• Peter Watts
  • 12 March 2012

Climate week

So this week is climate week. For people of an environmental persuasion it is an opportunity to use that persuasion to persuade those of a more uncertain persuasion. 

Climate change affects our lives everywhere – in the workplace where we deal with energy efficiency campaigns, legislation and internal green initiatives and to our homes where increasing energy costs means that we buy energy efficient appliances and try to cut our domestic costs of consumption. Thousands in the UK have taken up feed-in tariffs for microgeneration of energy – particularly for solar photovoltaics.  Also on the horizon is the Renewable Heat Incentive for domestic customers (a payment made for generation of renewable heat in a similar way that the feed-in tariffs provided for electricity) and the Green Deal finance scheme for energy efficiency measures.

There is widespread consensus, summarised in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that in the absence of mitigation policies, average global temperatures will rise substantially over the next century, with ‘business as usual projections’ of temperature increases  ranging from two to five degrees Celsius. This increase in temperature will be associated with complex effects on other aspects of climate, such as rainfall  patterns and the frequency and intensity of storms, and with consequent effects on natural ecosystems and human activity.

The consequences of not dealing with it are so significant that it would be irrational not to. The Stern Report on the Economics of Climate Change states that climate change is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen and presents a huge challenge for economics. The report stated that the costs of dealing with climate change now were dwarfed by the costs of action in the future if we do nothing. There are still others, however, who would like to spread the word that climate change is not happening or that humans are not the cause. James Hanson, who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was quoted as suggesting that those who promote the ideas of global warming skeptics should be “put on trial for high crimes against humanity”. 

I know this has been quoted extensively elsewhere but I’m a Donald Rumsfeld fan if only (actually, yes, only) for this quote – here rearranged in the form of a short poem:

The Unknown

As we know, 
There are known knowns. 
There are things we know we know. 
We also know 
There are known unknowns. 
That is to say 
We know there are some things 
We do not know. 
But there are also unknown unknowns, 
The ones we don't know 
We don't know.

That climate change is happening is a known known, that it is going to affect our lives also a known known, the severity of those effects are a known unknown (beyond we know that if we do nothing they are going to be severe) and as for the unknown unknowns...

Have a great climate week.