Thursday, May 30, 2024
HomeClimate WatchClimate change, carbon and a science lesson for the PM

Climate change, carbon and a science lesson for the PM


Dear Prime Minister

‘Climate change’, ‘global warming’, ‘climate emergency’, ‘planetary emergency’ are different names describing the same apocalypse.  Since you’re ‘following the science’ you’ll appreciate that precise language is needed to describe events. You see, there are actually two types of climate change: natural and anthropogenic (meaning man-made). Clarification matters because if it’s natural climate change, it could be caused by weather or volcanic eruptions, for example. The damage would be visible but nobody would be liable for the harm. If it’s anthropogenic climate change, the harm will be visible and liability could be attributed for compensation. I think you’re costing natural and anthropogenic harm jointly, and that leaves mankind with disproportionate and very expensive costs. So whenever you discuss climate change could you please preface it with ‘natural’ or ‘anthropogenic’ so we know which one you mean?

Similarly, the confusion over ‘carbon’ and ‘carbon dioxide’ is fundamental. ‘Carbon’ identifies particulate matter – dirty soot belching from diesel exhausts, for example. ‘Carbon dioxide’ is a trace gas. Far from being a pollutant, it’s the gas upon which all plant growth depends. When you talk of ‘carbon’ I think you mean ‘carbon dioxide’ – but clarification would be helpful (especially if you could also prefix it with ‘natural’ or ‘anthropogenic’). Carbon dioxide is only 400 parts per million of atmosphere and Mother Nature is responsible for 95 per cent of that. This means humans are responsible for 5 per cent, or just 20 parts per million (so you can see why it’s important to be clear).

Following on from this is the concept of ‘decarbonisation’. If we’re talking about ‘natural climate change’, we humans cannot ‘decarbonise’ Mother Nature’s work. On the other hand, if it’s ‘anthropogenic climate change’ we have yet to devise the technology to remove some of the 20 parts per million. But how do you measure anything so small (and so beneficial) and then fragment it into even smaller proportions to attribute and apportion blame?

And what is ‘carbon neutral’? Is that shorthand for ‘no anthropogenic carbon particulates’ or for ‘no anthropogenic carbon dioxide gas more than natural level’? It’s important. (It’s lucky last week’s Climate Summit was virtual. If you’d had to fly to America, you would have consumed a large proportion of your personal (anthropogenic) ‘carbon [dioxide] budget’.)

By the way, I’ve learned that carbon dioxide increase is 800 years behind temperature rise (give or take a decade or two). Mother Nature was in control 800 years ago and Earth is probably only now reaping benefits from her Herculean efforts. So anything we do now won’t be felt for 800 years! Furthermore, Mother Nature managed 5,000 parts of carbon dioxide per million before mankind appeared. Her view of ‘carbon capture and storage’ was to increase plant growth – a low-cost solution requiring no expensive technology. No need for ‘carbon’ brokers/consultants/markets/taxes/trading/budgets or any of the other new ‘green opportunities’ which (for the sake of preciseness) should also be prefaced with ‘natural’ or ‘anthropogenic’. Dumbing down the scientific language has led to scepticism and confusion (as by now I’m sure you’ll agree). 

If you would like to discuss, I’d happy to share a bottle of carbon-neutral wine and a low-carbon, vegan, sausage roll (available from my local deli).

Yours sincerely

Deborah Ancell 

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Dr Deborah Ancell
Dr Deborah Ancell
Dr Deborah Ancell is the author of Clipped Wings, which examines the mixed economic effects of social and environmental sustainability on the airline industry.

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