Global Warming, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gases, Carbon Dioxide and Population

Global Warming - Greenhouse Gases

If there were no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas in the earth's atmosphere the world would be 20 degrees colder than it is. And that's cold. Carbon dioxide, along with gases like methane and water vapour, reduce the amount of heat that escapes into space. They cause the so-called greenhouse effect.

Water vapour actually causes more warming than carbon dioxide but it acts as an amplifier rather than a determinant of the amount of warming. Almost all the water vapour in the atmosphere is naturally occurring. It is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide that determines how much solar energy gets trapped. But most of the CO2, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere is also from natural sources - from volcanoes, leaves decaying in autumn and even termites.

So why do people say mankind is responsible for global warming if most of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is naturally occurring?

For the last two hundred years human activity has resulted in ever increasing amounts of extra CO2 being pumped into the skies. In 1958 there were 315 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere. But by 2005 this had risen to 379 ppm. This increase in CO2 is believed to be manmade and this extra CO2 is thought to be causing extra warming. [Graph of atmospheric CO2]

But if going from 100 to 200ppm of CO2 would raise temperature by, say, 1 degree would going from 200 to 300ppm raise temperature by another 1 degree? Some would say going from 200 to 300 would result in more than 1 degree - they assume a "positive feedback" effect. Others would say less than 1 degree - they would argue that diminishing returns sets in, and indeed at some point it's hardly going to get any warmer however much more CO2 you add (because there is already so much CO2 that all the relevant thermal radiation is being absorbed by it).

This is where scientists begin to disagree about just how much warming will result from any given increase in CO2. So increasing CO2 from its current level of 379ppm to, say, 500ppm either causes a massive and catastrophic further warming or only a relatively minor further warming depending upon your assumptions about how things work. Needless to say, those that predict apocalypse tend to garner the headlines.

Middle Ages - A Warm Period

In the Middle Ages it was about as warm in Northern Europe as it is today, some say warmer. Around 1200 it stopped getting warmer and a long period of cooling began. It kept getting colder - culminating in the "Little Ice Age" - until the nineteenth century when the current warming began. How much of the pre 1800 change was due to mankind? Very little. So there are clearly factors other than mankind at work here. In fact over the last few million years the world has at times been a lot warmer and a lot colder than it is today.

The position of the earth relative to the sun has a major bearing on the earth's temperature, as does the earth's wobble on its axis. These warming and cooling cycles are measured in tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Solar activity also has a bearing - the "hotter" the sun is the hotter the earth gets. Some even go so far as to say that the current global warming is all due to these factors and nothing to do with anthropogenic (i.e. manmade) greenhouse gases. But they represent a minority view - though that does not of itself mean they are wrong. [Climate Change and Solar Activity]

And some question whether the world really was warmer in the Middle Ages and then much colder in the eighteenth century. Temperature records were largely kept by northern Europeans, and whereas it may well have been warm then cold in Northern Europe there is a question over whether this was a global phenomenon or an unrepresentative "local" one. Look at a map of the world - northern Europe is a small place.

So neither the evidence nor the science is completely clear cut - there is room for debate about both.

But while scientists may argue about the precise mechanics: the extent to which CO2 traps thermal radiation of wavelengths that water vapour does not trap; how adding CO2 alters the height in the atmosphere at which thermal radiation absorption takes place; whether feedback effects magnify the warming due to a given increase in CO2 and so on, most agree on the basic conclusion: manmade greenhouse gas, primarily CO2, is making the world warmer than it would otherwise be and it's going to get even warmer.

For the majority of this article we will accept the premise that anthropogenic (i.e. human caused) greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming and consider how these emissions might be reduced.

Some say this anthropogenic CO2 is the primary cause of the current global warming and will, if unchecked, lead to global catastrophe.

