Fact or Feelie-Fact!
I was addressing a small group of SME business owners this week and we started to discuss the issue of climate change first as a potential business risk for some of their enterprises and supply changes, but also as an opportunity for some of them in how they looked at thier future strategic planning.
During the course of our discussion I was surprised by some of the questions that were asked by the business men and women, and I was reminded by a GP friend who often challenged her patients with the phrase when presented by a medical claim – “Is that a fact or a ‘feelie-fact’ (i.e. it feels like a fact)?”
So after jotting down questions, and a quick bit of research on various websites here is a quick trot through the some of the most asked questions – presented in TRUE or FALSE colours for facts and mythsFEELS .
THE CLIMATE IS ALWAYS CHANGING!
There is natural variability in the Earth’s climate but the current state of climate change we are experiencing is unusual as the is now a wealth of evidence that verifies it is not exclusively part of a natural cycle.
Natural factors which affect climate include volcanic eruptions, aerosols and phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña (which cause warming and cooling of the Pacific Ocean surface). Natural climatic variations can lead to periods with little or no warming, both globally and regionally, and other periods with very rapid warming. However, there is an underlying trend of warming that is now almost certainly caused by Man’s activities.
THESE CHANGES ARE ALL DOWN TO THE SUN AND OTHER NATURAL FACTORS!
Many factors contribute to climate change. Only when climate scientists have aggregated all these variable factors together can we explain the size and patterns of climate change that has occurred over the last 100 years or so.
Although it has been common for some people to ask whether the Sun and cosmic rays have been responsible for climate change, measured solar activity has shown no significant change in the last few decades and little evidence to back up this claim. However there is sufficient evidence to show that global temperatures have continued to rise since the Industrial Revolution, suggesting strongly that the additional greenhouse gases that have been emitted since then have had about 10x the effect on climate as fluctuating changes in solar output.
Much of the relatively small climate variability over the last 1,000 years, before industrialisation, can be explained by changes in solar output and occasional cooling due to major volcanic eruptions. Since industrialisation, however, CO2 has increased significantly and we now know that man-made CO2 is the likely cause of most of the warming over the last 50 years.
CLIMATE SCIENTISTS DON’T REALLY AGREE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree on the fundamentals of climate change — that climate change is happening and has recently been caused by increased greenhouse gases from human activities.
The core climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was written by 152 scientists from more than 30 countries and reviewed by more than 600 experts. It concluded that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in man-made greenhouse gas concentrations.
I once asked this question within the context of being astounded by the degree of unity between so many branches of science and scientific professions, especially within those areas where they commonly fell out! One of the IPCC experts who had reviewed the data put the answer this way to me:
“It is as if all the religious leaders in the world got together to discuss ‘Is there a God?”
A few days later they appear with a statement that says ‘Yes, there is a God….. and his name is Elvis!”
IT’S POSSIBLE THAT THERE’S NO LINK BETWEEN TEMPERATURE RISE AND CO2
Temperature and CO2 are linked. Studies of ice core layers taken within polar-ice show that in previous centuries and millenia, rises in temperature have been followed by an increase in CO2. Now, it is a rise in CO2 that is causing the temperature to rise.
Concentrations of CO2 have increased by more than 35% since humanity’s industrialisation phase began, and they are now at their highest for at least 800,000 years. When natural factors alone are considered, computer models do not reproduce the climate warming we now observe and record. Only once man-made greenhouse gases are fed back into the equations and computer models do we recreate results that mirror what is happening today in the real world.
THE RECENT WARMING IS DUE TO THE GROWTH OF OUR TOWN AND CITIES
No. CO2 emissions are causing the climate to warm everywhere around the globe. Temperatures in our cities are unnaturally high because of the warmth from heating building, heavy traffic, high concentrations of people and the effects of this heat being stored in our buildings, roads and concrete.
The UK Met Office’s observations come from urban and rural areas on land and from the sea, which covers 70% of the Earth. The Met Office manages data from cities carefully to ensure they do not skew their understanding of climate change.
Changes to how we get and use energy will cost billions and throw millions out of work
There are costs to any change, but study after study shows the net effect of conservation, efficiency and less-polluting energy will be more local jobs, cheaper power, and savings in health and improved local air quality (especially in cities). The costs of severe climate change effects, like catchment flooding and coastal erosion, will be far greater than working to reduce them.
Engineered Technology will solve the problem for us
Significant ‘fixes’, like removing CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, are very unlikely because they are not available now and are not an alternative to reducing emissions.
It’s already too late to stop climate change
Although some climate change effects are now unavoidable (and are already being experienced within some communities), recent evidence indicate that action needs to start now if we are to limit the peak of global emissions in the next decade and to start bringing a fall in emission levels to well below current levels to avoid some of the worst climate change scenarios. This is still possible, and can be achieved by collective global action at governmental and societal level, using technologies that are available today. Putting off action will make it harder and harder to achieve equilibrium, and more difficult and expensive to reduce emissions in future decades, as well as creating higher risks within society to severe climate change.
I can’t possibly make a difference
Globally, the three main contributors to greenhouse gas footprints are cars, coal and cows; and those are three areas in which our individual choices can make a future difference. Over 40 per cent of CO2 emissions in the UK come directly from central heating systems in our home and from our personal transport choices.
The recent IPCC report suggested that we need to look closely at our consumption of animal products, seeking to reduce them by at least 30%. The decision to eat less meat and dairy products has been identified as having a bigger impact on greenhouse gas reduction than personally reducing airline flights or buying an electric car. Beef production compared with peas results in six times more greenhouse gas emissions and the use of 36 times more land. Reducing food waste is another area where consumer decisions can make a future positive impact on global warming as up to 30% of food purchased can end up as food waste – the equivalent of throwing over 3 months food shopping into the bin each year!
There is no point in my country acting if other countries don’t!
Every reduction in emissions makes a global difference not a local difference by not contributing to risk. Western countries, especially the US, UK and other European neighbours can make a positive contribution and set a positive example to the rest of the world – if the heavily energy dependent countries of the western world can rise to the challenge successfully, others will follow. The average Chinese citizen still consumes only 10 to 15 per cent as much energy as the average US citizen, and in its latest renewables report the IEA states that it is China that will continue to dominate global renewable energy growth and that the country is likely to become the largest consumer of renewable energy (surpassing the EU by 2023).
Business as Usual
Moreover, there are good economic reasons for individuals, government and especially business leaders to take action now and act together. The Stern Review, the UK Treasury’s comprehensive analysis of the economics of climate change, estimated that not taking action could cost from 5 to 20% of global GDP every year. In comparison, reducing emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change could cost around 1% of global GDP each year.
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.
Sources of information:
My thanks to the following website, some of whose content I have incorporated into the text.
UK Met Office: metoffice.gov.uk/climatechange/guide/quick/doubts.html.
UK Government (Act on CO2 website): http://actonco2.direct.gov.uk/actonco2/home/climate-change-the-facts/Climate-change-myths-and-misconceptions.html.
Stern Report: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sternreview_index.htm.
Climate UK: http://climateuk.net/
Climate East Midlands: http://www.climate-em.org.uk/