|You are in: Talking Point|
Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 15:02 GMT
Global warming: Are we doing enough?
Select a link below to watch the latest edition of Talking Point On Air:
A 200-metre thick Antarctic ice shelf larger than the American state of Rhode Island and weighing 500 billion tonnes has broken apart in less than two months.
Experts say that this might be an indication of a strong climate change in the Antarctic.
In 1998, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey predicted that several ice shelves were doomed because of rising temperatures in the region - but the pace with which events are developing has shocked them.
Some experts say that this was a "purely natural phenomenon". Others suggest that the break-off might have been caused by global warming and warn that if the Kyoto agreement is not implemented, more similar events could be expected in the future.
The Kyoto protocol on combating global warming nearly collapsed last year when the US decided to pull out of it.
Do you think that global warming is a real threat? Are governments doing enough to combat it?
We discussed these issues in Talking Point, the phone-in programme of the BBC World Service and BBC News Online. Our guest was Jeremy Leggett of the Environmental Change Institute in Oxford.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I have no doubt that global warming is occurring. I would however suggest that the only effective way to reduce the effect of our damage to the ecosystem is to reduce the population. This planet was never intended to support so many people and it is clear that we will all pretty soon be standing on each others heads. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life like that? Increasing temperatures are ideal for growing all sorts of nasty biological cross bred diseases so perhaps it will be one of these that will ultimately reduce our thermal runaway!
During the early 1960's I was involved in climate history research at Stockholm University. This was before Rachael Carlson's book Silent Spring had made the climate and environment sensitive issues. There was room for impartial observation.
We were taught, and we observed and we accepted that the climate has never been stable since the last Ice Age - say the last ten thousand years. We were taught that the last glaciation was terminated by a violent and catastrophic warming of the climate, as witnessed by deposits from that time. We were taught that, during the Stone Age in Sweden, there were oak forests north of the Arctic Circle and that the stumps are still there. Why, then, must the present warming be attributed solely to mankind's exhaust fumes? What is it that motivates politicians and scientists to blame these fumes without considering all available evidence? Can we be the victims of a gigantic scientific hoax?
It is true that climate change in nothing new. However, evidence of abrupt climate change in the past should serve as a warning rather than as encouragement to disregard our impacts on the Earth's climate. The climate has a tendency to flip between different states; by producing greenhouse gases we are merely increasing the chances that dramatic climate change will happen sooner rather than later.
Societies have adapted to climate change in the past, but they have done so by radically changing their means of food production (e.g. adopting sedentary agriculture) and mass migration. These options are severely limited today because of high population densities and geopolitical factors. In many ways we are more poorly equipped to adapt to climate change than our ancestors were. The worst effects will be felt in the developing world. Are those who advocate doing nothing for economic reasons prepared for their countries to accept millions of migrants fleeing the worst effects of climate change?
Come on, get real!
Does anyone still believe that governments are capable of doing anything useful? They are only concerned with getting re-elected. It is up to ordinary people to use energy more efficiently.
What a load of nonsense! The NOAA satellites have been monitoring temperatures for 23 years and have detected no warming. The ice peninsula in question had been growing for many years and was bound to break away sooner or later. The Global Warming Brigade clutch at any "evidence" to prove their cause in their quest to take us back to the Stone Age. Back in the 1600's, temperatures were 2 degrees higher than they are today without any man-made CO2 emissions. We are being led up the garden path!
I don't think we are doing enough at the moment, but we will soon once we are all more aware of the juggernaut of a problem that this global warming is. Its all about consumer demand - where are all the emission-free cars and solar powered roofing manufacturers out there? Why don't our sport stars, pop stars, chat show hosts and even members of the Royal Family set the example and make this fashionable. Why don't the politicians jump at the chance to pour money and incentive into "green" research and technologies. It's obvious the international demand will follow.
More than 70% of the warming that took place in the last century happened before 1940, i.e. before the greatest period of industrialisation and the rise of the motorcar which the anti-technology green movement like to blame for all our ills. Furthermore the computer models used to predict future warming use tree ring data to determine temperatures up to 1900 and thermometer readings from then on. The resulting graph has been described as looking like a bungalow built onto a skyscraper. Global warming as a result of human activity is a mistaken belief based on bad science. The sooner everybody accepts that and we bury the issue and move on to deal with more pressing problems such as starvation and poverty the better.
