Monday, February 09, 2009

Australian bush fires and global warming

Thanks to the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology for these figures.

The tragic bush fires taking place in Australia are consistent with climate change predictions. They do not prove global warming, because nothing is ever proven in science, only not-yet-disproven. In other words, the Australian horror does fall in line with the pattern predicted by AGW (=man-made global warming) theory .

The global climate is a vast system, the biggest system in the planet, a system being a set of interacting entities forming a united whole. "Global Warming" does not mean a gradual increase in balmy days. It means a disturbance in regular, established and predictable cycles of weather. In a nutshell, we must expect, and indeed, we are observing, an increase in extreme weather events. That includes the unusual cold weather affecting the Northern Hemisphere at the moment, in the UK and elsewhere.

The image at the top shows a rising trend for average temperatures in South Australia since 1950. The second figure shows that rainfall trends are decreasing in the East (where the current fires are taking place) and increasing in the west of the continent.

These two pieces of data back the thesis that the fires are consistent with AGW theory.

There is a useful UNEP page on trends in natural disasters here, which also backs the view that climate related disasters are increasing.

Climate change "sceptics" or deniers will quote someone with an opposite point of view, because they have an individualist world view which says that they must be allowed to do what they will, even if that includes driving 4x4s with a lit patio heater on the roof rack. They will continue their barrage of articles, letters and comments, which are effectively influencing a significant minority of the people, creating a false impression that climate scientists themselves are in doubt.

In the end, the short circuit to their arguments is, even if climate sceptics were right, mankind still needs to decarbonise our economy, because Peak Oil means that oil prices are destined to go through the roof, not in a temporary spike as we saw last year, but permanently.

In the end, this is not an academic debate, because we and our children are part of the experiment. The consensus among scientists (yes, with a few exceptions, as is always the case in science) that we should decarbonise our economy as a matter of urgency.

Say we do that, and it turns out that AGW theory is wrong? Well, we will have created hundreds of thousands of jobs in insulation and taken thousands out of fuel poverty. Not bad, but that's not all. We will also have reduced the shock of Peak Oil and Peak Gas. Also not bad.

In short, it is a case of Pascal's Wager all over again, but with our children's future, not God, in the scales of judgment.

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