Climate Change

Exactly how much, if any, global warming there has been in recent years is also debated. Temperature readings used to "prove" recent warming come from ground-based weather recording stations. When built these tended to be in rural areas. Urban sprawl means they are now more likely to be surrounded by buildings, concrete and asphalt. That results in their surroundings becoming warmer - the 'urban heat island effect'. So in aggregate they tend to show a gradual increase in temperature. Satellite temperature records show little or no increase in world temperature over the past 18 years. (But that doesn't make the news headlines!) Some readings show a temperature decrease over the last ten years. Nevertheless, most would agree that over the past 30 years the world has indeed got warmer. [NASA Temperature Data]

But so what? Does it matter that the world has got warmer and is going to get warmer still? In cooler, temperate zones global warming seems quite attractive - lovely summers and milder winters. Champagne and red wine production in England. Siberia becomes a rather nice place to live. But climate change can have devastating consequences elsewhere - droughts and floods are not such benign outcomes.

If the world was, say, 3 degrees warmer than it currently is and always had been (for the last few hundred years anyway) there would be no problem. Mankind would have adapted. It is the climate change that causes the problem. If you could wave a magic wand and move people and their infrastructure from areas that will be adversely affected by global warming (e.g. low lying land that will be submerged) to areas that will benefit (e.g. Siberia) the problem would be solved. If only that were possible.

(There is one consolation though. Bad though global warming might be, it would be far worse if the world were to be getting colder. Crops do not grow if it's too cold! Indeed, if cooling were to be foreseen we might well be seeking ways of pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere to warm things up a bit.)

Global Warming - Sea Level Rise

Sea levels are currently rising by about three millimetres a year (IPCC November 2007). There may be several contributory causes, but global warming is probably one of them. As global temperatures rise ice melts. Now, as any schoolboy knows, if a floating block of ice melts it does not result in a rise in the level of the water in which it was floating. The trouble is that in places like Greenland and Antarctica an awful lot of ice is on land and if that melts and flows into the oceans it clearly does result in a rise in sea level. The more global temperatures rise the faster the rate of melting and consequential rise in sea level. The Greenland ice sheet shows signs of melting at an alarming and an increasing rate. If it all melted sea levels would rise a devastating 7 metres - 23 feet. It may take hundreds or thousands of years - but that assumes no dramatic increase in the rate of melting.

In Greenland water from surface melt cascades down through holes in the ice sheet. If it reaches bedrock it allows glaciers to slide more quickly into the sea, lowering the ice level behind it and, since it is now lower, warming it. One can imagine this process speeding up resulting in faster and faster ice lost. But this cannot be the prediction. Nobody knows what happens when the Greenland ice gets to the stage it has reached. Five years ago nobody predicted the ice loss would be as great as it has been over the last five years.

Even if no ice were to melt rising temperatures would still result in some rise in sea levels. Water expands when warmed: heat the oceans, they expand and water levels rise. This effect alone, however, does not lead to a catastrophic rise: it's estimated to account for about 1.6mm a year. The oceans are very large and it takes hundreds of years for them to respond fully to warming influences. We have most to fear from ice melt.

But does ice melt necessarily lead to higher sea levels? Higher temperatures also mean more evaporation of water from the oceans. Most of that will fall as rain but some will fall as snow in the interior of Antarctica. Here it is too cold to melt even with considerable global warming, so paradoxically global warming causes an increase in the amount of ice here. However, while this may ameliorate sea level rise it may not prevent it - global warming will cause more ice to melt than to be deposited.

Though some believe that ice melt is due to the waning of the last ice age and that we may in fact have just reached the turning point - so from now on ice will naturally begin to regrow. David Bellamy reports in New Scientist Magazine issue 2495: "Norway's glaciers are growing at a record pace. All 48 glaciers in New Zealand's Southern Alps are growing... all seven on Mount Shasta [California] are growing apace and three have doubled in size since 1950".

The Antarctic ice sheet is many times bigger than all the world's glaciers put together so any ice growth there could easily outweigh ice melt elsewhere. The European satellite Cryosat was to have measured ice levels accurately and thus assess the degree of ice melt and ice accumulation but unfortunately it never made it into orbit - its rocket failed shortly after launch from Plesetsk in Russia on October 8th 2005.

The IPCC predict sea level will rise by 18cm-59cm (depending on the assumptions made) - 7 inches to 2 feet - by 2099. Expensive for developed countries, but potential disaster for low-lying regions lacking the capacity to build sophisticated sea defences. However, 59cm is not an absolute upper limit. After a certain amount of warming it is conceivable that factors not fully reflected in current models could come into play - permafrost methane for example - and make things much worse than foreseen. The world is entering territory beyond the experience of mankind.

