Countering mis-information in Wilts & Glos Standard – Part 1

In the Thursday December 19, 2019 edition the Wiltshire and Gloucester Standard published this letter

Whilst this is a Letter from an individual and not officially an Editorial, several of our Cirencester Extinction Rebellion group read this and were very concerned with prominence of the piece, the tone of the material and the factual inaccuracies, and on behalf of all decent people seek the right to a robust reply.


This rebuttal is written by Vijay Shah is a chartered engineer and polar explorer. He is a member of the Arctic Club and of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions. 


Dear sirs,
I am shocked to have seen quite an extensive opinion piece about climate change being printed in your paper that is written as ‘fact’ but is so full of misinformation that I can only conclude that it is intentional attempt to mislead. The author of the piece makes various claims without providing any robust evidence to back it up. Furthermore the author also dredges up many debunked myths which even a cursory attempt to research the evidence would show to be false. 

I am sure the good readers of this newspaper have disregarded the piece as I have done so but as the falsehoods the author reports are so dangerous I have taken the time to direct the readers to some facts against the points raised.

Climate change is the biggest threat to our country and to the world, yes, even bigger than Brexit. The longer we wait without any serious attempts to mitigate global heating the more severe the changes that are needed in order to maintain our quality of life.

#1. GLOBAL TEMPERATURES

The author claims that ‘It is generally reckoned that global temperatures have risen by about 1C since the late 19thC. This however is a guesstimate at best.’

Incorrect

The author claims that there is little data that exists preindustrial and thus any comparison is invalid. This couldn’t be further from the truth, whilst there is a lot more data and better data in modern times as a result of better instrumentation, data was already being recorded in England from 1659 in the Central England Temperature Record. Global temperature records however started in the mid-19th Century and the formation of the International Meteorological Organisation happened in 1873.  As a result very good data exists and the comparisons are valid.

Not only does the data show a greater than 1C warming globally, the trend is even more disturbing where it shows we are on track for greater than 3.5C by the end of the century and that is including ALL of the pledges that have been made in the Paris agreement!

#2. Little Ice Age

The author claims that any discussion of temperature rise in 19thC needs to be put in the context of the Little Ice Age, which lasted around 500 years and ended in the late 19thC.

Incorrect

This myth keeps on coming back around. A study chaired by Mike Lockwood a physicist and solar expert concluded that “Compared to the changes in the proper ice ages, the so-called Little Ice Age (LIA) is a very short-lived and puny climate and social perturbation.” And calls it a “complete misnomer”.  

#3. Glacier retreat 

The author claims that melting glaciers isn’t ‘proof’ of global warming as there is particularly strong evidence that they have been retreating in the 19thC, long before current ‘manmade’ global warming and that in the middle ages glaciers were much smaller then. 

Incorrect

Melting glaciers are very good indicators of man-made climate change, whilst there are natural and local variations that cause certain glaciers to grow and that glacial changes are not only dictated by air temperature changes, the global glacier volume from extensive measurements have been shown to be plummeting in recent years with the vast majority of glaciers in retreat which are all in agreement with the man-made climate change observations.

Furthermore the water from these melting glaciers accumulates in the sea and with sea level rises of greater than 200mm since the 19th Century this further confirms the global melting.

Recent reports are even more alarming, Ice is being lost from Greenland seven times faster than it was in the 1990s, and the scale and speed of ice loss is much higher than was predicted in the comprehensive studies of global climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to data.

The loss of the Greenland ice sheet will result in 7m sea level rises alone!

#4. ARCTIC

The author claims that temperatures around the Arctic are little different to the 1930s and 1940s and that Arctic sea ice has remained stable since 2007.

Incorrect

The author should know that comparing such a short period of time such as between 2007 and present is a poor indicator of climate change due to all the other variations that can affect year upon year differences. What climate scientists do is to compare the longest time frame that data exists and determine what the trend is across that time range. Alarmingly, Arctic sea ice has been reducing at a rate of 12.85 percent per decade, relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Sea ice measurement has only been possible due to increasing in satellite earth obersvation capability and thus the objective data is only available since 1979 but the trends are clear and many scientists believe the Arctic sea ice is in free fall and would be disappeared in the summer by as early as mid-century.

Furthermore the author should know that the job of the climate scientist is not to cherry pick dates or particular years for comparison but to consider the trends and thus by suggesting to only consider the very local data from 1930/40s is again an attempt to mislead.  

Currently, the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of global mean temperatures; a phenomenon known as Arctic Amplification.

ANTARCTICA

The author claims that Antarctica sea ice is stable or growing.

Incorrect

Antarctica, just coming out of deep winter, has once again been attracting global interest. At the beginning of July, NASA scientists reported that, since 2014, the sea ice extent around the white continent has fallen dramatically. The losses seen around Antarctica over the past four years are as much as those observed in the Arctic in the last 34 years. This is a surprising turnaround since in the four decades prior to 2014, the Antarctic sea extent (although not the overall volume of sea ice) had actually been increasing slowly. Now, scientists are finding that, for the first time since satellite measurements began, sea ice extent is retreating significantly at both poles.

