Some thoughts on Climate Change

...by an experienced observer

This piece has been contributed by a friend living in Northern England who has been following and studying trends in the weather for several decades - N.D.

........I am not a Scientist, but have been interested in aspects of the changing climate, insofar as it affects the UK in particular, for some years. There is a vocal body of opinion that what is perceived to be a danger of a runaway global warming is entirely – or, at least, largely – due to man’s activities. Many ‘experts’, who may well be far cleverer than I, maintain that a substantial global overall temperature increase will take place over the next 100 or so years, resulting in catastrophic changes to sea levels and massive flooding of many low-lying areas. This, again, is attributed to various man-made factors, but to what extent is unclear.

I do not believe that anyone can say with certainty that man has not contributed in any way to this trend, but, thus far, I am not aware of a scientifically robust and completely dispassionate appraisal of the extent to which man has contributed. My other concern relates to the exceptionally short time-scale of truly accurate standardised temperature data which is being used to “prove” that what we are seeing is genuinely exceptional. Extrapolation from a very short timescale of records can give results which may, in time, prove to be false – although Gordon Manley’s Central England Temperature data was a remarkable piece of work, this takes us back only to 1659, and he would not have regarded the results as beyond scientific reproach, whilst standardised data probably goes back little more than 135 years, even less if one is to be pedantic. Such time spans are as nothing in a historical context.

Evidence of major warming and cooling periods for very many thousands of years has been adduced from, in the shorter-term, e.g. dendroclimatology and in the longer-term from such as ice-core analysis and sedimentology. Changes in the output of the sun, the earth’s orbit around it and the tilt of its rotation axis must have some impact on the climate, again posing the question : “how can anyone say with utter certainty that the current warming trend is entirely or largely due to man’s activities”? The cynic might argue that it provides a convenient excuse for Governments to increase so-called “Green Taxes” and quote Bierce’s definition of politics as : “A Strife of Interests Masquerading As a Contest of Principles” to bolster this.

Ever since the commencement of written records telling of the effect of climate change on the way we live, there is evidence of both warming and cooling events, but this evidence is generally localised and only goes back a fairly short time, relatively speaking, when measured against the historical context I’ve mentioned earlier. And it is not reinforced by accurate and standardised data relating to, e.g. temperature and rainfall. Comments such as “the coldest day in the memory of man” regularly appear in old diaries, but we all know how fallible and subjective this is. True, there are occasional exceptional events which excite much comment from archivists and diarists centuries ago, but these in isolation may prove nothing at all, except to say that climate is variable.

Of late, much has been made of the exceptional rainfall event at Seathwaite, when 314 mm. rain was recorded in a 24-hour period, and of a run of milder than average winters, which have, unsurprisingly, also been wetter than normal. The fact that rain gauges cannot be placed in every single square mile throughout the UK may mean that this event was not as unusual as might be thought. It may have been the result of an unusual combination of circumstances whereby an almost stationary and active frontal zone aligned almost parallel to the prevailing isobars pulled in very warm air which was then subject to uplift in a fairly narrow geographical area. Similar events do occur and in places where there are observers capable of measuring them. Some can almost justify the appellation “freak”. Such as a snowfall in a 15-hour period in the cold, but otherwise fairly dry February of 1929 in a very localised area of SE Dartmoor which was estimated to have been as much as 6 feet level in depth.

I remember an apparently well-informed body of scientific opinion loudly proclaiming in the mid-1970s that we were headed for another Ice Age. Partly attributed to changes in the intensity of the 11-year sunspot cycle, but no-one could explain what caused this, neither, to the best of my knowledge, has anyone come up with an explanation of the causes of the “Maunder Minimum” – a discovery in about 1890 that, between 1643 and 1715, sunspot activity was either almost non-existent or very substantially reduced from what was then regarded as the norm. There were several years in this period when severe winters occurred in Europe, especially the “Great Winter” of 1683/4, which may have been one of the coldest of the last millennium. And some appallingly inclement summers, those of the 1690s resulting in quasi-famine conditions in parts of the UK. But these were interspersed with some mild winters and warm summers, so what can be said is that there is certainty about the uncertainty of climatic variability, but uncertainty about any specific root causes behind this.

However, one can understand why someone who has spent many years attempting to prove a theory, and reinforcing this with apparently rigorous scientific observation, being loath to accept that they might possibly be wrong. It is only human nature. But those totally committed proponents of a specific viewpoint on ‘global warming’ should remember Oliver Cromwell’s plea to The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in a letter dated 3 August, 1650 : “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you might be mistaken”.

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