Last night the Leeds Sceptical Climateers (Ian, Susan and myself) attended a panel discussion given by the Earth Sciences department at Leeds University’s beautiful Clothworkers Centenary Hall.
Topping the bill was Jonathan Porrit, the veteran alternative energy and environmental campaigner. Also speaking were “the two Andy’s”, as Porrit referred to them, Professor Andrew Gouldson, and Professor Andrew Shepherd. Their three topics were: ‘innovation in a low carbon future’, ‘should climate change really be a priority in an age of austerity?’ and ‘is global sea level rise the threat we imagine it to be?’.
The irony of the title shouldn’t be lost on talkshop regulars. Greenpeace holds ancient documents from the Southern Electric Company in the U.S. which mention ‘Repositioning the climate debate as theory rather than fact’. Something Russell Cook wrote about at length in his article on Ross Gelbspan and Al Gore and their campaign to get skeptics excluded from the climate debate.
Little mention of scepticism last night though, and the mainstream position was taken as a given by Porrit and Gouldson in their talks about the macro-economics of the alternative energy world they would like to see the global economies move towards. The mood was slightly downbeat, and Porrit vented his frustration at the latest moves by the UK government away from wind to nuclear power, and made the claim that the U.S. politicians were in the pocket of the big fossil energy industry. Gouldson pretty much relied on the Stern report for his rationale, concluding that a 2% of GDP ‘insurance policy’ was a good buy. Both of their presentations seemed disconnected from current relevance in many ways.
Prof Andrew Shepherd’s talk was far more interesting. It was Andrew Shepherd who introduced John Hirst at his Alumni lecture a few weeks ago. He launched into the science of ice sheets and sea level, mentioning in passing that the work he a 63 other glaciologists had been doing was valid whether global warming has been caused by human or natural causes. Their key finding was encapsulated in this graph.
He pointed out that this shows that Antarctica’s rate of contribution to sea level rise was pretty much linear and not accelerating, and it is Greenland which is the cause for concern as its rate of melt is apparently increasing exponentially, and has contributed a whole 8mm to global sea levels since 1992. His summary of the other matters he discussed is encapsulated in this next slide:
Folllowing the presentations there was half an hour of Q&A which covered some wide ranging issues raised by the audience, none of which I have time to write about just now.
At the end I approached Jonathan Porrit who had said that Europe had invested 47 billion in alternative energy and pointed out to him that the UBS report I had read says the European Union has spent 270 billion propping up the price of carbon, when it could have been directly spent generating jobs and renewing Europe’s aging power generation fleet, thus reducing co2 emissions by 42%. He agreed that carbon markets had failed, but said it was all the fault of the Americans who had insisted in the introduction of carbon markets as the price of their agreement to Kyoto.
I asked Andrew Shepherd why, if Kevin Trenberth’s missing heat was hiding in the ocean, was it not possible that a lot of extra solar derived energy was hiding there too, accumulated during decades of well above average solar activity in the mid to late C20th. He told me I’d need to ask an atmospheric physicist about that. Non-plussed, we left them to it and headed off for our de-brief meeting.