Tue, Sep 18, 2012 - Page 8 News List


Climate change

With predictions of climate change ranging from impending doom (“Earth has gone past the point of no return,” Sept. 3, page 8) to serious impacts (“Our summer of climate truth,” Aug. 1, page 9) to no impact at all (http://tinyurl.com/imh-nonsense), maybe it is time to review the science of climate change.

First, as Jeffrey Sachs points out correctly, climate is not weather, just like one swallow does not make a spring. One severe typhoon or drought is no proof of climate change, but the long-term increase over several decades of such events is, which is exactly what we observe.

Second, carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas. There are several others (water vapor, ozone, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons) which trap heat, just like a blanket traps heat when you sleep under it. These other greenhouse gases trap significant amounts of heat, so we need to deal with them, too. For example, more hamburgers mean more cows, which emit increasing amounts of methane, and melting permafrost may also emit huge amounts of currently frozen methane, a potentially dangerous positive feedback mechanism.

Third, climate change is based on physics, not on the observation of global temperature increase. We know that most greenhouse gases are increasing and that they all trap heat, just like a blanket does, and two blankets trap more heat than one blanket. This is the physics behind climate change, while the observed temperate change (as, for example, the much maligned hockey stick graph) is just the expected response to, but not the proof for, man-made climate change.

Finally, the accumulating evidence for climate change already happening is not just evident in the observed global (and not necessarily local) atmospheric temperature increase, but a number of other related observations: increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, storms, floods, droughts and fires, decreasing ice and snow cover around the world, higher temperature increase toward the poles, higher ocean temperatures, rising sea-levels and changes of biological events, such as plant flowering, bird migration, disease spread and coral bleaching.

People are also often confused about the time frames: While atmospheric temperature increases happen within decades, and will, for example, soon impact food security in Asia, temperature increases of oceans, melting of continental ice sheets and the resulting rise of sea level will take centuries, but will inevitably happen if humanity does not dramatically decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

However, that is my beef with Dan Bloom’s apocalyptic conclusions: I find it unlikely that, in the face of accumulating scientific evidence and increasing disaster frequencies, people and their governments will not react, especially given that renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind or geothermal, are relatively cheap, widely and sufficiently available, and have much lower environmental impacts than fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

What does this mean for Taiwan? There is no doubt climate change will negatively impact Taiwan in the future, with more severe storms and floods the most immediate and obvious impact, while other effects such as the submersion of coastal areas would come much later (Letters, Aug. 28, page 8).

It is therefore utter stupidity and negligence not to jump onto the renewable energy train that is about to leave the station, now even supported by many conservative politicians (http://tinyurl.com/gummer-renew). Investment in research and development of renewable energy and subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency, possibly directly financed by an energy tax, would set up Taiwan nicely in the race for renewable energy installation all around the world.

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