We are certainly not doing enough to reduce anthropogenic emissions which contribute to global warming. Having spent three years of my PhD reading the scientific literature concerning changes in ecosystems in response to climate change I am sure that what is predicted to happen next century will occur. Of course the earth has its own climatic cycles but it must be an ignorant person to think that 6 billion people consuming the earth does not have an adverse effect on the atmosphere!
We are attending to a significant, progressive climatic change.That's a fact.
We must not waste our time fighting about whether that change is human-dependant or not .In both cases we must do something to protect ourselves. We need much more information before acting .Like in Medicine, the first step is diagnosis. An early diagnosis!
AN Strahler, Inverness, Scotland
Global warming is a real problem threatening humanity. As an artist, working on nature and the elements, I can see more and more signs that indicate climatic change. The only way to tackle the issue is by means of an international and global effort. It is totally unacceptable and immoral, that the US behaves in a way that is not only egoistic but also irresponsible.
Abel Voker Monrovia, Liberia
There is no doubt that global warming must be happening to some extent, due to us burning fossil fuels and destroying forests. There is also no doubt that so far our attempts to steer our habits away from this, and towards renewables, are feeble by comparison to what is needed.
In Europe we should stop slanging off the Americans all the time. They need to cut down their consumption sure, but it's about time us Europeans started taking some action ourselves. Just look at a satellite photo of Europe from the air at night and look at all that wasted energy, or drive past a retail park after hours. We have a long way to go before we can really starting advising other. Whenever this argument normally comes up the Europeans spring their own defence by saying that we have signed Kyoto. True, but will this really make any difference, 8% emissions reductions on 1990 levels is hardly something to proud of.
Peter Bolton, UK/US
The reality is that the Earth's population is in excess of 6 billion and growing steadily. Regardless of whether you believe in global warming or not, the reality is that the Earth is a finite resource that has been affected by the huge human population. We must deal with global warming, because even if it's not a problem now, it will inevitably be. Given the dependence on fossil fuels, people must begin to seriously think about change.
If global warming continues then Britons and other people from cold regions will not have to fly to warm places for holidays, therefore there will be less jet fumes released in the atmosphere, then CO2 will be reduced and so will global temperature and we'll be back to square one. How about that?
Ryo, Tokyo, Japan
Scientist have a nerve, having been completely discredited by such storms as foot and mouth, the public sees them for what they are now, self important puppets of various industries. Why should climate and energy be any different? Regardless of the scientific arguments it is in our interests as individuals to find healthier and more sustainable ways of living, whatever effect this might ultimately have on the planet and each other. Driving through our towns at 5 mph in a vehicle capable of ascending mountains, with an empty 3 piece suite clearly doesn't make efficiency, economic and healthy sense when you can cycle comfortably at 10mph, and increase that easily to 15 or 20 mph if in a hurry.
I agree with the opening statement that the break-off is the result of strong climatic change. The add-on statement that this change is the result of global warming is pure speculation and is nothing more than a sales pitch to ensure further research funding. With the exception of a brief period 330 million years ago, carbon dioxide levels are the lowest that they have ever been, and the polar ice-caps as at their largest since the "snow-ball" earth (540Ma). The observed climatic changes are the result of cycles and changes in weather patterns, not from rises in global temperature averages.
Aidy, Sheffield UK
Maybe we are warming the earth, maybe not. Either way we know that fossil fuels are poisonous and finite.
Where do you live? Do you ever see a blue sky? We were blessed with one in Melbourne today but Australia should follow Kyoto and more to preserve what so many have already forgotten.
World leaders discussing global warming? It's a lot of hot air.
I don't care whether there's a proven link between human activity and global warming. I don't care whether there's any proof that global warming is even occurring. Surely, if there is even a small chance that we are influencing global climate, it makes total sense to take prudent action in terms of reducing output of greenhouse gasses.
Paul Charters, London, England
Global Warming you say?
