Thursday, 26 June 2008

Self-cleaning planet

On a day when we learn that household energy bills may rise by almost 40% - over and above the already massive increases in the cost of fuels - to help fund the Government's grandiose scheme to turn the country into a giant wind-farm, it's interesting to learn that nature may have found its own solution to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

According to a new study from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, large amounts of ozone are disappearing from the Atlantic ocean, especially from the tropical area around the Cape Verde islands. This has nothing to do with the ozone "hole" around the Antarctica which they doom-mongers used to threaten us with, and about which we hear much less nowadays. Rather, it's relatively low-lying, useless ozone which is actually a greenhouse gas. And its loss is particularly great news because when it is broken down it produces a chemical that, in turn, attacks the even more greenhousey methane.

What is happening, it seems, is that bromine and iodine, produced by sea spray and emissions from phytoplankton, attack the atmospheric ozone. And as Professor John Plane, one of the lead researchers, notes, "the production of iodine and bromine mid-ocean implies that destruction of ozone over the oceans could be global". It has been known for a long time that the oceans serve as carbon sinks. It now seems they may be ozone and methane sinks as well.

Science Daily quotes Professor Alastair Lewis, who describes it as a good news story "at the moment" but still manages to find a downside. It could only take "a small increase in nitrogen oxides from fossil fuel combustion" to produce the opposite effect, he warns. But then reputable scientists have to invent worst case scenarios, otherwise they might be open to accusations of not taking the threat of global warming seriously enough. The findings point to a different conclusion, that the planet retains a vast and little understood capacity for rebalancing itself. All the climate change projections on which governments base their ruinously expensive and probably suicidal plans are crude speculations. No-one really understands how the climate works.

9 comments:

valdemar said...

Oh, please don't turn into another climate change denier. The poor bloody scientists aren't just making stuff up and it's not their fault that the media are always distorting their message.

Yes, climate models can be wrong, and yes, we don't understand everything about a very complex system. But then, we don't understand everything about the human body, either. And what happens when you put too much CO2 into one of those?

lost causes said...

I would argue that there are many more immediate environmental issues than climate change to think about - for example deforestation and destruction of natural ecosystems and habitats, mercury in fish stocks, urban air quality, and so on... However, I agree with valdemar - please don't go down the climate change denial hole, unless you know something that mainstream science doesn't. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Global_Warming_Swindle

valdemar said...

Thanks, lost causes, I wasn't in any way endorsing ignorant and/or loony politicians and pressure groups. I just think that, to rephrase an old journalistic term, you should always 'follow the science'. In the case of the story at hand, the best source I've seen is http://www.realclimate.org/.

But re: the cost of 'sustainable' energy, the Register has a wonderful piece based on research by a proper scientist i.e. someone who actually knows how to crunch the numbers. And, yes, wind farms are crap.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/20/mackay_on_carbon_free_uk/

The Heresiarch said...

I don't like the phrase "climate change denier". Climate change is an observation, and an extrapolation based on modelling various scenarios. The precise speed and extent of warming in the future is a matter of debate among all experts. That the observable (and predicted) global warming is the result of human activity is a theory, albeit one with support from most scientists. I don't personally disbelieve it: but branding people who raise questions about the currently orthodox model as "deniers" is an attempt to close down debate before all the facts are established.

valdemar said...

Apologies for implying that you don't have an objective viewpoint, Big H. Re: the actual post, it seems climate change models don't include ozone anyway. But they will. And the debate goes on, as you rightly observe.

One point we can probably all agree on is that banning standby buttons on TVs etc will not make a damn bit of difference. Mine are still glowing away as I type this.

Lil' Drummer Bwoi said...

whoops only just got to work so am a bit late, but hey, best till last and all that...

two words:

ICE EPOCH

two more:

CENTRAL HEATING

put them together and waddaya got? a rather pleasant, nice n' toasty planet on which to continue this (so-called) civilisation of ours

lost causes said...

Sorry to jump back on this so late. Heresiarch - "branding people who raise questions about the currently orthodox model as "deniers" is an attempt to close down debate before all the facts are established."

To call the most likely scenario an "orthodox" is a sly use of language. An orthodox is an unquestioned point of faith. Man made climate change is just a theory, and one which we must remain sceptical about, but at the same time must be taken very seriously, as the consequences would be so serious. Creationists write-off evolution an orthodox or dogma, but of course it is anything but. I worry that you're making the same mistake here.

The Heresiarch said...

So now I'm a creationist? Great. Why not throw in the flat earth society and have done with it?

We are now seeing the first fruits of the environmentalist orthodoxy in the bio-fuels debacle, are we not? Almost as soon as the EU and other governments had committed themselves to bio-fuel targets as a "solution" to climate change, it became apparent that they were anything but. Of course, environmental groups changed their minds as soon as the consequences began to materialise; but then it's easy for scientists and pressure groups to change their minds. The trouble is, biofuel targets are now in the system, and bureaucratic regimes - especially one insulated from the democratic process, like the EU commission - having set their targets, are loath to change them. So the disaster continues.

What happened, of course, was that bio-fuel was embraced as a solution much earlier than it should have been, before the proper assessments had been made, because governments were anxious to be seen to be "doing something". Without the climate of "orthodoxy" there would have been more willingness on the part of those involved to say "hang on a minute, are we really sure about this?"

lost causes said...

Absolutely - the bio-fuel target is a fiasco. Not enough was known about it before it was jumped on as a saviour. It sounds friendly because it involves growing nice little plants in the ground - but of course, you need to grow them somewhere, so you can either cut down a forest or you can divert some grain from the mouths of the poor into the cars of the rich. And then you have to transport it. By road. Oh dear. Blame the EU though, not the science. Of course we have a tried and tested carbon neutral power source in nuclear - and there is a definite orthodox keeping that down.