Researchers monitoring Antarctic sea ice are unsure what exactly caused the sharp decline or whether the sea ice will recover. Regardless, the disappearance of an area of sea ice around Antarctica that is bigger than Mexico, is concerning as it will lead to even more heat being absorbed by the surrounding ocean. Warmer Antarctic waters are already undermining glaciers, speeding up the rate at which previously fast land ice melts into the sea, and adding to the problem of global sea level rise.

Meanwhile, a second study, focusing on instability in the Thwaites Glacier, which is currently the subject of a £20 million scientific collaboration between the UK and the US (see PolarNotes #31 and the recent APPG for the Polar Regions Briefing Note ‘Thwaites: Antarctica’s Doomsday Glacier’), has warned that if the rate of ice loss from Antarctica’s glaciers continues to increase, the loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet will likely be inevitable. US scientists have suggested that the entire ice sheet could be lost in the space of 150 years. The loss of the Thwaites Glacier alone would add around 50cm to global sea levels. Although it is expected to take a few more centuries to happen, the increasing instability of glaciers like Thwaites makes it hard to predict exactly when such an event could unfold. Critically, once a tipping point in the melt process is reached, the eventual loss of the ice sheet will likely be unstoppable.

#6. Extreme Weather Events:

The Author claims that there is no persuasive evidence that extreme wearther is getting either more common or severe.

Incorrect

In the early 2000s, a new field of climate science research emerged that began to explore the human fingerprint on extreme weather, such as floods, heatwaves, droughts and storms.

Known as “extreme event attribution”, the field has gained momentum, not only in the science world, but also in the media and public imagination because of the power it has to link the seemingly abstract concept of climate change with our own tangible experiences of the weather.

Scientists have published more than 230 peer-reviewed studies looking at weather events around the world, from Hurricane Katrina to Russia’s 2010 heatwave. The result is mounting evidence that human activity is raising the risk of some types of extreme weather, especially those linked to heat.

Carbon Brief’s analysis suggests 68% of all extreme weather events studied to date were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for 43% such events, droughts make up 17% and heavy rainfall or floods account for 16%.

UK Climate Action and Subsidies

The author claims that action that the UK has taken to reduce carbon emissions has been 1) significant, and 2) extremely expensive at £450 per household. 

Incorrect 

The author provides no evidence or reference to back up his claims. On the contrary, The UK leads the European Union in giving subsidies to fossil fuels, according to a report from the European commission. It found €12bn (£10.5bn) a year in support for fossil fuels in the UK, significantly more than the €8.3bn spent on renewable energy.

The commission report warned that the total subsidies for coal, oil and gas across the EU remained at the same level as 2008. This is despite both the EU and G20 having long pledged to phase out the subsidies, which hamper the rapid transition to clean energy needed to fight climate change.

Secondly, stating that the UK has made significant steps to reduce carbon emissions is extremely optimistic. The only way to understand what efforts are required it is first important to understand what efforts are necessary to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown. It is clear that reducing emissions to net zero by 2050 is too late to prevent some of the most severe impacts of climate change and that more urgent action is absolutely necessary – thus the UK target isn’t nearly sufficient enough. 

When considering the costs to limit climate change it must be compared against the cost of inaction which the OECD estimates would be catastrophic. Anecdotally we have all experienced how fragile our infrastructure is to even the slightest perturbation in our weather patterns with summer heatwaves and winter snow causing havoc to our transportation networks.

Furthermore, the Green New Deal that has been proposed on both sides of the Atlantic has the potential of reinvigorating our economy and create many more jobs.

#7. GLOBAL EMSSIONS

The author suggests that the UK emissions are only 1% of the global ones without once again providing any reference to their information. What the author fails to do is understand the importance of per capita data (i.e. that a country 10 times the size of another will clearly produce more emissions), or understand the importance of consumption based emissions as opposed to production based.

In the UK, we pay other countries to do most of our manufacturing then we blame them for the emissions. They get away with it because they used biased emissions figures, which don’t include aviation, shipping or imports, which they . quote in parliament. Per person in the UK we produce 23% more carbon than China (UK: 8.8 Tonnes/person/yr. China about 7.1 Tonnes/person/yr) using consumption data and almost 4 times more than India. It’s like going into next-door’s garden, using their barbecue to cook your dinner, then blaming them for the smoke.

PARIS AGREEMENT

Finally the author has managed to state something correctly. The Paris Agreement has been a sad failure. In Paris 2015 for the first time in history every country in the world agreed to do what was necessary to limit anthropogenic climate change to below 2C warming before pre-industrial levels. However the pledges by the individual countries aren’t nearly enough to meet this target, with the UK failing on it’s pledges also. The total pledges will result in a minimum of 3.1-3.7C warming which will result in catastrophic damage worldwide. The impact in the UK of increased and more severe extreme weather events will become more pronounced and certain towns and villages will become uninhabitable. This has already happened with the village of Fairbourne in Wales which has been declared unfit for human habitation.

A ratified replacement of the Paris agreement is desparately required and that requires EVERY country, the UK most importantly as being a major world economy and a mjor historical producer of green house gases, to do what is necessary to reduce manmade climate change to below 2degC.

About the Author: Vijay Shah is a chartered engineer and polar explorer. He is a member of the Arctic Club and of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions.

Read more detail about the Rebuttal at https://xrcirencester.co.uk/2019/12/21/countering-mis-information-in-wilts-glos-standard-part-2/.

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