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Equity will help to stabilize the world

Letters

Even when we have moved to harness all the renewable energy sources available, there will still be some energy needs for which fossil fuels are irreplaceable; we cheat on our children to profligately use oil or gas when viable alternatives exist.

Austin Williams and Dr Helene Guldberg dismiss the warnings of the International Panel on Climate Change and ridicule the overwhelming evidence gathered by scientists showing that most of the warming observed in the past 50 years is attributable to human activity. The panel, which has consulted about 2,000 scientists from 100 countries, predicts the earth will heat up between 1.4degreesC and 5.8degreesC over the next 100 years, with potentially catastrophic results.

There is another argument beyond climate change to justify a radical rethink in the profligate use of fossil fuels: equity. The inequity of the present pattern of consumption could be adjusted by an agreement on national emission allocations, based on population. These allocations could be tradable, leading to a wealth redistribution.

As the aspirations of Third World countries rise, only the introduction of a fairer system will avoid major and continuing conflicts for possession of a finite and diminishing resource. Industry sources indicate that oil production from more readily exploitable areas is likely to start declining within about 15 years. This, plus increasing demand from rapidly developing countries, will cause a major increase in prices. Also, much of the world's oil and gas supplies come from unstable areas, such as North Africa, the Middle East and the Caspian Sea region.

It is a grave strategic risk to be over-dependent for essential supplies on these sources.

Kate Macintosh MBE RIBA Architects and Engineers for Social Responsibility

Austin Williams writes:

In April 2000, Ronald Bailey wrote in Reason magazine: 'John Christy, the NASA climatologist who is the principal investigator for satellite temperature measurements, notes that the recent rate of increase in surface temperatures is in fact less than it was in the early part of the 20th century, which occurred before humanity had significantly boosted concentrations of greenhouse gases such as CO 2and methane in the atmosphere'. Indeed, surface temperatures have risen nominally while, against all predictions, atmospheric temperatures have not risen at all.

Matt Ridley, in the Melbourne Age (22.09.00) was more sceptical. Even accepting the official climate models, he argued that the effects of the rise in global temperatures 'would be severe nowhere. It would have a minimal effect on sea level, a beneficial effect on agriculture, a minor effect on the ice caps, a marginal effect on biodiversity and no effect at all on the frequency of extreme weather or the spread of human diseases'.

Far from being dismissive of the IPCC research, I consider myself less in thrall to the global warming mantra than some.We should be a little less deterministic, less paranoid and more positive about humanity. The use of environmentalism as thinly disguised cover for political rhetoric against 'unstable' regions is not a good a start for the new millennium.

PS: The IPCC report had 122 lead authors (including John Christy), 515 contributing authors, 21 review editors and 337 expert reviewers.

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