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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2090-1651276,00.html Sunday Times (Scotland) June 12 2005

Comment: Jenny Hjul:

'Global warming' is melting our brains

The British summer of 1976 was very hot. People sunbathed in parks in their lunch breaks, hosepipes were banned and phrases like “ozone layer” and “greenhouse effect” entered the language to explain the scorching temperatures.

In 1985 the Antarctic ozone hole was discovered. Man-made chemicals were deemed to be responsible, and that was it: the global warming industry was born.

Since then, it has been accepted more or less without question that we are destroying our planet and that if we don’t check our antisocial habits (such as driving cars) the world as we know it will be wiped out in our lifetimes.

Alarmist tales give ballast to this hysteria. The BBC ran two reports this week, one on Newsnight on BBC2 on Wednesday and another on Reporting Scotland on Thursday, which told how climate change is going to tear South Uist apart.

Against a backdrop of emotive footage of a private tragedy, a recent storm was cited as evidence that global warming will soon cut the island in two. The reporter found local people to say they would be concerned if their bit of the island were cast adrift, while a woman celebrating her 100th birthday was asked if the January tempest was the worst she’d ever seen. (It didn’t last very long, she said unhelpfully.)

There were stirring images of hardy Highlanders and the implication was that if we don’t cut our carbon emissions now, these people may end up in the sea. It was in the same genre of broadcasting that repeated screenings of the Boscastle floods were used to show how climate change will kill us all.

Yet despite the cod science and hyperbole, the stories were accepted at face value. Shiona Baird, the Green MSP, asked Jack McConnell at first minister’s questions if he could announce specific Scottish targets for reducing greenhouse gases. She was particularly worried, she said, about the people of South Uist, who were “facing devastating consequences to their lifestyle”. Obviously she had seen Newsnight.

Climate change is big business. It shares star billing with Africa at next month’s G8 Gleneagles summit. It has been moved to the top of the developed nations’ agendas. Tony Blair has been in Washington trying to convince President George W Bush to co-operate, if not on the Kyoto protocol then at least by acknowledging that a problem exists.

Bush is held up as the bogeyman by the global warming industry, despised for taking the side of the oil barons. Asked this week if he thought climate change was man-made, he replied: “We want to know more about it. Easier to solve a problem when you know a lot about it.” America, he said, was at the forefront of research into the issue. The science was not proven.

He is right. Although the earth is going through a period of warming, there is no incontrovertible evidence that this has been caused by school-run mums. We are in the middle of one of many cyclical weather patterns — and while severe storms and beach erosion in the Outer Hebrides may bring these patterns too close for comfort, they do not confirm any link to carbon emissions. The latter part of the 19th century was very stormy — and there were no Land Cruisers or dishwashers or Airbuses then.

One of the worst recorded storms in the North Atlantic was described in Sebastian Junger’s book The Perfect Storm as a one-in-a-million conflation of meteorological conditions. In other words a freak event.

For every account of looming catastrophe there is a reassuring study that proves the climate change industry wrong. Based on available science, the debate should be balanced — but it is not. The Greens have captured the public imagination on this one. Environmentalism is a cuddly cause and it is difficult for reason to prevail.

Bush has been accused of politicising science, but that is exactly what the climate change zealots have done. Isn’t that what the entire green movement is about? The Bush administration allegedly uses any scientific source that corroborates its position on climate change, dismissing those that contradict it. But so does the green lobby. Everybody these days is an expert on melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, chlorofluorocarbons and receding glaciers.

Climate scientists, meanwhile, say that they cannot even produce models of past weather patterns, let alone predict future systems. Shorter-term phenomena like the El Niño are hard to analyse, let alone the cycles of ice ages that have dominated the climate for 700,000 years.

The forecasts we read are speculative, sometimes wildly so: worst possible scenarios that may take place hundreds of years from now. But this doesn’t stop the broadly Left-leaning climate doomsayers, who have seized on the environment as a launch pad from which to attack the free-market ideology of the West.

Friends of the Earth Scotland have said extreme weather in Scotland is “a stark warning of what is to come”. Jim Hunter, a former chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, says global warming is a greater threat than Hitler once was. No wonder seven out of 10 Scots fear climate change (though not enough to recycle their household rubbish).

No wonder McConnell tries to keep in step with public anxieties by setting up reviews of Scotland’s climate change programme. Protecting the environment and reducing pollution, increasing recycling rates and seeking sustainable energy alternatives are reasonable aims for any government, as long as they are kept in perspective.

A group of leading economists agreed recently that allocating funds to the prevention of climate change was not the best use of finite resources. Their conclusions, published in the book Global Crises, Global Solutions, were based on the premise that any benefits from trying to avert climate change are far into the future.

Weighed against the many other pressing problems that demand immediate action — malnutrition and hunger, communicable diseases or sanitation and access to clean water, for example — a costly attempt to reduce greenhouse gases is a waste of precious time and money.

As G8 approaches, with its intense focus on humanitarian disasters in Africa, world leaders should concentrate on what they can fix, not on what they can’t. And, for once the green lobby should calm down, as McConnell might say.