing climate and sea-level change are multiple and complex, whether slow or rapid. I still cannot comprehend how anyone can hope to model even present day phenomena, never mind into the future; we still cannot predict next week's weather with any accuracy.

The real question then is not whether climate and sea level changes are occurring and are good or bad things; they have been occurring naturally for billions of years. Nor is the question whether these changes are actually taking place; a moot point at best, as there are conflicting data, but the question is utterly dependent on the time frame.

Rather, environmentalists ask whether climate change is anthropogenic, and if so, can it be stopped. I have come across no rigorous proof that wasteful human pollution has caused any significant climate change.

The accusation is that the hockey stick-shaped temperature track is built from selective data sets

One would be better off asking the question whether volcanic eruptions alter the weather; there at least we can answer "yes".

The only proof of anthropogenic climate change ever offered, which to my mind is fallacious, is that temperature has increased with Western industrialisation; before industrialisation, the hockey stick would negate the Medieval Climate Optimum and Little Ice Age.

There is a closer correlation between this latest warming and universal suffrage. In science, temporal coincidence between events is no proof of a causal link.

Media 'scare'

So, as we enter the third millennium, we should preoccupy ourselves not with the silly question of whether at outrageous expense we could predictably influence the weather, least of all by focusing on just a single component. Instead, we should consider how to adapt ourselves to the inevitability of natural climate and sea-level change.

The issue thus framed would completely alter the capital expenditure question facing policy makers, away from tinkering with the emissions from the cleaner, industrialised nations (thereby delaying modelled anthropogenic global warming by little more than a decade), and towards more pragmatic solutions.

Farm aid Soeren Ludvigsen with this year's potato crop in Eqaluit Ilua, southern Greenland (AP)
With further warming, crop production can move to higher latitudes
These might include the abandonment of sub-sea level lands condemned to flooding (including the Netherlands), shifting to Mediterranean crops in northern Europe, the re-cultivation of cold terrains (eg Greenland), and the aggressive reforestation as a microclimate control strategy to rehabilitate dry lands.

As for oil, it will almost certainly be too expensive to use as a mass energy source within 25 years.

Global warming is indeed a scam, perpetrated by scientists with vested interests, but in need of crash courses in geology, logic and the philosophy of science.

It provides the media with a new scare story, which has been picked up by the focus groups and turned into the new religion, offering us hell if we don't all change our ways. However, believing in anthropogenic global warming is not enough, but that is all it can offer.

The author, Dr Martin Keeley, is Visiting Professor in Petroleum Geology, at University College London, UK.

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