If it means that I don't have to fly to Lanzarote to get some sun in ten years, then I'm all for it!
Don't waste our tax on the weapons and wars! Let us improve our environment!
I fear that individuals neither have the capacity nor the motivation to alter their lifestyles to alleviate the dangers of global warming. In order to have any kind of effect, the governments of the world have to "force", if needs be, their polices which would go some way in tackling this global problem. Asking someone not to throw their old refrigerator on the city dump or refrain from using anti-persperant is a waste of time.
I reckon that if global warming is to stop, the activities of the multinational corporations should be regulated. They are so blind that they cannot see that their activities are not only destroying the poor peoples' resources but they are inimical to fauna and flora, let alone their own lives. This is absolutely absurd. If this is a result of capitalist intoxication then we need an alternative system that can take into consideration the environment and all its occupants. I therefore propose that socialism is the panacea for these ills.
So, the fracturing of the Antarctic ice shelves is speeding up at 'shocking speed'! What's next? The Ronne ice shelf? God prevent that! Warm air starts pushing towards the glaciers of the continent proper. Scientists once calculated the melting speed of ice in relation to their entire volume (during the short Antarctic summers). Which gave us some time to act upon. Now they have discovered that pools of melting water on top of the ice sheets act like wedges that cleave the sheets at tremendous speed. What once was believed to take tens or hundreds of years now happens in less than three months. Surprise, surprise! Mother Earth starts acting like a mediocre science-fiction novel, right under our own eyes. A new warning that we will probably will continue to ignore, since there are so much more important matters like the tariffs on steel import and our annual pay rise.
"To prevent global warming will cost money" someone argues. Please explain what is the cost of driving a sensible fuel-efficient car instead of a gas guzzling 4-wheel drive truck? There are plenty of other ways in which saving energy saves money, so please lets stop this pretence that we can't afford to cut CO2 emissions.
As long as money is a factor and the economy of a country is priority over a doomed environment (take note US), we are doomed as a race. And perhaps that is not a bad thing. Since our very existence we have been like a cancer to this planet.
Who cares as long as the rich get richer?
There is nothing that we can do which will affect global warming. It is due to the activity of the sun reducing cloud cover. In the past massive changes in temperature - global rises of +10°C within the space of five years! - have taken place with no humans in sight, all due to the variability of the sun.
When Mother Nature has had enough she will get rid of us period. Blame the US, scream to god for help, but it won't matter. When the lady sings our last song, we are through.
Are the people on this site who claim the effect of man on the environment is negligible the same people who claim smoking does not cause lung cancer?
Tim Cadman, Bellingen, Australia
There is no issue where there is a greater disconnect between perception and reality. I see some comments that indicate that companies like Enron are hindering efforts to confront global warming. In reality Enron lobbied heavily in favour of the Kyoto protocol because as an energy trader they concluded that they could profit from emission credit trading. They were also part of the campaign to smear scientists who disagree with the greenhouse theory. That is probably not front-page news in most places, but neither is the Oregon Petition where 18,000 climate experts challenge the scientific basis for Kyoto. They point out that satellites and weather balloons show no atmospheric warming in last twenty years, that the models used by the IPCC are flawed and sensitive to CO2, our lack of knowledge of cloud physics, and the general political nature of the Kyoto debate. However, their voices are muted. Instead we are spoon fed by the media that all scientists are greenhouse proponents and that all corporations, not scientific uncertainty, are the dissenting forces in the greenhouse debate. Hysteria rules, and the objective pursuit of scientific fact falls by the wayside.
There is nothing that we can do which will affect global warming. It is due to the activity of the sun reducing cloud cover. In the past, massive changes in temperature - global rises of +10°C within the space five years! - have taken place, with no humans in sight, all due to the variability of the sun.
Steve Donegan, Honolulu, USA
I suspect that future generations will be baffled that we did not reduce greenhouse gasses by making more use of nuclear power. Nuclear power produces much less greenhouse emissions, doesn't use up our precious fossil fuel resources, and is as cheap or cheaper than power produced from coal or oil.
The hole above the Ozone layer has increased by over 500% since the industrial revolution in the late 1800's. I don't think that can be attributed to natural phenomenon.
