"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Climate Change and Global Warming

I don't know what triggered my mind to do this, but yesterday I googled my scientific paper that I wrote with my supervisor on, wait for it, The Surface Phosphatase Activity of Roots of Beech Mycorrhiza. I was amazed that something I wrote in 1973 (in my maiden name) was now floating around in cyberspace, and just a little flattered that quite a few scientists still see fit to cite it in their own works! This was after all my subject for my PhD thesis, and for a long time afterwards I felt disillusioned as to the usefulness of this work in the grand scheme of things!

Perhaps I should not have been so doubtful!
The lesson from this small exercise in narcissism is that science is an art! There is a misunderstanding prevalent among many in the general non scientific public that scientific experiments categorically prove something to be true or false. This in many cases is simply not so. Scientists devise experiments around hypotheses and conclusions are made around probabilities and relative weight of evidence one way or another.
All this is very relevant to the current debates on climate change.

A Times poll in 2009 found that only two in five Britons believed that this current and visible problem was largely man made. But those that still harbor any doubts that we are in any way responsible for climate change should heed the report to world leaders by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) following its meeting in Paris at the start of 2007. This report concludes that it is very likely (and that means a 90% chance!) that the activities of man are responsible for the increased greenhouse gases and the resultant problems of climate change now being seen and predicted for the foreseeable future. As a consequence average temperatures are likely to rise by 4°C by the end of the century. This is the consensus of opinion from the combined efforts of more than 800 contributing authors and more than 450 lead authors, with more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers involved in the two-stage scientific and technical review process. So what is there to doubt?

For the continuing cynics why not use an adaptation of Pascal’s Wager? Pascal reasoned that whether or not one believed in the existence of God, it was a safer bet and one had nothing to lose by supposing that He existed. So it is with the global warming debate. If we allow ourselves to become more spiritually aware, more sensitive to our finely balanced place in the world, more compassionate towards the plight of our brethren across the globe, more simple in our needs, more at peace with ourselves, more in tune with our own souls and the soul beneath our feet, then are we not alll enriched? We will certainly be happier, and we will be leaving a better world for those who come after us. What do we have to lose?

There are bound to be some controversies and debates surrounding the details of the IPCC report and the scale of its significance. Much of our best scientific research effort is being directed towards gaining a fuller understanding of all the issues involved, and what actions we can take.

We saw the distress that extreme weather can inflict in the 2005 devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Even those who cannot quite believe or accept the evidence for the part humankind may be playing in climate change cannot deny the extent of human suffering now seen on a global scale. This then becomes more than a debate on climate change. It becomes a matter of human compassion and justice. These injustices brew a potentially dangerous potion of civil unrest and worse. There is a social and moral imperative for us all to share everything, to watch out for each other, to work for global healing. I believe we can no longer ignore our global responsibilities.
These photos by the way are from the Nun's Valley in Madeira when there annual chestnut festival was washed out by the most extraordinary rain in November 2008. The capital Funchal of course suffered even more from freak weather in February 2010.

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