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Heat is on for climate change projections

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Letters

It is unfortunate that just as world climatologists have come out with the strongest evidence yet for global warming and climate change, Dr Helene Guldberg chooses to recommend that, because of uncertainties in the scenarios, we should do nothing (AJ 8.3.01). Has she not heard of the precautionary principle?

To back up the 'uncertainty' argument, she cites the intergovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prediction that temperatures will rise within a range of 1.4-5.8degreesC by the end of the century. Yes, there is some scientific uncertainty, but the higher figure presumes a continuation along the path of 'business as usual'.

Dr Guldberg claims that the scenarios contained in my document, Design within a Climate of Change, are merely statistical projections. Even if that were true it would not invalidate them.

However, the projections are based on evidence from the IPCC Scientific Committee, the UK Hadley Centre and climate researchers at the University of East Anglia and others. These are composed of scientists, not statisticians, and their projections are based on hard evidence from the paleo-climatic record printed indelibly in ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland, and from vastly improved computer models.

The hard fact is that the carbon cycle was in balance when concentrations of atmospheric CO 2were at the pre-industrial level of 270 parts per million by volume (ppmv). Currently it stands at 370ppmv and is rising.

This means that it is now out of balance and that more infrared radiation is being reflected back to earth, hence raising temperatures.

More heat within a closed system must find its outlet in more vigorous cyclonic activity - storms and cyclones. More heat also means increasing evaporation leading to greater and more intense rainfall with consequent flooding, from which the UK has not been immune.

Currently, it is Hungary and Mozambique which are the victims. Other areas, such as Ethiopia, are experiencing extreme and prolonged drought.

Dr Guldberg tries to discredit this evidence despite the fact that Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurance group, states that claims from storm damage have doubled every decade since the 1960s. In that decade there were 16 disasters costing £30 billion. In the 1990s there were 70 costing £250 billion. This is not because, as she implies, there had been a massive shift of population to the flood plains and coastal regions leading to more per capita suffering.

Unless there is serious global action to halt the rise, CO 2concentration levels will be about 700-800ppmv by the end of the century.

I would rather put my trust in the Loss Prevention Council, which states that losses will be 'unimaginable' by the middle of the century.

Professor Peter F Smith, RIBA vice-president for sustainable development

Austin Williams writes:

I felt that Dr Guldberg unpicked the precautionary principle very well. As a staple of sustainability, the precautionary principle looks to 'potential' negative consequences as the starting point for scientific enquiry.

This cannot be a satisfactory basis for critical analysis. In my view, in respect of climate change, we should be advocating that technical advances and human ingenuity should set its sights on overcoming fluctuations in nature, rather than kowtowing to them.

The history of human progress has been marked by the ability to overcome natural barriers.

Droughts in Ethiopia are one thing (and have been documented for many years), but the effects of those droughts are more to do with geopolitics than bio-climatics. The same applies to the devastation in Mozambique.

To pretend that the plight of the undeveloped world is caused by man's developmental folly, rather than by unequal development, is certainly a recipe for doing nothing for their situation. It is not beyond the wit of man to develop these areas (without using the usual suffix of 'sustainable').

The atmospheric content of CO 2may have gone up by 33 per cent since pre-industrial times, but the calculated temperature rise attributable to CO 2is about 0.5degreesC. Tripling CO 2levels would raise temperatures by about 1.5degreesC - the lower end of the IPCC predictions.

Some wags point to the fact that more pollution particles in the atmosphere reduce the incidence of direct radiation; others point out that it's a funny type of entropy that survives on an outside power source - the sun.

Indeed, many reasoned commentators regard the sun's activities as being the major factor in global warming, rather than the impact of human generated CO 2(as opposed to 'reflected' infra-red).

Either way, man-made CO 2isonly 4 per cent of global CO 2inthe atmosphere; maybe large changes in small percentages are not as important as they are made out to be.

We welcome a broader discussion on this important topic.

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