(One is put in mind of Einstein's theory of relativity. People have difficulty conceiving of the time dilation that results from very high speed travel because we "know" from experience that time does not run slower if we go quicker. So we extrapolate our experience and, without Einstein, would have no conception of the new rules that govern travel at near-light speed. Maybe with global warming we are similarly extrapolating our experience unaware that at this level of greehouse gas the rules begin to change. Regrettably climate science has no equivalent of Einstien's simple equations - nor an Einstein.)

Global Warming - Climate Change: Are The Scientists Right?

Climate changes brought about by rising global temperatures have the potential to cause death and destruction on a massive scale: floods, droughts, desertification, extreme weather events and so on. Doomsday scenarios even predict that ocean temperatures will rise to such an extent that vast quantities of methane locked up in ice-like deposits at the bottom of the oceans would melt and release unimaginable quantities of methane - a greenhouse gas twenty three times more potent than carbon dioxide - which would result in a runaway greenhouse effect leading not so much to catastrophe as to a cataclysm on a par with the extinction of the dinosaurs. And this is not something that might happen in a couple of million years - in the worst case scenarios it happens in a hundred years or so. If you're a youngish reader, that will be what kills your grandchildren - all of them. That's if you believe it is possible for the ocean depths to heat up rapidly, of course.

Siberian permafrost is a more likely near term source of extra methane. Permafrost is frozen ground laden with plant material: put it in water, warm it up and it ferments and gives off methane. Siberia is one of the fastest warming places on earth, its lakes could become giant methane-producing vats. Once that process starts it becomes a vicious circle: more warming, more methane, more warming...

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the concentration of CO2 has increased by about 34%. By comparison, methane (NH4) has increased by about 150%.

There hasn't been this much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of years. One might conclude that we are entering unknown territory. In the past there have been fast and dramatic climate changes - taking decades rather than centuries. Computer models tend to extrapolate observed trends. But if we are on the verge of a paridigm shift it is conceivable that we could be in for much more dramatic climate change over the next few decades than is currently being predicted.

Just how bad things will get in the next hundred years or so nobody really knows for sure. Some predict the consequences will be small rises in ocean levels and changes in weather patterns that cause events on a par with the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 300,000 people (which had a geological not climatic cause). Some predict that the consequences of global warming will be much worse and get progressively worse and even cataclysmic as we get past the middle of the 21st century.

It would seem prudent to seek to reduce the human causes of global warming particularly if relatively painless solutions can be found. If we wait until human activity is proven beyond any doubt to be the cause of global warming it may well be too late to do anything about it.

Global Warming - Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The main greenhouse gas culprit, carbon dioxide, is a harmless (i.e. non-poisonous) gas produced when anything containing carbon is burned. So, burn a piece of wood or natural gas or oil and carbon dioxide is given off. Reduce the amount of stuff that is burned worldwide and you reduce the amount of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere and the consequential global warming.

But not all of the manmade CO2 ends up in the atmosphere. Some is taken up by plants - and even results in better plant growth. Some is absorbed by the oceans but even they are not unaffected. CO2 absorption causes the oceans to become more acidic and if this rate of acidification is too fast ocean flora and fauna do not have time to adapt and may die. However, the warmer the oceans get the less CO2 they absorb.

Forests absorb large amounts of CO2. Unfortunately the human race is rapidly deforesting the planet and at current rates the major forests will be gone in fifty to a hundred years. This deforestation is also speeded up by increasing temperatures: as temperatures rise forested areas get drier until they wither and the drier they become the more susceptible they become to burning - which of course gives off yet more CO2. A double, if not triple, whammy.

Commercial and population pressures in Brazil are resulting in the rainforest being burned at an alarming rate, producing large quantities of CO2. Indeed, the collapse of the rainforest system is in sight. Soon not enough will remain to sustain the wet climate: the remaining forest will dry and burn spontaneously.

All in all it would seem sensible to do something to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted as a result of human activity. How might this be done?