Peter Slack, Rayleigh Essex
As a 17-year-old student, studying geography at A2 level, and taking on a geography degree in the coming October, global warming is a huge issue. We know that fluctuations in temperature have occurred in the past, and this may be a reason contributing to "global warming". However, it is reasonable to blame human activity. People did not know the effects that their actions may have had on the planet when they started burning fossil fuels, and when they were developing (which many still are).
What is normal temperature? 700 years ago there were vineyards as far north a Yorkshire. 300 years ago there were frost fairs on the frozen Thames. Climate change happens despite what we do not necessarily because of what we do.
Well I for one welcome the idea that this planet might warm up a little. It's been freezing here for months, and I'm fed up with it.
Ahmed Qadri, Chicago, United States
I am not a sophisticated geologist or climatologist, but I have lived long enough to know that it has been getting hotter and hotter in the tropics of Africa in the last two decades or so. As it gets hotter, people are clamouring for cheaper air-conditioners. Cheap imports and local varieties of questionable engineering appear as if from hot air. With the polluting nations not setting a good example, I think unscrupulous manufacturers in the new countries are using non-ozone friendly coolant gases. We cant stop killing each other, lets at least stop killing our lovely blue home.
The fact is that to reduce CO2 emissions will mean a lot of people making a lot of changes, and not just those who have to travel. Household heating creates more than twice as much CO2 as transport does. Which is more important to you? To live in a warm house or to travel to work? It seems that the Government would rather we have warm houses than have us travelling to work, seeing that they only put a paltry 5% tax on heating fuel.
Joe, New York, USA
I'm not selfish; I'm just not doing anything because no one else is!
Ecosystems on earth are scales too huge for humans to fully understand. No scientists would assert that global warming has been proven true, while each citizen on this planet should instead be humbler to Nature
If you really want to do something about global warming, instead of using your polluting car, use a train, bus, plane, and bicycle or walk instead. Or better still; avoid the need to travel at all if you can (e.g. work/shop from home). Most people put their own well-being in front of the Planet Earth they live on.
How can we possibly be doing enough? We haven't even conclusively proven that global warming is a manmade phenomenon. It wasn't very long ago we were being told of another impending Ice Age.
Keith W, UK
Fundamentally, this problem is due to non-renewable energy consumption. There is significant progress being made in terms of providing what western democracies would consider to be the 'optimum solution' i.e. market based through carbon trading and the increasing availability of a range of renewable energy technologies.
However, most of the ineffectiveness behind the tackling of these issues stems from the fragmentation of environmental policy making. Should the global community now be considering as a matter of urgency the establishment of a substantially resourced, scientifically focussed Global Environment Organisation? Such an environmental 'structure of governance' could be housed within the UN, superseding the role of UNEP and may indeed be the only way that climate change and other forms of trans-boundary pollution will ever receive the recognition it deserves.
Global warming is a current problem. A lot of measures are already taken, but the problem has not been solved yet. We do not think there is a perfect solution, but we can pay more attention to not making the greenhouse effect worse. Factories could, for example, take extra measures, to avoid an environmental disaster and we could try to use our car less. The government can give subsidies to factories which wanted to do extra effort to help solve the problem. The government also can raise the taxes on petrol. Nobody can give us the guarantee that these measures will help, but it is a good start.
Lode Hoeyberghs, Wim Hermans, Leuven Belgium
People are now meant to be so much aware of the Earth and more intelligent than before yet we ignore all of our own Worlds illnesses.
Why not just treat the Earth like it was our own child? It is basically our parent, nevermind child.
The potential economic benefits alone of policies for reducing CO2 emissions should spur us into action. For instance, reducing private car use alone could lead to:
Peter Barber, Manchester, England
I think anyone who's asking for scientific unanimity on this point doesn't understand the nature of science. I'm sure I could dig up a 'scientist' somewhere who still believes the earth is flat.
Because science, unlike politics or business, is rigorous, it is almost impossible to definitively prove something is true; the best one can do is pay attention to overwhelming evidence.
