Hot Enough For Ya?

Man-made climate change is causing a little bit of controversy. Some idiots say climate change is a myth, or if it is happening, it’s not the result of human activities. Scientists, on the other hand, are pretty much unanimous in their support of the theory of man-made climate change.

I suspect that my even-handed and non-judgemental introduction to my subject for today’s rant will tell you on which side of the debate I stand.

To give you an example, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a scientific body set up and endorsed by the United Nations to assess the risks of climate change) states that there is “new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last fifty years is attributable to human activity”. The IPCC is further supported by independent scientific establishments around the world as being representative of scientific opinion. Even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists refuse to outright deny the existence of man-made climate change, although they have admitted that a number of their members have resigned due to this policy.

So what are the dangers of climate change, either man-made or natural? Well, the obvious one is the increase in global temperatures caused by the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Even the most die-hard climate sceptic cannot deny that we are pumping these gases into the air in huge quantities. We have known for decades the damage that is being done by industry, traffic and so on, but still we do it.

It certainly wasn't the dolphins that caused this

Global increases in temperature can easily lead to changes in the landscape, as plant life is less able to react to drier or wetter conditions. Plants could therefore die out in some areas, or migrate, following the cooler temperatures away from the equator. As habitats change, animal life will have to move as well, following the vegetation that forms their diet, or the animals that feed on the vegetation in the case of predators. Some species will simply die out, forced into extinction by the destruction of their habitats. Rising temperatures will also affect the oceans, killing off coral reefs and the creatures that live on them. Small creatures, such as plankton and krill, could be severely affected, and they form a large part of the diet of some of the most massive creatures in the sea: whales. Unbalancing the food chain from the bottom up could have devastating effects.

Rising temperatures will also lead to rising sea levels, with some predictions putting the rate at thirty-six inches in the next century. A rise of that magnitude would be devastating, as over 100 million people worldwide live within three feet of sea level. It would entirely swamp the East coast of America, much of coastal Europe, the vast majority of Pacific islands. London, New York and Bangkok would drown.

Ironic doesn't always mean funny.

Rising temperatures will inevitably lead to droughts, which (odd though it may seem) lead directly to an increased risk of flooding. Droughts cause more moisture to be evaporated from the ground, drying it out and killing crops, eroding soil and killing livestock. This evaporated water then returns as heavy rainfall, increasing the risk of flooding. We are already seeing a rise in the severity and frequency of drought and flood, especially in Asia and Africa. In addition, dry conditions lead to an increased risk of forest fires, something that America and Australia have experienced in recent years.

The next problem is the increased severity of storms. Warmer oceans change weather patterns, creating much more violent hurricanes and tropical storms. The eroded landscapes will be unable to withstand this increased battering, damaging them further.

"Aunty Em! Aunty Em!"

The damage to property and human life that could be caused by these storms is incalculable. Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast of America in 2005, killed nearly 2000 people and caused between $80 and $110 billion in property damage.

Finally, the increased temperatures will have a direct effect of health, as warmer temperatures allow diseases and disease-carriers to spread into new habitats, bringing such delights as malaria, Dengue fever, River Blindness and Ebola. The World Health Organisation has estimated that more than 150,000 people died as a direct result of climate change in 2000 alone. It suggests that the figure will rise dramatically in the future, as tropical diseases and pests move into new areas where the climate was previously too cold to support them.

Now, I should point out that climate change is just a theory (rather like the Theory of Evolution is ‘just’ a theory), but it does have the support of a huge section of the worldwide scientific community. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is happening, and it is our fault, to motivate world leaders into serious action, wouldn’t you think? Even the Met Office in Britain is currently warning of drought conditions due to a lack of rainfall during winter. I’ll repeat that: the Met Office in BRITAIN is currently warning of DROUGHT conditions due to a LACK OF RAINFALL OVER WINTER! If that doesn’t suggest that the climate is well and truly fucked, I don’t know what does!

My childhood holidays were often spent like this

The British comedian David Mitchell, in his Soapbox series of ranting weblogs, discussed the idea of the burden of proof relating to climate change. He suggests that surely the burden of proof is on the people who say it isn’t happening, rather than the ones who say it is (see his rant here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI5ulKiZAoE). We definitely should be doing something about it, because if the people who say it isn’t happening are right and we act, then we’ll have spent a lot of money on developing renewable energy, improving sea defenses, cleaning up our atmosphere and so on. On the other hand, if the people who say it is happening are right and we don’t act, we all die a horrible, drawn out death, starving and suffocating while bleeding from our eyes and shitting our internal organs out.

Which would you prefer? I’d prefer a world in which my children (if I ever have any), and their children (likewise), can step outside and breathe the air without immediately dying.

There are many ways in which we can try to put pressure on our governments to take action on this, because it is desperately important for us to do something. Write to your MP, join or donate to charities who work on this. If you’re a scientist, please let me know if I am just spewing out knee-jerk, liberal, reactionary bile. If you don’t, I’ll assume the worst and start building my personal bio-dome in which I’ll live like a king while you all choke on the toxic smog.

Who’s with me?

 

What Happened to our Future?

