It’s that time of year again. Just as the cuckoo is the harbinger of Spring, so the annual alarmist announcements in November are the harbingers of the next UN Climate Conference (and frequently — and ironically — of a harsh winter as well). This is the chance for the alarmist community to raise the stakes, and pressure the politicians into ever more expensive, improbable and futile policy measures. This year the UN Conference is in Cancun, Mexico. I made Poznan in 2008, but I missed out on Copenhagen last year (I was in the Galapagos, seeing sea level rise — or the lack of it — first hand). I shall be flying out to Cancun on Sunday.
We’ve had the recent Met Office study threatening a four degree temperature rise by the end of the century. And today we have AOSIS (the Alliance of Small Island States) demanding an “Insurance Fund”, and declaring that they face extinction and inundation from the threat of climate change.
There are several points to make here. The first is that the public has been so brain-washed by the Climate Change Lobby, and the media, that they believe that alarming sea-level rise is here and now. It’s not. This is all about the projections of computer models suggesting that global temperatures will rise, and the inference that melting ice may therefore affect sea level. But it’s simply a projection based on a computer model — which I call the “Nintendo Games” approach to climate prediction.
Out there in the real world, sea level rise is so slow (and so much affected by a wide range of factors, including tides, topography, underlying tectonic plate movement, centrifugal effects and so on), that it is quite difficult to measure at all, but the best estimates suggest a figure of around six or seven inches a century — and this rate has been virtually unchanged for several hundred years. If anything, it seems to be slowing. Increasing sea level rise is a prediction not based on observation.
As with so much alarmism, fears of sea level rise can be dispelled by looking at history and context. About 10,000 years ago the earth moved out of a severe glaciation and into the current interglacial. At that time, sea level rose rapidly by hundreds of feet (creating the English Channel and separating the UK from the Continent). The story of the last ten thousand years is one of steadily slowing sea level rise, and the current very slow rise is probably driven mostly by long-term thermal expansion, not ice melt.
Not only is sea level close to static — so is total global ice mass. 90% of the earth’s ice is in the Antarctic, and while the ice fields melt a little at the edges, more snow falls and consolidates inland. Counter-intuitively, a slight rise in global temperature may actually increase ice mass, since it tends to increase precipitation and snow-fall in the Antarctic.
Thirdly, isn’t it an odd coincidence that after all that sea level rise, there are still so many islands around the world just a few feet above the current sea level? Are we to assume that 10,000 years ago, all these islands were exactly the same height, around 500 feet above sea level, and that it’s just coincidental that today’s sea level has almost (but not quite) inundated them?
One of Charles Darwin’s remarkable aperçus (overshadowed, of course, by his monumental work on evolution) was the realisation that coral atolls grow. And they can grow fast enough to cope with the relatively rapid sea level rise at the start of our current interglacial. That’s why so many islands are now — and have always been — just a few feet above sea level , even though sea level changes dramatically over time.
So the Maldives and Tuvalu are not about to disappear (recent studies suggest that relative sea level around these islands is broadly static). They can stop worrying.
Call me a cynic if you will, but I wonder whether AOSIS is stepping up the rhetoric, and the demands for funding, because they are genuinely concerned — or is it because they’ve seen the writing on the wall, they know that the Great Climate Scare is falling apart, and they’re desperate to cash in while the Western World still clings to its collective guilt?