Sunday, May 11, 2003

Global warming: why the fuss?

I attended an interesting session at spiked's Panic Attack conference on Friday about global warming. The three speakers all had slightly different views on whether there was such a thing as man-made global warming. Sallie Baliunas from Harvard suggested that there was nothing out of the ordinary with the current phase of warming, and that there were much more significant events in the last 1000 years. Bjorn Lomborg felt that the IPCC reports were the best attempt at understanding the science we had, and these predicted anthropogenic warming. However, he argued that while the cost of coping with such warming was considerable, the cost of attempting to stop it would be greater and probably pointless. Mark Saunders of University College London argued that, while there was warming occuring, any increase in extreme weather events was far less significant than the ordinary year-on-year variation.

What I thought was: why the fuss? The human race as a whole is certainly not threatened by global warming. For developed countries, the impact is likely to be neutral. Developing countries may well have difficulty in dealing with some aspects of the problem, but those countries have much bigger problems on their plates right now. Simply providing the world's population with clean drinking water or freeing them from easily tackled diseases, seems much more important than tackling an effect which may or may not be happening, may or may not be under our control and whose effects are likely to beneficial in some areas.

Can we cope with a warmer planet? Of course we can. One only has to look at the range of situations that humans live in at present to see that this must be so. I have friends living in Norway in average temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius, and in Ghana with summer temperatures well in excess of 40 degrees Celsius. Even with a single city, there can be wide variations. New York is frequently covered in snow in winter but also hits 38 degrees Celsius regularly in the summer. Yet, New York is prepared and can cope.

So, the issue is surely not whether we can cope with variation in average temperatures but having the resources to deal with it. Hence, many parts of the developing world do not yet have the wealth to cope with the consequences of global warming. That's not a surprise, when the developing world doesn't have the resources to cope with many other problems either. Let us focus on the problems we have here and now before we start to fret about what might happen in the future.

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