As a child, I would sit down in front of the television every Thursday evening and wait with impatience for Nationwide to finish. Why? Because the best show in the world started directly after: Tomorrow’s World. For those too young, forgetful or foreign to remember it, Tomorrow’s World was a live programme broadcast on the BBC for nearly 40 years, from 1965 until its cancellation in 2003. A sad day indeed.

The premise of the show was simple – it was to explore and report on scientific and technological advances. It introduced the world to mobile phones (as far back as 1977), the Channel Tunnel (1972) and even online shopping (1979). Because it was live, exciting developments (usually involving robots) often went wrong, but this was ok. It gave the show a feeling of cutting-edge experimentation.

As a small child, born in 1975, Tomorrow’s World gave me my first glimpses of a marvellous future, full of silver jumpsuits, personal jet-packs and robotic butlers.

I wonder why I loved Buck Rogers..?

I followed up my early fascination with science by delving into science fiction, notably the British comic institution of 2000AD, which celebrates its 35th birthday this week. 2000AD is an anthology of serialised comic strips, most famously Judge Dredd, and has kickstarted the careers and showcased the talents of some of the biggest names in fandom: Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman.

In the 1980s, the year 2000 seemed an age away, so why shouldn’t the world change dramatically by then? After all, if the pace of technological advancement in the post-WWII years continued, we could reasonably expect to be living in a Sci-Fi utopia within a couple of decades.

As you have no doubt not failed to realise, none of this has happened. The world we live in is not really much different from the one we lived in thirty years ago. Yes, we have the internet, smartphones, cable TV. Healthcare is still improving and life expectancy slowly rising. Advances in astronomy allow us to view the birth and death of stars, or understand the atmosphere of a distant planet. But essentially life is pretty much the same, isn’t it? You know, for the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, person on the street? We don’t have robot servants (except in the industrial machinery sense – and all they have done is put thousands of people out of work). We don’t have cars that drive themselves (despite several prototypes having been developed). We certainly don’t have personal jet-packs or even flying cars (although given the death toll on our motorways this may actually be a good thing). We all thought that we were on the verge of a wonderful new era of science and technology enhancing our lives, and yet we’re still stuck with the same old problems.

On Star Trek, Kirk shared his bridge with a black woman, a Russian, a Japanese-American and an alien. In 2012 we still live with racial intolerance.

In countless science fiction shows, electric cars whizzed noiselessly past, seamlessly merging with serenely moving traffic.

Yeah.

The internal combustion engine has been knocking around in various forms for well over two centuries and in that time has developed from barely contained explosions to the largely inefficient, multi-cylinder, gas-guzzling monstrosities that we know and love, although the last real breakthrough was in 1954 with the development of the Wankel Rotary Engine (stop sniggering at the back!). We are still reliant on fossil fuels that are expensive, ecologically devastating, the cause of war and financial ruin. Electric and hybrid cars are slowly gaining a tiny market share, but the performance is pretty poor and charging times unrealistic.

So what happened? Why did technology change its focus? It went from promising everything to delivering…beta testing. Computers run our lives and, while this has obvious benefits (porn has never been more readily available for a start), who can truly say that they have never been tempted to hurl a computer through a window and begin a bloody vendetta against Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs? Who has never heard the phrase ‘paperless office’ without suppressing (or releasing) a bitter laugh? Who has never ground their teeth to a fine paste as an important document disappears into the electronic ether, never to return?

"Bring me the head of Bill fucking Gates!"

I am not a scientist. This may come as a shock to some of you, but it’s true. I also have very little clue about the inner workings of a computer, either hardware or software. I can operate a motor vehicle, inserting fuel, oil and water when necessary. I can even perform simple tasks like changing a tyre, or replacing spark plugs. Beyond that level of competency, I need to get someone else to do it. What I’m saying is this: I have no idea why we don’t live in Space 1999, but I suspect it has something to do with bureaucracy. In episode one of James May’s Big Ideas, the hairy pianist and geek explores the world of flying machines and concludes thus: If the idea for the car was proposed today, it would be rejected for being far too dangerous. A machine made of metal, fueled with an explosive liquid, capable of travelling at speeds in excess of 100mph, in the hands of anyone who could pass a simple test? Insanity! And they may be right. Over 2000 people a year die on the roads in England and Wales alone. How many more would die if their cars could get airborne? Ever run out of petrol? Ever run out of petrol at 15,000 feet?

While I am trying to inject a little humour into this article, I humbly suggest there is a serious point to all this. Our future, the future my generation was promised, has not come to pass. We have been let down by our predecessors and are now letting down our successors. We need to stop messing around, stop arguing, and start changing this world for the better before it is too late. We are killing this planet (not wanting to sound like a whiny eco-nut), and it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll be getting off it at any time soon. We need people with the skills to make a difference – engineers, scientists, visionaries. We don’t need another generation of disillusioned call centre workers, shop assistants, IT consultants.

How about this: We sit the leaders of the world around a big table and lock the room.

We then elect people who are sensible and able to see past their own legacy, or the end of their patriotic or religious noses. We elect people who actually give a shit about the future.

Otherwise, we may not have one.

Can the last person to leave please turn out the lights?