Global Warming - Technology

Technology could come to our rescue. As an alternative to burning oil and gas to produce electricity we could turn to nuclear power. France generates 78% of its electricity from nuclear power: there is no technical reason why this should not be the case worldwide. The risks of nuclear power and the problems of nuclear waste disposal are much inflated in the public conscious. Though the problems are real they are certainly manageable. The main problem with nuclear power is a political one not a technical one.

A progressive, worldwide switch to nuclear power over the next 50 years would make a big contribution to reducing CO2 emissions. Such a switch is, however, unlikely. Regrettably, nuclear reactors also produce material that can be used to make nuclear bombs and it is inconceivable that the powers that be would encourage the proliferation of nuclear plants while there are so many regimes in the world that are perceived to be reckless or careless.

However, even if all our electricity was nuclear generated we are some way off airplanes powered by anything other than oil and oil remains just about the only practical option for most road vehicles, though ethanol distilled from sugar cane is becoming increasingly popular with car drivers in Brazil. If grown sympathetically and distilled efficiently cane sugar ethanol does have economically viable CO2 reducing potential in a high-oil-price world. And when President Bush in his January 2006 State of the Union address backs plant-based bio-fuels distilled from maize corn as a gasoline substitute, one has to believe there may be real mileage in this technology. Though perhaps America's 'conversion' to the environmental benefits is opportunistic: running cars on plant-based bio fuels implies less dependence on oil from the Middle East. Not that any politician would jump on the global warming bandwagon to push through otherwise unpopular policies, surely? The unpopular thing about plant ethanol is it's more expensive than oil. But people may be happy to pay more to fill their tank if they think they're saving the planet.

So, let's burn down the Amazon rain forest and plant sugar cane. Great idea. Maybe not. Instead, switch existing land from food-crop to ethanol-crop production - and push up the price of world food and starve the poorest so we can drive our cars around with a clear conscience? And close analysis of the green credentials of biofuels reveals an uncomfortable truth: they aren't green. The overall carbon footprint of a gallon of biofuel is about the same as a gallon of good old fashioned oil-based gasoline. Diversity of supply is what garners political support for these "green" alternative fuels - and the desire to be seen to be green. One other little disadvantage of biofuels: to replace all the petrol used in the UK with biofuel would imply planting an area three times the size of the UK with bio fuel crops! Not terribly realistic.

Hydrogen power is much touted. Burning hydrogen produces no CO2, only water - and you can't get much more harmless than that. Hydrogen powered road vehicles will become increasingly practical.

But where does the hydrogen come from? It comes from splitting water into its constituent parts - hydrogen and oxygen. Unfortunately this requires energy - electricity. If the electricity is produced by burning oil or gas we have not reduced the amount of CO2 emitted, merely moved its point of emission from your exhaust pipe to a big generating plant somewhere. But generate the electricity from nuclear energy and we have a significant CO2 reduction from road transport.

Wind, wave, solar and other "alternative" energy sources will remain at best marginal sources for the foreseeable future, much as the Green lobby would wish and have us believe otherwise. And even large-scale investment in these energy sources does nothing to reduce global CO2 emissions. Suppose 25% of the western world's energy came from these sources, what would be the effect? Lower demand for oil and gas would push down oil and gas prices. That would mean poorer countries could afford to buy more of it: worldwide use of oil and gas would stay about the same - less burned in the west, more burned elsewhere. That expensive investment in wind, wave and so on does not reduce worldwide CO2 emissions. If anything, investment in renewables increases worldwide CO2 emissions: the production of wind farms and associated infrastructure itself produces CO2. Only when energy production from these "green" sources becomes so vast that worldwide use of oil, coal and gas is consequently reduced does green energy begin to start to reduce global CO2 emissions. And no realist is predicting that in the forseeable future.

Nuclear fusion holds out the prospect of a clean source of energy. In the 1950s it was said that nuclear fusion powered generation could be practical within 30 years. The same is said today - nuclear fusion powered generation could be practical within 30 years. It could be a long wait.