It's interesting that most of the money is on the side of those denying human-induced climate change, & yet the majority voice is still suggesting it's going on. Even with large amounts of money to inflate their seeming authority, the "no global warming" camp are a small minority within the scientific community.
I can't believe how ignorant people are. Most of the comments on this page come straight out of the environmental lobbyist's book of claptrap. The environmentalists have fed you so many doom and gloom stories over the years that you now actually believe in them. Why don't you wake up and face the fact that not everything an environmental group says is true! To all you guys in the USA, not all of us Europeans are against you.
Jason Patzlaff, Groningen, Netherlands
Are we doing enough to counter "global warming"? I think we are being very arrogant to believe that we can defy or amend the way the earth evolves and changes. We are simply a flash, a very small and irrelevant part of the earth's history. We should aim to counter or solve problems that can be tackled by human beings, no use wasting our time speculating what the earth will be like and how we are going to help the mighty earth survive!!
The polar caps on Mars are also shrinking. It's the sun changing. The evidence that Mankind is "to blame" for natural climate change is circumstantial, but the issue has been hijacked for political ends.
Whatever we do will not be enough if the sun changes too much; but what we are doing does nothing but damage the economy.
It's very sad to see that the most sensible of the living beings are doing the most insensible things. We as people never think of our environment, but when it comes to criticing somebody we yell our best.
Kyoto was supposed to be a landmark for reducing the pollution levels in the air, but selfish interests prevailed over interests of living beings. The people (the developed countries) who have done most of the damage are not ready to take the responsibility to cleaning the mess. Still they are living on false hope like closing on Enron will help and other rubbish viewpoints.
Developing & underdeveloped are not having resources to combat this problem.
Technical solutions to the problem are futile unless we develop common feeling of belongingness to mother nature.
Developed countries should first prove their commitment leaving aside their myopic thinking and set an example for others.
Sarah, Manchester, UK
Kyoto requires a small reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990 emissions. The significance of this cannot be understated; it is stopping the increase in emissions, to move towards economic growth without increasing emissions.
No country has yet ratified the protocol, however most European nations are in the process of doing so. The UK has begun to cut its emissions and is on course to ratify the treaty, and the intention of the UK government is to go beyond the requirements of Kyoto and cut emissions by 11 or 12%. It's something like that.
The US on the other hand has decided that it has no intention of ever ratifying the treaty, because it will hurt its economy (oil and energy companies, and stop them from driving excessively big cars). Since Kyoto, the US has continued to increase its emissions, by about 10% I think.
Mostly this was under Clinton, who at least could blame the Republican senate holding him back. Bush has no such excuse. The man is an Idiot.
Who cares if a few million drown in the flood? The important thing is to keep chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Ben, London, UK
The question is far less if we are doing enough against global warming. It is all about the blindfolds behind which we humans live. We are taught that we have the right to kill those that threaten our happiness, slay the animals that act with their natural instincts and torture and poison our seas, fish, cows and most of all nature, for we are taught that we are the grander race, that we only know how to think and act rationally.
Unfortunately these comments still show the splits between the US and the rest of the world when it comes to the environment. While it is true that the Kyoto agreement has not been ratified by many countries in Europe it is also true that many of them have already begun to implement the changes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We already use more efficient cars and generally produce far less CO2 per individual than the US.
However, this is beside the point, as I don't think that even the Europeans are doing enough. We need to develop public transport, put down car use and look for efficiency savings wherever we can.
Are we doing enough?? Are we doing anything?
Alan Fisk, London, England
Yiannis, Athens, Greece puts forth a good example. I would like to suggest another: People come in a room and find a dead man, mangled and half chewed. One of them says 'This looks suspiciously like the other cases of dead people we have seen over 14 years, only this time there is a tiger in the room licking himself in contempt.' That means the tiger is to blame, but wait a minute, the tiger has only been around a year. When this has been occurring for years without tigers around, why should I believe it is the tigers fault this time? Global warming and global cooling are cycles that have been going on for billions of years. When it occurred before man put all those pollutants in the air, water and land (which I strongly agree is not good), when it occurred before man even existed, why should I believe that is the cause of global warming this time?
