Friday, 2 October 2009

The dangers of alarmism

You don't have to be a global warming denier to have concerns about the way in which the science is presented at times. Wales Home drew attention yesterday to the danger of reading too much into specific weather events. Overstating the evidence merely encourages the deniers; if they can demonstrate one flaw in an argument, it merely spreads doubt about the rest.

There was a classic example in Tuesday's Western Mail.

The latest predictions are that global warming could result in an increase in temperature across the globe of an average of up to 4°C, and the report suggested that the temperature in the UK in September had been - well, about 4° up on average. The implication is that the actual temperatures experienced in September somehow prove the theory, and that's the overall impression which the story gave, even though it wasn't actually stated as simplistically as that. In reality it is very dangerous to read anything into a single month's numbers. Long-term trends are more important than single events or short term experience.

On my reading of the evidence there are only two things of which we can be absolutely certain where global warming is concerned. The first of those is that human activity since the Industrial Revolution is directly responsible for releasing additional quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And the second is that the concentration of such gases in the atmosphere is increasing.

As far as I am concerned those two demonstrable and provable facts are in themselves more than adequate reason to change what we are doing and do so rapidly. There is room for serious discussion as to what the effects will be and how serious they will be. But there is no doubt about those two simple facts.

The overwhelming consensus of scientists actually working in the field is that those increasing levels of greenhouse gases will eventually lead to global warming. The very best that those who disagree with them can honestly offer us is a suggestion that we don't actually know enough to be certain. Faced with that choice I know which side I take.

It is however much harder to debate probabilities and certainties; and dramatic headlines will always get more attention. But action to reverse the damage we are doing will not be easy, and we need to build up a high level of public support. It's a real challenge to keep the issue at the forefront without exaggeration and hype -- but that's what we need to do if society as a whole is to make an informed choice about our future.

1 comment:

julius senn said...

we need to tackle the problem at a root level, not just in wales
its not only carbon emissions but those from diesel engines, industrial and agricultural pollution, have a culture of localism in urchasing, cycle lanes and promote electric bicycles which are much cheaper, greener, healthier and safer