Maybe the solution will lie in a technology not yet invented. Craig Venter, the American DNA researcher, is (late 2007) creating artificial lifeforms by bolting together odd bits of DNA. In theory one might be able to engineer a life form that could convert light efficiently into electricity or make fuel from sugar or capture large amounts of atmospheric CO2 or... well, I guess the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. But while this laudable research is in progress it hardly seems responsible to do nothing in the hope that something will turn up.

In the absence of a magic bullet technological fix, carbon emissions will continue to grow apace.

Global Warming - Using Less Energy

Perhaps the answer lies in changing human behaviour. We all take less holidays, drive fewer miles and turn our heating down in winter. The only flaw in this approach is that it won't happen. As living standards rise people will take more holidays, drive more miles and pump more heat into their larger houses - and air condition them in summer. And most of the world's population have yet to join in. They will. The grandchildren of even today's poorest will be polluting just like the rest of us. Look at what is happening in China, India and South America. Huge rates of economic growth, more cars, more planes, more industrial production - more CO2 emissions. By 2020 China's per capita CO2 emissions will be on a par with Europe's - there's a sobering thought.

This is not to say that economic growth - a rise in wealth per capita - is a bad thing. On the contrary. It is economic growth and technological development that will deliver more fuel efficient cars, cleaner manufacturing: less pollution per unit of wealth.

Though anti-capitalists don't see it like that. To them economic growth equals more CO2 equals more global warming equals disaster and justifies their view that we should slow, even reverse, world economic growth.

But artificially slowing economic growth or inducing recession in rich countries in response to the global warming threat would be madness. It would mean fewer resources available to devise solutions to the problem, slow the deployment of those solutions and do nothing to improve the lot of the poor - quite the opposite in fact as it would tend to penalise the aspiring poor far more than the already rich. Wealth is not a finite thing to be shared out more evenly. Wealth comes from work: the poor get sustainably richer only by doing useful work. Slowing economic growth is not the answer. And dissuading Africans from building coal-fired power stations in order to save tomorrow's Africans from possible death through global warming condemns millions of today's Africans to certain death because they do not have electricity.

Every year 5 million new cars go on the roads in China alone. Whatever anti-industrialisationists may wish, CO2 emissions will continue to increase as wealth hitherto enjoyed only in rich nations spreads to the majority of the world's population. The more "rich" people there are, the more carbon emissions there will be. People will not choose to switch off their heating or air conditioning, they will not choose to forego their cars, they will not choose to give up their holidays.

Energy efficiency - well insulated houses, cars that are more fuel efficient, less energy-intensive manufacturing, improved jet engines - can all make a contribution to CO2 reduction but any gains will be more than cancelled out by the ever rising number of global consumers who will start to heat (or cool) their houses, drive cars, buy manufactured goods and fly in airplanes.

Recycling is largely irrelevant in the context of global warming. With a few notable exceptions (e.g. aluminium cans) the energy cost of recycling is not that dissimilar from the energy cost of producing from raw materials. Recycling may reduce unsightly landfill and marginally reduce pollutants from incineration - and make us all feel good - but it is neither here nor there as far as global warming is concerned.

Carbon offsetting and carbon trading are grabbing headlines. It's all utter tosh. Neither will make any significant difference to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. But they give the appearance that something is being done.

Global Warming - Global Cooling

Strangely, man's activity does not only result in global warming.

Combustion and other industrial activity not only produce CO2, they also produce particles - for example soot and sulphur compounds - which are released into the atmosphere in large quantities.

Clouds form in the sky as a result of water vapour condensing around naturally occurring airborne particles such as pollen. When these droplets of water become large enough they fall as rain. Water vapour also condenses around man-made particles in the atmosphere. However, these man-made particles tend to be smaller than those that occur naturally. The result is clouds consisting of a larger number of much smaller droplets of water. These are more reflective than normal clouds and so they reflect more sunlight back into space. This has a significant effect on the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth's surface. In the last 100 years the amount of sunlight getting through has reduced by around 20%. This so called Global Dimming makes the Earth cooler than it would otherwise be.

Soot and other man-made particles are, however, injurious to human health and efforts have been made to reduce them by trapping them in factory chimneys, by engineering cleaner internal combustion engines and so on. The air is getting cleaner in some parts of the world, notably northern Europe. The consequence though is stronger sunlight and yet more global warming.

Indeed, some think we have underestimated the warming effects of atmospheric CO2. We have measured the rise in world temperature, measured the extra CO2 in the atmosphere and calculated that x amount of CO2 produces y amount of warming. But if the amount of warming has been kept down by Global Dimming maybe CO2 has more of a warming effect than we thought and this will become all too apparent as we reduce particle emissions.

And let us not forget Mother Nature. Major volcanic eruptions can cause significant global cooling. Sometimes they eject large amounts of volcanic dust into the upper atmosphere and this dust reflects solar energy back into space.

Global Warming - Population

There is a simple (though this does not imply easy) way to reduce CO2 emissions by 2060. Reduce the world's population.

In 1960 world population was 3 billion. Today it is 6.8 billion. By 2060 on current projections it will be around 9 billion.

But suppose world culture changed such that nobody had more than 2 children. If every couple had exactly 2 children one might think world population would stay exactly the same. In fact in the short term population would continue to increase as a result of longer lifespans. Thereafter it would in theory stabilise but since some would choose to have 1 or no children population would begin gradually to reduce. By 2060 world population might be perhaps 7 or 8 billion. A billion or two fewer people means a lot less CO2 emitted.

Thereafter, world population would decline slowly as people chose to have one or two children.

A gradually decreasing world population of course poses its own challenges. Care of the elderly becomes a proportionately greater burden on those of working age. Which is the greater threat: the risk to humankind through global warming or the problems associated with an aging population? An aging population undeniably throws up tough, but potentially manageable, challenges. Global warming threatens unmanageable calamity.

In the past having many children was a desirable thing: hands were needed to till the soil, infant mortality was high. Even today, those who boast of five children will sometimes be applauded. Yet those who have more than 2 children are doing far more harm to the planet than any gas-guzzling 4x4 SUV driver who doesn't. Just one extra offspring and their offspring, even if abstemious energy conservers, will cause far more CO2 to be emitted than any 4x4 SUV. Often those who have many children don't even realise it is they who are doing most to destroy the planet. It is not those who drive large cars but those who have more than two children who should suffer the opprobrium.

Climate Change - Population

Compulsion is not the way to go. We have to change attitudes. We must make everyone aware that reproductive restraint is the surest way to reduce human-caused CO2 emissions. The culture, worldwide, has to become that those who have more than two children are seen as doing most to destroy the planet and are frowned upon. Establish that as the prevailing view and the battle is largely won. Peer pressure is a wonderful thing: we castigate those who have more than two children rather than those who drive cars larger than ours. Symbolic changes to tax and social security systems can also help make the point. This cultural change will take time, but then global warming is a long term issue.

Two things have great influence on fertility: the education of girls and the availability of contraception. Girls, women who have had a full education - taken for granted in developed countries - have fewer children than uneducated women and they have them when they are older. Where contraception is available at no cost and understood it is used.

Changing attitudes and behaviour may not be quite as difficult as it seems. Birth rates tend to fall as prosperity rises. Blind adherence to religious doctrine declines as education levels rise. Access to and use of contraception are enhanced by prosperity, education and personal freedom, all of which are increasing worldwide.

And let us not forget that the oldish are perfectly capable of looking after the old. They don't today because they can retire early. Later retirement goes a long way towards addressing the aging problem. Basic economics suggests that if there are proportionately fewer young people around to do the work, higher pay or lower retirement pensions will encourage older people to work a little longer. A small price to pay for saving the planet. [Indeed, since this paragraph was first written in 2005, the UK government has decided to raise the age at which it pays old age pensions. On average, people will have to work longer.]

Whereas seeking artificially to slow economic growth hurts people - makes us all poorer - restraining population growth has, if anything, quite the opposite effect: it tends to enhance per capita wealth. And, after all, what do we mean by saving the planet? The planet will not be destroyed whatever we do to it. We mean preserving the climatic status quo - the environmental conditions that have allowed mankind to multiply and prosper. It is mankind's prosperity and mankind's enjoyment of earth's current flora and fauna that we are trying to protect. If you like, we are simply trying to preserve the conditions that enable increasing per capita wealth. That's what we really mean by "saving the planet".

Global Warming - The Green Movement

If pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and the Green movement as a whole are serious about reducing CO2 emissions they must begin to highlight the fact that CO2 emission is directly related to the size of the population, that population size is therefore the key determinant of the rate of global warming and that gradual population reduction is a sure way of reducing CO2 emissions.

Today the Green movement's focus is on fuzzy, easy, non-threatening but marginal issues: recycling glass, driving fewer miles, turning down the heating. Recycling is attractive and easy to sell and, by gum, it makes us all feel good, doesn't it: makes us all feel we're doing our bit to save the planet? But it is irrelevant in the context of global warming and climate change. Much of the Green movement is left-leaning and naturally in sympathy with anti-capitalists and the like who wish to reduce or reverse economic growth. Preaching "less industrialisation" guarantees the Greens a great deal of support from the left. Preaching reproductive restraint tends to upset the Green movement's natural constituency.

But it is time for the Green lobby to step up to this big, contentious issue and take a lead in building a worldwide consensus that reproductive restraint is the single most effective way of reducing CO2 emissions. They must become leaders in changing the culture if they are to make a real contribution to saving the planet, if they are to be true friends of the earth.

Never mind carbon offsetting - paying to have tress planted to salve your long-haul conscience and such like - it doesn't work, it makes no difference. Make a donation to a charity providing contraception. That actually will make a real difference to global CO2 emissions.

The messages are simple:

(For UK readers, do you know what percentage of the world's population live in UK? Just under 1%. Marginal reduction in UK energy use is just about totally irrelevant in the context of saving the planet, though we should of course lead by example and reduce CO2 emissions whenever we economically can.)

Which nation has so far made the biggest contribution to reducing carbon emissions and global warming? The USA? No. UK? No. Germany, perhaps? No. China. China has made by far the biggest contribution to reduced CO2 emissions. How so? China has a one child policy. As a consequence there are estimated to be 400 million fewer Chinese than there would otherwise be. That represents a huge amount of CO2 that is not being emitted. In the Climate Change debate the finger should be pointed at China as exemplars not as villains.

If you really want to make a difference to world CO2 emissions get out there and persuade the world to have no more than 2 children. [Optimum Population Trust Website.]

If the doomsayers are right, global warming will result in catastrophic reductions in world population through famine, flooding and other "natural" disasters. Does the human race really want its population to continue to grow unabated until catastrophe culls us? Or should we encourage reproductive restraint so that we may avoid that catastrophe?

The world may be able to support 10 billion people, but only if just about all of us live as semi-developed countries do today. It cannot support 10 billion living the way Europeans do, let alone Americans. It is reckoned that if everyone is to consume as much as the average American does today, the world can only support a population of 1.5 billion people. The message is clear. There is only one way for the whole world's population to be rich: to reduce the world's population gradually over time.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Global Warming and Climate Change

If you believe humans are causing global warming you have three choices: de-industrialise the world and prevent the poor from becoming rich CO2 emitters; go all out for non-CO2 technology; steadily reduce world population. De-industrialisation is not a realistic option - it would cause mass starvation for one thing.

Which leaves only two ways to reduce carbon emissions: technology and population reduction. The rest is wishful thinking and conscience salving. Population reduction would definitely reduce CO2 emissions, technology might. If we are lucky we will get population reduction and the technology, and CO2 emissions won't just increase more slowly than they otherwise would have, CO2 emissions will actually decrease.

So, forget driving your Volvo to the bottle bank: have fewer children and retire a bit later, that's how you'll save the planet. And the next time some sanctimonious Green buttonholes you about global warming just ask them how many children they have. If it's more than two politely point out to them it is they who are wrecking the planet.

Copyright MR 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009

Interesting Sites:
Optimum Population Trust.
Cosmic Rays Linked To Global Warming.
Link Between Cosmic Rays and Clouds.
Climate Change and Cosmic Rays.
The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect - A History of the Science.
Volcanoes and the Weather.
What causes ice-ages?
The Discovery of Global Warming.
Guide to Energy, Emissions and Greenhouse Gases.

Global Warming Climate Change Greenhouse Gas Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Population

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