The Earth is rapidly heating up or is it? If it is, the next few decades may witness Biblical scenes of rising temperatures, crop failures, flooding and the extinction of different species. On the other hand, increases of Carbon Dioxide in our atmosphere may well encourage plants and trees to thrive like never before. Whom can you believe? One thing is certain the debate on climate change and Global Warming is heating up. It is surely right for us to take the concerns seriously even if we cannot yet be sure of the truth.
Climate change on our planet is nothing new. As far as we can make out, it has been going on for millions of years. Our world is different to the world inhabited by the dinosaurs when CO2 levels were estimated to be five times the level they are at today. Our world is different to the world of the ice age, when temperatures plummeted and the world froze. The debate on global warming, though, has been grabbing the headlines recently. Those who have led the debate range from the hothouse extremists to the purely cynical disbelievers. Their arguments have left the world wondering quite what to believe. One thing is definite; there is no shortage of "hot gas".
Today's debate focuses on the last century; the first for which reliable figures are available. References are often made to the climate fluctuations of the last few centuries. In these fluctuations we have recorded grapes grown in places we would not have thought possible today. We also have evidence for so called 'mini ice ages' when the world seemed to cool down for years. Is it possible to make sense of the arguments and evidence? Can we come to some sort of conclusion about exactly where we are heading? We are already spending five billion dollars a year on seeking the cause of climate change. The panic evident in the media and many governments world wide means that economic policy and even the wealth of nations may be at stake. It is vital we get the reality into perspective. Let's start with one fact upon which most experts agree. In our burning of fossil fuels, industrialization and day to day activities, mankind is emitting massive amounts of Carbon Dioxide and other heat-trapping or 'greenhouse' gases. Principally, the debate about greenhouse gases refers to the large amounts of CO2 we are producing. There we already have a major disagreement. While some scientists claim that CO2 is a major greenhouse gas, others state that it dwarfed in comparison by the largest greenhouse gas, water vapour. Some scientists claim that there is a 25% increase in the amount of CO2 compared to 250 years ago. Yet recent studies on tree leaves that are nearly 10,000 years old show that the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere were roughly the same then as they are today.
Some scientists state that the temperatures in the previous century have on average risen by 0.5%. Initially this rise indicates that the world is indeed getting warmer. A closer look at the figures show that the most of this rise was in fact before 1940. At this time the amount of man made CO2 in the atmosphere was negligible. In fact temperatures between 1940 and the 1970 began to fall. This prompted self-appointed experts in the middle of that decade to predict that we were on the verge of another ice age. More importantly, these decades saw 75% of man made CO2 released into the atmosphere. This must surely challenge the view that man made CO2 emissions are related to climate change. Recent studies too have begun to show a direct correlation in the temperature of the Earth to activity on the surface of the sun.
Today the emphasis is on the apparent tide of rising temperatures. This, we are told by some, is melting the polar ice-caps. This will in turn raise sea levels and flood many areas of our planet. Incidentally there is no doubt about the capability of the ice to achieve this. Antarctica alone contains enough water in the form of ice to...