Comments like "We can't really be sure", "there is not enough data", "It's just an issue of politics" really make me mad. Is the planet getting warmer? Yes. Is the evidence of this overwhelming? Yes. Are we emitting huge amounts of warming agents into the atmosphere? Yes. Is there a hole in the ozone layer? Yes. For goodness sake, what is the conclusion? This whole debate is like the following situation: People come in a room, and find a dead man, mangled and half chewed. Next to him there is a tiger, licking himself in contempt. People start wondering. "What might have killed him?" "Hmmm, he was probably struck by an asteroid" "You think so? No, I think he committed suicide". "No, that can't be, I think somebody electrocuted him". Then somebody suggests, "Um, maybe the tiger killed him?" Then all the others answer in outrage "The Tiger? How can that be? Just by the fact that he is mangled and chewed? And which tiger, anyway? I don't see a tiger anywhere!"
If the ice continues to melt the danger is it will slow down the Atlantic conveyor belt. If this happens then we are in for a major climate change. We are on the same latitude as northern Canada. But we have the belt to keep the UK warmer.
In the past it has stopped. I think it's all too late as the wheels are already in motion.
We are only just beginning to understand just how complex our climate system is. In the past small, natural fluctuations have given rise to massive climate changes. The worrying thing is, is that the actions of mankind are effecting the climate, and we still have no idea how close, or indeed far away, we are from causing a cataclysmic breakdown of our atmospheric system.
Until we know, we must be cautious and try and reduce the effect we are having.
Brendan, Glendora, USA
What else can be done that isn't already? It may only be sci-fi, but if there was a way to make ozone and replenish the layer, maybe that would help.
Maybe not in your backyard, but in our backyards the signs of global warming are already visible. We have to built our dikes higher and higher.
We know that we are destroying our environment; why are we wasting time arguing about the signs and symptoms (e.g. global warming). We can each make a difference in our own lifestyle to improve things for everyone, in the same way that our choice of lifestyle is creating the problems.
Graeme Wallace continues the myth that these ice shelves do not add to sea levels since they are already in the water. The fact is that they are linked to the landmass, and hence they fall downwards when they break off.
Climate changes have been taking place at varying speeds since long before humans arrived. To imagine we can modify the shift we are observing at the moment is an extremely arrogant and conceited idea. So what if things change? Since when did humanity have any "special privileges" to have an environment to suit them alone? Life will roll on with or without humanity. As far as ice-melt is concerned, only the ice on land will have any impact on sea levels. All sea ice already displaces its own mass and break-up of this ice shelf recently has no impact on sea levels.
I fear for the future of this planet, not because of the obvious damage that we as humans do. My fear lies in the fact that we all know exactly what's going on, yet multi-national corporations have free reign to continue their pollution and devastation of lands which do not belong to them. Until we remove our reliance on such industries, we are doomed. Who can actually stop the forest destruction, chemical pollution, and excessive consuming practised by such a small percentage of the global population? I wish I could.
M Thomson, UK
There is still a great deal of uncertainty concerning global warming. No-one really knows whether or not human activity is responsible for current situation or not. However, it is possible for countries throughout the world to do a lot more than they are doing at the moment. The use of fossil fuels could be ended tomorrow if we really wanted to. Unfortunately, that will not happen for many years yet. The main reason why we will not stop using fossil fuels is because almost all of the world's economies are based on oil and gas production and their by-products. To stop production overnight would cause tremendous poverty throughout the world including in Europe. Also, to replace oil or gas fired power stations with wind or wave-generating machines would incur an extremely high cost to the taxpayer. Realistically, I don't think this will happen for many years yet.
We are teetering to the brink of our demise. It is obvious that as a people we are not doing enough. The internal combustion engine is probably the worst technological breakthrough of our time. As long as nature is perceived as material and without divine will, we will continue to plunder its resources without any regard to the ensuing consequences. Since America is the greatest polluter of the planet (25% of world pollution for a 5% world population) the brunt of the blame should rest on its shoulders. Unfortunately, America is intensifying its crusade to squeeze the last drops of our planet's milk.
19 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
Antarctic ice shelf breaks apart
06 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Rapid Antarctic warming puzzle
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Other Talking Points:
Links to more Talking Point stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy