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Should we be afraid of not being afraid?

Justin Rowlatt | 13:22 UK time, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Man screaming

London, UK - The most amazing thing I have found in the more than 3 years I've been reporting on climate change for the BBC is how unafraid most people seem about it.

Yet global warming is widely reckoned to be the most serious threat mankind has ever faced. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that unless we make dramatic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures could rise by six degrees centigrade this century alone. That is enough to destroy many of the ecosystems that mankind depends on for food and water, the stuff of life itself.

The stakes really could not be higher. We are talking about something that could wipe man off the face of the earth, and take out most other species while it's about it. So, why are we not all convulsed with fear?

We all know what real fear feels like. Today, the Ethical Man team (me, the producer Sara, and cameraman Peter) will begin our month-long odyssey across America, flying to Muskegon, Michigan, the starting point of our journey. If we hit serious turbulence, everyone on the plane, apart from those with the constitution of a Chesley B Sullenberger III, will feel their pulse quicken, their stomach clench, their body tense.

That fear we feel is a vital instinct but also a truly ancient one. The human fear response has evolved and honed itself over hundreds of thousands of years to serve a very specific function, to prepare us for fight or flight.

Fear pumps our muscles full of oxygen, focuses our attention and primes our nervous system with adrenaline ready for violent action. It is designed to help us respond to immediate dangers, a bear attacking, a rock fall above us, a rival human wielding a club.

What it does not do is help us deal with a slow and insidious danger like climate change, because for human beings climate change simply is not frightening enough. It is happening too slowly, over decades. And it is also hard for individuals to link their role in causing the problem (driving, flying, heating their home) with the effects (changing weather patterns).

Maybe the sorry truth is that as a species we are just not psychologically capable of dealing with the threat.

US Energy Secretary Dr Steven ChuPresident Obama's new energy secretary did his best to bring home to America why we should all be afraid in a recent interview. Nobel Laureate Stephen Chu warned that unless action is taken soon, California could be reduced to a dust bowl and its great cities destroyed.

He said he hoped America would wake up to the danger of climate change.

"I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen", he told the Los Angeles Times.

"We're looking at a scenario where there is no more agriculture in California. I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going."

This is nothing less than a disaster epic set to consume Hollywood itself!

And it is not just California. The south of Australia is aflame, the north is flooded and China is experiencing its worst drought for 50 years. Meteorologists rightly warn that no single "extreme climate event" should be taken as evidence of global warming, but surely all these separate calamities occurring simultaneously is enough to send a shiver of fear down even the most sceptical spine?

So, how about a little exercise in global climate awareness? This blog is appearing simultaneously on the BBC's World, America and UK websites. Let's try to paint a worldwide picture of our changing climate.

Take a look around your local area. Is your climate changing and, if so, how?

Do you think it can be put down to global warming or do you look at the harsh winter parts of Europe have experienced and conclude all this talk of global apocalypse just a scientific fad?

Please get in touch. The more people who respond the more interesting the results will be. And, if you live in America, who knows, the Ethical Man team might just pop by to take a look at what is happening in your area.

And, one last thing, please sign up to our RSS feed. I will post a blog like this every couple of days. It would be really interesting to spark an international discussion of the issues.


  • Comment number 1.

    The truth is, it's happened before on Planet Earth, and it will happen again. Geological timescales are divided into 'periods' - mostly defined by rapid changes in climate. The dinosaurs came, they left.

    we are now living in the 'age of man'. Its only humans that say we have a divine right to keep this planet habitable for _our_ species. If you think about it, it's kind of arrogant, really.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hopefully the Ethical Man team will provide more balanced reporting than previous BBC "scare mongering" reports on the topic. Somehow from the tone of the above article I have my doubts.

  • Comment number 3.

    neillees is right - we are on a normal path of global warming and there is absolutely nothing to be done about it except adapt.

    Mankind's contribution either way will make negligible difference.

    The 'panic' about global warming has only been encouraged by governments since they realised it was a source of income.

    The rich will not stop getting richer, and no amount of pressure will ever change that.

    Everybody stop wasting time and effort wingeing and start preparing!

  • Comment number 4.

    I suspect a significant proportion of people just don't fully understand the issues, are possibly overwhelmed by the science and scale of the issues, and are confused by the messages being put out.

    The recent cold spell in the UK is an example; I wonder how many people have questioned 'global warming' when they've got a foot of snow outside their front door for the first time in nearly 20 years...

    There are some simple messages that need to be reinforced such as the difference between climate and weather; a foot of snow is a short lived weather event whilst global average temperatures increasing year-on-year is a longer term climactic trend.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm confused as to what this drastic change the media and scientific community are calling for is. Are we supposed to quit driving our vehicles and quit living in our houses? If you're referring to being more environmentally friendly the shift is a gradual one, and one that is not being reported by the media. The change from just a few years ago in my home town and at my school is subtle but present. Every house on my street recycles, our houses barely use heating, lights are turned off whenever we enter a room, all subtle, but all tell tale signs of a changing culture. Even the University I attend has taken great pains to become more eco-friendly by limiting the amount of paper students can print and watering our grounds with our own recycled pond water. So explain to me what are the drastic changes we need, since I can tell you that from my point of view change is already underway.
    Also, I hope you can understand that most people probably do have global warming in their mind. Maybe not at the forefront of their mind, but rather as a nagging little reminder in the back of the skull not to litter or to try to be a little bit more eco-friendly. I think I speak for many people when we say that we're just damned tired of being told how many threats we're facing. Especially these ambiguous threats such as Terrorism, Cancer, and now Global Warming. We realize there are steps we can take to help fix these problems, but to a point, there's only so much that can be done. If we were to try to fight and prepare for all of these threats in order to protect our lives there wouldn't be much worth living for. I'd say come down here to Elon, NC and take a look around. I think you'd find people who aren't terrified of global warming, because they know they're working slowly to fix it. Hope your trip goes well!

  • Comment number 6.

    Justin - I am so SCARED I am going to graduate school for environmental management in my evenings. Unfortunately, people tend to tune me out when I voice my fear in a real way!

    #4 - Unfortunately, the cold weather experienced in western Europe may actually be a harbinger of things to come, if climate change affects the global patterns of ocean currents, which is one of the likely outcomes.

  • Comment number 7.

    #1, neillees
    I am in favour of keeping this planet habitable for our species. Sounds like a very good idea.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hard to believe there are still so many people out there trying to deny it. Yes, there are long-term variations in climate, and the earth will warm again and we'll have an ice age again, but this is a short-term change (decades), not thousands of years. Saying that humans can do little to alter it, which then implies we have nothing to do with the warming, is just denying reality and the evidence. And it will occur so quickly that we may not have time to adapt, and many millions may perish. This earth will not be a very nice place to live when that happens.

  • Comment number 9.

    Perhaps one of the reasons we are not "convulsed with fear" is that we are not convinced by hyperbole such as "something that could wipe man off the face of the earth". There is no realistic suggestion that climate change of the type currently predicted by some will entirely destroy homo sapiens, and the case for doing something to combat climate change is weakened by such nonsense. The phrase "most serious threat mankind has ever faced" is also absurd, when one bears in mind that a "misunderstanding" could lead to the nuclear destruction of every major city overnight. Nonsense like this is terrific ammo for those who accuse those worried by the threat of climate change of being hysterical and unreasoning.

  • Comment number 10.

    I spend a great deal of my professional life thinking about this very question. There's no doubt, when you get close to the science it's 'wake up in a cold sweat' kind of bad. Frankly, it's overwhelming when you survey it in its entirety.

    I think we have to explain much more clearly to people how we solve the problem (applaud the fantastic efforts by Ethical Man to demonstrate solutions) before they will be willing to acknowledge it as an urgent issue. This means salient, local, tangible changes in their lives, homes and communities. They need less science and more economics.

    I also think, as we see an increase in climate impacts in local communities that people are checking in. When you talk about West Nile in the American West, or drought, salmon stocks, bark beetles and winter flooding there's a connection to daily life. In the Chesapeake region the sea level rise is visible and declines in fisheries felt close to the heart.

    But without solutions people will either fall to the fatalistic 'this is natural and we can't stop it' or just the doomsday 'it's too late' paths.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi all,

    Timmor is right - I think people in general don't fully understand the implications of global warming.

    Even a modest rise in global temps of 3 degrees will most likely destroy all the rainforests, many species and food production with it - humans won't be able to cope with that. Its not a question of adapting when its just not possible to feed 6 billion people by growing food artificially.

    And if you thought the rows over gas supplies were a bit harsh on some countries this winter, just wait until water supplies become more scarce.

    The earth will survive and new species will gradually come back but this will take 10's of 1000's of years. We're creating a horrific furure for the next generation and worse fot the next.

    No one paid any attention to the warnings about the financial system and everything was rosy even 18 months ago - look at us now!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Damn, better turn of the VCR tonight then. Apart from jumping off a cliff I don't know what else to do.

  • Comment number 13.

    The fact is that not enough 'evidence' has been produced to be credible. We see plenty of 'computer models' such as the infamous 'hockey-stick graph', but no evidence that they are accurate or representative.
    We also see such events as complaints against Al Gore's film 'An Inconvenient Truth' being upheld in court because it contains nine scientific "errors". (BBC News
    Why should we believe the claim, when the proponents ignore or distort the evidence?

  • Comment number 14.

    As someone who works (sometimes) in the field of environmental management I largely - believe it or not - agree with Neil Lees. There IS a cyclic nature to these events, in this case the prime contributor is mankind. It's true, we have no 'divine right' to the planet, and our being wiped out may well be to the long term benefit of the ecosphere, but hard to look in your kids'faces and think that too seriously. The efforts we all make - like those made by Elon Student - make a very marginal difference, but the alternative is a headlong gallop into the abyss instead of - at best - a modest trot, and I'm a trotter on this one.

  • Comment number 15.

    Justin, I think you and the crew are really wasting your time and the licence-payers' money. Climate change happens. It always has and always will - warming or cooling. Don't get me wrong - I am fully supportive of conservation of natural resources etc, but the obsession with that dreaded 'pollutant' CO2 and the hype now linked to it is really OTT.
    The 'scientific consensus' is not so scientific more political, providing governments with a new opportunity for taxation and for dubious 'green' businesses to jump on the bandwagon with their carbon monitoring, carbon trading and carbon capture schemes all reminiscent of the story of 'The Emperor's New Clothes'.
    Planet Earth is robust and will be here long after mankind has gone, with or without TVs on standby, planes flying you and your colleagues around the world and certain politicians and members of the media generating all that alarmist hot air - Oh sorry I mean CO2.

  • Comment number 16.

    There seem to be many folks nay-saying, but if they object, perhaps they should read something else and make better use of their time.

    I am very much looking forward to reading your updates - I hope you have a terrific trip! I'm quite jealous as I've never had the opportunity to drive/ride cross country. You're in for quite an adventure!

    I live in Orlando, Florida and have found that this winter has been unusually cold. Our wintry spurts usually happen later in the season, beginning in January, and last up to three weeks. Our winter started much earlier this year (November) and has been pretty consistent since then. It is now starting to warm up for the season. If the Midwest is too chilly for you, feel free to stop by – we’ll be happy to fire up the grill!

    Safe Travels!

  • Comment number 17.

    Mankind — or at least civilisation — is probably doomed. Why? One has only to look at the comments left above by the idiots who refuse to face the fact that we're in the process of rendering this planet uninhabitable, or at the very least incompatible with our civilisation.

    Sure, Man may survive, for awhile. We made it through ice ages, after all. But only barely, and we won't be climbing back up again. All the easily-extractable resources have been used. There is no way to mine and process what's left without advanced technology. The species will be reduced, at best, to hunter-gathering and primitive agriculture.

    We didn't make it off this rock in time, and it's probably too late now. Eventually, if we somehow manage to survive climate change, the next major asteroid impact will finish the job.

    Nice going. Thanks.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why not just ask the church? these people say that they are here to interpret and spread the word and deeds of God (whichever god it is that they believe in) and by their default explanations of the world being created by god and man in his image, they are stating that God is indirectly or directly responsible for this.

    Surely just a new prayer will solve this, what on earth can science possibly do to help? funny how they are always quiet when it really matters and ruin all these discussions when it doesn't

    for me personally you need to balance FEAR mechanisms against survival mechanisms, we will do almost anything to survive, including ignoring danger , there are many tales of people overcoming severe dangers to be rescued etc, so we would rather live nicely now and forget about future generations needs

    as for the people saying this is what the earth always does, thats like saying, well I have cancer and I will just accept it and die, without trying anything to fight it off

  • Comment number 19.

    I don't suppose I can see climate change from my window – variation in the weather, even from year to year, is not the same as long-run climate change. And despite suffering the longest coldest winter I can remember, I'm convinced the long-term trend to warming is intact and that it carries dire consequences.
    But I'm not convinced there's nothing we can do about it. Yes our individual efforts don't make a huge difference, although the sum of our individual efforts might. Their main value is to encourage timid governments and corporations that we are taking climate change seriously and are prepared to change our lifestyles, and thus to encourage them to change the kinds of institutional provision and national and international policies that really will make a difference.
    This winter we turned the thermostat on the heat down (from 15C to 14), wear extra layers of clothes in the house, minimise our use of water and, whenever possible, walk or take the bus or train instead of using the car. Result? We've had but one cold apiece this winter and look forward eagerly to Spring!

  • Comment number 20.

    Ok so we all know that climate change is taking place,but no matter what we do it is still going to happen.Now I know we can all help to slow the proccess down but why do not all the world leaders who have found billions of pounds to save the worlds banks try pumping billions into saving the remaining rain forests that are the worlds eco system.Maybe then the world of mankind maybe able to survive a few million more years on the planet we seem so eager to destroy.

  • Comment number 21.

    The average annual rainfall for where I live has increased hugely.

    Averaged from 1999-2003, it was just under 500mm.

    For 2004-2007, it has increased to just under 600mm.

    The 2008 figure is 695mm.

    My landlords have lived here for approx 35 years, and have weather records going back to pre 1900. The land is wetter, year round, than they have ever known. It never dries out anymore, crops rot in the fields and rats are endemic.

  • Comment number 22.

    so far no one has mentioned the explosion in the worlds birthrate. to my mind this is the fundamental reason for the huge rise in co2 in the atmosphere. regarding water shortage, it baffles me why everyone must have a shower each day. i have had a bath once a week for the last 71years with no ill effects. anyway if you have a brain you must realise that over the course of each year the temperatures are rising quite fast. any gardener will tell you that once tender plants can now be left out safely during most winters.

  • Comment number 23.

    Without documentary reporting, most people have limited knowledge of or access to the amazing number of positive solutions that already exist or are in development, while those people who are already actively engaged have few opportunities for their efforts to be seen without going to great expense.

    Renewable and clean energy, efficient housing and non toxic transport is now moving from eccentric alternative to the critical mainstream news, while unpaid-for environmental damage, impact on health and reluctance to emphasize progress are ever easier to recognize as the dubious and deeply undesirable - and clearly unsustainable alternatives - that they are.

    Interesting to note that farmsteads all across the US depended on slow speed mechanical windmills to pump water, many of which can still be seen working; and when a car was designed to drive on the moon, it had an electric motor on each wheel - a replica of the forty year old Lunar Rover can be seen at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit Michigan.

    Your trip can help to further the process of increasing public awareness and interest in pragmatic options, such as advanced insulation anyone can install, photovoltaic cells manufactured in rolls, solar thermal systems which work fine in freezing snow regions, flywheel technologies for power storage and conventional construction materials you can assemble which will produce better buildings with less outlay. Underfloor radiant heating is still very new here, which the Romans incorporated in buildings two thousand years ago.

    Examples of all of these solutions will be found here, but remain the exception, and the importance of growing the general awareness cannot be overstated, for the environment, and also for education, innovation, investment, employment . . when what you report can be found on TV as easily as the brilliant wildlife and natural history programming, and takes its place alongside or as part of commissioning and distributive multimedia gatherings such as Wildscreen, these advancing technologies will reflect us and our evolution as wildlife moving beyond simply accepting the herd instinct, at risk from the mammoth monopoly industries which opt to slow the pace of change for increasingly no good reason.

    Everything which embraces the concept of an efficient livable home will especially gain due attention, being our primary goal or investment, and this will also act to focus us on what is worst performing, and can feasibly become our best hope and contribution for working for transformational climate change.

    Safe journey.

  • Comment number 24.

    I have a question rather than a comment.

    If we ban all planes, cars, ships, heating etc. will that remove the massive 2% of the CO2 that we humans put into the atmosphere and would we be able to survive then anyway?

    In any case, as it's so serious, should the governments of the world not be doing something about it, individuals can't fix the problem, it requires experts!

    In the mean time, lets just ask our leaders to continue with the expansion of our airports, that must really help in reducing the CO2.

  • Comment number 25.

    I lost all interest in Global Warming a long time ago. The reason is that it has been shoved down our throats constantly, and instead of balanced educated arguements, establishments like the govt and bbc try to use scare mongering, to the point that when I see ANY report on global warming, for or against, I'm more concerned with the motives behind the report, rather than its content. Fear can't be used to impose your will, the govt thinks that rule does not apply to them.

  • Comment number 26.

    It's hard to be afraid when you see the government (who are supposed to know about and deal with these things) do absolutely nothing.

    Instead of looking for a major shift in people's approach, such as de-centralising electricity production and giving people help to generate their own electric (which would annoy the utility companies) they waste time looking at big projects, such as nuclear power, to just prop up the existing status quo and provide a good photo opportunity.

    Then instead of investing properly they can get the private sector (who then make large profits) involved and wash their hands of it.

  • Comment number 27.

    The interesting thing is that we are actually in a warm periode between ice ages, and on is likely to start GEOLOGICALLY soon, so about 10-50 thousand years. This however doesn't mean we shouldn't avoid killing ourselves with heat death in the mean time. However I think it might be convenient that we'll have figured out how to manipulate the climat before the next ice age.
    It was only a matter of time before we have to figure out how to manipulate the global climat or die in large numbers...
    Makes carbon capture and storage leave a different light doesn't it? I know I'd like to know where the tap to the billion ton CO2 storage is when the ice age hits...

  • Comment number 28.

    "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that unless we make dramatic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures could rise by six degrees centigrade this century alone."

    Not the IPCC again. The UN writes better fiction than a Stan Winston comic.

  • Comment number 29.

    Like most rational people, I'm surprised at the amount of people who come into discussions like this convinced that it's all some sort of scam.

    Even if your arguments DID make any sense, stop for a moment and think about the repercussions of taking the two stances literally:

    1) We accept that we should be scared of the damage caused by global warming, and adapt. It's later found that we weren't causing it at all.

    This would lead to some hardship as our economies are restructured, and eventually become a less wasteful society. Our air becomes cleaner, our seas less polluted and the environment generally improved.


    2) We claim conspiracy and carry on as normal, and they turn out to be wrong.

    In this case, we're pretty screwed.

    Surely the dangers of doing nothing are much greater than the dangers of doing something? Come on.

  • Comment number 30.

    As per comment #21, the problem is that in most of the 'developed' world, there is little evidence of the 'warming/drying' we've been told is happening or is going to happen. After a few warm years in Western Europe, we've now had a run of several cool, wet years. Even though most people would agree there's been a slight increase in 'extreme events', to the average person the weather shows no signs of global warming.

    The scientists need to be much more savvy in talking to the audiences in Europe, the USA etc. Instead of telling us we can see the effects of global warming all around us (we can't), they need to find more sophisticated data to show incontrivertably that overall warming is happening. And if the true effect won't be evident in Europe for many years, 'fess up and tell us, then we'll find it easier to believe the overall theory!

  • Comment number 31.

    A few years ago, the "scientists" were panicking about a hole in the ozone layer. It was found, over the Poles, by accident. The fact is, NO-ONE knows how long it had been there or even if it should be there. Wonder why it hasn't been mentioned recently? Because it's shrinking!

    Now, we are all told that greenhouse gases and carbon emissions are damaging the ozone layer. Hmm. It's way above the height that our supposedly damaging aircraft exhausts are. Forgive me if I'm wrong but where these aircraft fly is a little bit on the chilly side, isn't it? Hot air rises? Emissions are heavier than air? How do these get up to the ozone layer?

    Take CFCs, the bane of modern refridgeration. We can't let them escape, they'll damage the ozone layer. How? The molecules are about 20 times heavier than air. Is someone bottling these, and carbon emissions, taking them aloft and releasing them directly into the ozone layer? Thought not.

    We know the Middle Ages were around three degrees warmer than it is at present, there were no cars, no industrial chimneys, probably just as many cows emitting methane.

    Even if these pollutants did rise up some distance, they'd rapidly lose heat even before reaching the troposphere and they'd sink before ever reaching the stratosphere.

    Climate change - yes. Global warming - NO. It's a hoax and the only true thing about it is that governments will tax us for it.

  • Comment number 32.

    I found an interesting article about a team of five indian scientists who have discovered naturally occurring microbes that convert carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into calcium carbonate ( discovery is being seen as a major breakthrough that can go a long way in fighting global warming.

    The enzyme can be put to work in any situation, like in a chamber fitted inside a factory chimney through which CO2 would pass before being emitted into the atmosphere, and it would convert the greenhouse gas into calcium carbonate.the chemical reactions involved in the process have been successfully established while its economic viability, cloning, expression and single-step purification are under study. The team has published its findings in the Indian Journal of Microbiology and its paper has been accepted for publication in the World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology.

    This is the kind of work we need to applaud, appreciate and encourage in order to fight this global menace.

  • Comment number 33.

    Those who claim climate change as a geological constant are correct. Where they delude themselves is to claim that the change over the past 120 years is simply another natural phenomenon. It's not the size of the change, it's the speed of it which is completely unprecedented. Weather is a chaotic system and thus very hard to model yet I find it very telling that all but a tiny minority of meteorologists agree that mankind is affecting the world's climate. I'd argue that denial of global warming has around the same validity, and about the same intellectual consistency, as claiming Pi a rational number!

  • Comment number 34.

    I feel its just easier to bury ones head in the sand, particularly for the older generation in power who won't particularly feel the ill effects of climate change. They really don't need to adapt. But our children and their children will. Adaptation is certainly key now, the ill effects of industrialisation are almost irreversible. I personally doubt the politcal will necessary to create the full-scale adaptation processes will be present in time. Not in the 20/30 years proposed by the IPCC. I believe we need to act as individuals/families/communities and not rely on Governments now. We at are trying to do something like this and there are many others. If you feel something needs doing 'just do it'. Those who don't will simple be left behind. Peace out.

  • Comment number 35.

    Ps I forgot to mention that one of the reasons the world isn't warming as fast as might have been predicted is sun spots - or rather the lack of them. Not surprisingly the sun's "weather" affects that of the earth . Sun spots normally run in 11 year cycles but occasionally they up and disappear for longer than normal. This is the case at the moment. The sun is very "quiet" but when things return to normal there will be a major catching up on the glaobal warming change front !!

  • Comment number 36.

    None of the thirty odd civilisations that have have come and gone in written history felt any particular worries about their demise. But they nearly all went in the same hedonistic fashion with the greater part of the population seeing possessions as the mark of success, not what form of society it bequeathed to it's children.
    Unfortunately habitat destruction, over fishing and our over abundant numbers all come before climate change, in my opinion.
    Our only chance is a major population crash.

  • Comment number 37.

    Justin, I think the reason that people are unafraid of global warming (sorry it has been renamed to "climate change" since it was realised that since 1998 global temperatures have decreased to 1970 levels) is that most intelligent people realise that the science behind it is junk. There is no balanced view in the media because any reporting denying this politically motivated "religion" is suppressed. There is no such thing as a scientific "consensus" on global warming - science is based on fact. There was once a consensus that the world was flat. Recently, 31,072 climate scientists signed a petition denying that AGW was significant, as compared to the 40 who confirmed the conclusions in the IPCC report, which was written by politicians. None of these scientists are ever invited to seminars on the subject. Just ask David Bellamy, who although being a vociferous proponent of green issues, has been shunned by the BBC for the last 10 years or so for speaking out against man-made climate change.

    The king is in the altogether.....

  • Comment number 38.

    #4 & #6

    Sounds like the God Botherers' arguement to me.

    When as sick person is healed though prayer it's "a Miracle" and if they die it's "the will of God"

    So too warm is climate change and too cold is climate change and.............hmmmm.

  • Comment number 39.

    I noticed that green buds were on the trees in the middle of Winter this year. I saw on the TV that huge forest fires rampaged through Australia. I heard lots of birds singing and performing mating rituals in the dead of Winter. Last summer seemed not to exist, as did the one before. Actually, when did we last have a 'summer'. More like bummer. High, cold, peircing winds emanated from Siberia. Has Spring arrived yet? I'm confused. We're confused. I trust little I see on the TV and read in the papers, even websites such as these. But I do trust the changes I notice on my daily walks or sitting in the back garden. I like to think that if there's a doubt then don't "do nowt", act now. I'd rather regret doing something which proves to be unnecessary than regretting not taking steps to avert a catastrophe.

  • Comment number 40.

    Two things are clear. The vast majority of the public have no clue what the scientific evidence about the climate is, and they would not understand it if they encountered it. They simply accept by faith what the politicians or media tell them, in light of their own presuppositions and biases. Second, the message, whether you call it global warming, or climate change, has now reached the level of fanatical religious belief. All evidence, whether of warm weather, cold weather, even record breaking cold weather and snow, is said to support the thesis that the world is warming up and the warming is being caused in part by humans. Unfortunately, this religious ideology is being exploited by governments and leaders for political, and sometimes even commercial gain.

  • Comment number 41.


    I live in central Alabama, and the climate is definately changing.

    Many animals formerly confined to the coastal plain have been moving north in the last few years. Cattle egrets, once common only in far southern Alabama and Florida are a common sight in fields. In the lowland areas near rivers and streams, the Golden Orb Weaver Spider (with it's beautiful gold colored web) has moved north from central Florida to central Alabama.

    Not to mention the years long drought being experienced in the Southeast generally.

  • Comment number 42.

    I agree with the comments of Larskjar at #27, I have always thought that people are trying to look at the small picture i.e. blame the natural geological cycle or blame the human interaction. The facts are climate change is happening much faster than ever before. The facts are with climate change comes dramatic changes in water availability and weather patterns. The question really needs to focus on what we want for the future for society. The problems cannot be fully quantified, only computer models can estimate what may happen, yet already we can see changes not only on our doorstep but worldwide, maybe not hugely significant so far but in the last 18 years, I (and probably most of us) have noticed changes.

    Therefore what to do, to do nothing risks further degredation of the climate, imposing more severe climatic events which are initially unlikely to affect the more populous countries which have means to adapt - until such a time as mass population movement to these countries occurs which could lead to severe pressure, never mind the possibility of conflicts then over the limited resources.

    To do something is progression, to try to achieve climatic manipulation and succeed - this could lead to its own problems, but could also allow us to combat not only this climatic change but future changes. Personally I believe this could help to investigate climate manipulation on Mars for future generations, but I think that is a long way off.

    I think human-kind will survive one way or another, we are a pretty resiliant species, the question is do we want to want to wait and see or actually do something about it?

  • Comment number 43.

    I live in Louisiana and we are actually getting mixed signals on Global Warming.

    While the Azaela bushes, common to this region, used to only bloom in the fall and spring, they now can be seen blooming in December!

    But at the same time, the frequency of cold snaps actually has made work more difficult for citrus growers who historically did pretty well in southern Louisiana, but now cling to the lower half of Plaquemines Parish or move to Florida.

    In the end though, Id say the most that Louisianians have to worry about, and we truly are worried about this, is the rising sea level relative to our coastline, caused by actual sea level rise and subsidence.

  • Comment number 44.

    At least my heating bill will be lower.

  • Comment number 45.

    I don't think being scared to death is going to help. I do believe that this is just another cycle this earth is going through. I'm not sure much can be done to stop it. And while I try to do as much as I can not to contribute to global warming, I am going to live each day to the fullest and prepare spiritually, mentally and emotionally for the future.

    We human beings in First World countries are so used to being able to CONTROL everything -- with threats, with wars, with manipulating genes -- we're having a terrible time accepting that we just may not have much, if any, control over global warming.

  • Comment number 46.

    There is little more boring than a discussion grounded in science - conducted by a group of opinionated folks who really don't care to get off their butts and examine the science under consideration.

    This includes virtually all the so-called skeptics in this assembly. Their answers make it clear enough.

    I've grown accustomed to the ennui resulting from this procedure - repeated endlessly in public forums [including the "big blog" where I'm a senior contributing editor].

    I've be willing to wager that virtually every skeptical bit of blather trips from the tongue of someone too lazy to have even read the IPCC reports.

    I did the hard bit. I spent 2 years studying the topic whilst in debate with a couple of legitimate climatologists working in the field. Finally work mostly from the Max Planck Institute convinced me of the reality of anthropomorphic global warming.

    My 2 foils? They couldn't refute the works I studied. Their peers eventually found them laughable in their unwillingness to confront scientific methods any longer - and they resigned from the scientific associations where they had carried on their own debates.

    I have nothing but scorn for their cowardice. I have nothing but contempt for lazy ideologues and sophists.

    Have a nice day, folks. :-]

  • Comment number 47.

    Global warming is here and it is going to get worse, but it is a symptom and side issue. The issue we must address is world population, but I am not sure that we can without a global war or wars.
    In my opinion, the only time that the electorate will decide to act decisively on global warming is when the supermarkets run out of food and all the low lying land in the world is under sea water. THEN people will demand to know why nothing was done.
    Here are some new world laws to debate;
    Only the first child is to be granted state and/or international aid, anything more is a crime against humanity.
    Any organisation that promotes the spread or proliferation of the human race must be outlawed.
    Anyone entering prison for a criminal offence must be sterilised.
    All motor sport must be banned as obscene.
    All countries must keep their populations to a level they can actually feed without imports.
    Any religion that promotes itself through reproduction must be eradicated.
    All energy (electric, gas, petrol, etc.) must be rationed to about one quarter of the average per person within Europe.
    All vehicles (military, business and private)over 2000 cc engine capacity must be scrapped and recycled.
    All earnings must be capped and new business models introduced that are not based upon expansion.
    I do not think that any of these laws will ever be enforced. I hope that we are like the crew of the Enterprise, spreading ethical and moral behaviour around the universe but I suspect we are more like the virus described in The Matrix, in which case our extinction can't come soon enough.
    We are the Easter Islanders.

  • Comment number 48.

    I am one of those that is not afraid of Global Warming.

    For every group of scientists that say that Global warming is man made and that we will all die if we don't do something, there is another group of scientists that say it is a natural cycle and that there is nothing to worry about.

    Why am I not afraid? If scientists can't even agree on whether or not global warming is serious, how can I have a reasonable opinion on it.

    I don't know all the details... the details are different depending on whose book you read or which radio station you listen to. I need more facts and less scaremongering.

    Besides, we have always been told to embrace change... not to fear something because it is different. If Global warming is happening, how do we know that it will do more harm than good?

  • Comment number 49.

    In America we have a wonderful ability to both acknowledge the problem but deny responsibility as well. In my college class survey, out of 47 students only 2 people had optimistic views of our world climate/environment in the next 50 years. Then the teacher asked how many of us were planning to have children (which most were). Ok, so if you aren't going to take responsibility for the environment now, and you think the future will be bleak, why are you having children who will grow up in that bleak climate? It was an enlightening thought and shaped up my habits!

  • Comment number 50.

    California was generally a dust bowl before settlers moved in and made it livable. With the exception of the Northern part of the state, a good deal of was desert already and shouldn't be a surprise then.

    This should be a hilarious blog to read since it will be always something horrible about global warming and how America must change its ways (i.e. Americans eating smoked cheese causing CO2 emissions that will make London the next Atlantis in 50 years). I believe this would be more fascinating if the "Ethical Man" went to China instead... see if he can do a circle being critical of a host nation and not get roughed up by the local police and/or government.

  • Comment number 51.

    Sadly, I fear that you are correct that this planet is at serious risk of becoming uninhabitable - and even if the risk is low, then the consequences of ignoring it are so catastrophic that we should act to prevent it. However, when burning of the Amazon rain forest is supposed to produce 20% of the entire planet's CO2 emissions, when wildfires in Borneo are said to produce 20 times the CO2 of the UK, and when 50% of CO2 is produced by the 6 billion humans and the animals used to provide our food... Does it really matter what light bulb I use? More seriously, are we even beginning to approach this problem seriously and sensibly?


  • Comment number 52.

    California, California, California.

    I don't live in California... 85% of Americans don't live in California.

    Everyone always talks about the impact that Global Warming could have on California. Every once in awhile, Florida or New York are Mentioned, but it's usually California.

    I live in the middle of lush farmlands 1000 feet above sea level, surrounded by beautiful freshwater lakes and rivers; how does Global Warm effect me?

    How does Global warming effect places like Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, St. Louis, Columbus, and the rest of America? I don't know... no one ever tells us. It's all about California.

    As a middle American, nobody tells me much about the impact global warming will have on me. Not to sound callous, but I could care less about California, I want to know how Global Warming will effect me and my relatively self sustaining life style.

    Maybe I am selfish, but I don't feel the dire need to change my lifestyle so that people 2000 miles away can enjoy their beautiful beachfront property. I am not ignorant enough to think that Global Warming wont impact middle America, but if you want me to be worried about Climate Change, I need to know how it will effect me, rather than how it effects California.

    You asked if we should be afraid of not being afraid... but the real issue is that most people have never been given anything to be afraid of. If you want people to be afraid of Global Warming, then scientists need to let the 85% of Americans that don't live in California know how Global Warming will impact them.

  • Comment number 53.

    Unfortunately cthoenen, as the recent global warming period has only just started FACTS are somewhat impossible to come up with all we really have is the overwhelming majority of computer models, estimates and current effects extrapolated into the future. I don't think many scientists would state their life on global warming equally I doubt many would stake their life on it not happening. If you read past the media and the negative/postive images of global warming you will find that the majority of scientist do consider global warming a threat. Unfortuantely their are a minority of scientists who are skeptics and for a lot of people it is easier to to believe in the skeptics in the hope that it will not affect the individual.

    Not every place has suffered change over the last say 20 years, however the FACTS are that the weather patterns are changing, for example Australia is suffering worse and worse droughts, the UKs weather patterns are all over the shop and even here in Colombia what is supposed to be the driest month has received floods and torrential rain. Facts are that the current change is the most rapid in history but unfortunately until it something else happens i.e. sea level actually rises by 50mm it cannot be a fact. While hearsay on the weather in some respects is not measureable it IS noticeable. Additionally it is a FACT that ice loss is happening, that the Glaciers are retreating. I just suggest that you dont wait for Facts about the effects and look at the facts leading to the current alarm.

    As I said in my previous comment, ignore whether it is man made or not, however, can humans influence what is happening? Say for example humans cut CO2 emissions to 0 would it slow down global warming - possibly, would it stop it, doubtful - as you said its a natural event and probably will happen with or without us. What we can do is draw out the effects by reducing human contribution to global warming in the hope that in the long term we can adapt to the changes or modify climate.

    The global warming believers are never going to convert everyone (even though we can point tot he fact that things are changing), in fact for most people alive today I doubt that you may notice significant change in the next 30 years, although the climate may change, so sorry but we might not be able to advise what may happen to you and places like Chicago in the near future. However, if you hope for a reasonable future for your children then I would suggest taking the side of the believers - if we get it wrong and nothing happens, so be it, sit back and laugh and say that was a waste of time, if global warming does come around at least we can say we tried (and hopefully succeeded in stopping it)!

    I draw a parrallel with the Titanic, part of the reason there was loss of life was the fact that some people refused to believe that the ship could sink (it was designed to be unsinkable - right?) until it was too late. Sadly they went down with the ship.

  • Comment number 54.

    I am not a pessimist, but I'm a realist. I think that all the measures being proposed to stem global warming and reduce carbon emissions are futile. Rushing to solutions without understanding and addressing the primary cause is not going to work. The situation is already beyond repair and there's no sense in trying to educate the public. By the time we convince enough people that we have a serious problem solving it will be beyond the beyond!

    The cause is overpopulation. It's a pure and simple fact that there are too many of us on this small planet. There is nothing we can do to reduce carbon emissions short of making two-thirds of the world population disappear. And fast!

    That's not going to happen, of course. On the contrary the population is going to stay on the increase for centuries to come. Which means that the carbon footprint will do the same. No amount of preaching will change this.

    Since we can't solve the problem, we can only deal with it. The only way to do this in my opinion is to change it from a social issue to an economic one. People will stop driving cars (ALL cars, not just SUVs) and buying energy-guzzling homes ONLY when it becomes economically advantageous for them to do so. Again, even if we do all the right things we will NOT diminish our carbon footprint. We can only hope to delay some of the more serious damage. And that alone may be worth the effort. But just crusading about it is a total waste of time.

  • Comment number 55.

    Here's a random fact or two, which you will hardly ever encounter in TV news or documentaries.

    Trees don't ONLY do photosynthesis and chuck out precious oxygen. They also do respiration, like all living things and use it up.

    I recall being taught that biological chemical reaction rates double for every 10 deg C rise in temperature and, in the equatorial regions, it's 30-40 deg for most of the year, so the respiration rates are higher than in temperate forests and the NET UPTAKE of CO2 by plants is not as high as you would imagine.

    You may have heard tropical hardwoods described as being slow growing. And there's the reason why.

    You may also have heard that coniferous trees, growing at high latitudes [even north of the arctic circle] are known to grow quite fast, by comparison.

    This makes sense where temperatures stay close to zero degrees C, which would make the respiration rate 8 to 16 times slower than in the rainforests, making the net CO2 uptake that much higher.

    Currently, the equatorial rainforests probably still qualify as 'the lungs of the world' but only by virtue of the sheer land area they cover.

    If we accept that we have no control over the actions of the countries who possess what is left of the rainforests we can sooner respond by expanding the forest cover on the land over which we do have some control.

    If landowners can resist the temptation to get into the lumber business en masse [which would only hurt prices] and simply let the things grow to maturity, they could still make a killing in the carbon trading game.


  • Comment number 56.

    I think it is unlikely that many people will read this far, but anyways,

    Fear will ultimately not change what people do. Fear is not the way we should try to recruit people to save the planet, it doesn't work, even when it is something to be afraid about.

    You have to change the culture, to change the culture you have to change what people care about. Do people really care about the planet? I would argue that people on average do not care about the environment. They would say they do, but their actions show otherwise.

    Lets start by beginning to really appreciate nature, learn to truly love the world we live in, and then, because we care about it, we will begin to live like we care.

  • Comment number 57.

    I like turbulence it helps me sleep.

    Should we be afraid, I personally am not a 'believer' in the church of climate change that preaches doom to those who do not do it's bidding, that's old school fire and brimstone religious stuff.

    Is the fear you feel on a plane productive? Does it help you survive the journey?
    No it does not in fact it is counter productive because at the end of the day you will arrive fear or not, except I will have a night of stress free sleep but you will arrive stressed and unable to concentrate.

    Who was it said 'There is nothing to fear except fear itself' Fear is counter productive and leads to rash decisions such as chopping down rainforests to fill cars with bio-fuel.

    I don't believe in global warming but even I know that destruction of the rainforest is stupid for many reasons, the climate being just one.

    On a different note, have you thought of using a Honda Clarity for your journey, the only thing that comes out of the exhaust is water.

  • Comment number 58.

    I once met a Christian that told me that all none believers went to hell, so it was the duty of all Christians to convert the none believers to Christianity before dying (and going to Hell).
    I assume this meant no means of conversion is too great in order to save these poor souls from damnation.
    I guess they also believe that if a few none Christians died in the conversion it's no bad thing.

    So is the next step is to purge the none GW believers and execute them for their heresy?

    Btw isn't the BBC meant to be impartial?
    They didn't broadcast an advert for aid in order not to break impartiality, and yet there appears to be no counter arguments to GW anywhere on the BBC web site.

  • Comment number 59.

    I don't mean for this to become any discussion of religion, but because of your comment, I just want to say that as a Christian myself, I believe that it is our "duty" to love the world, love all people, and not condemn them. Jesus never condemned outsiders or non-believers, he criticized the hypocritical religious elite of his day. I also hate to use the word "duty" as a description of what Jesus meant for us to do, because love cannot be a duty or task, it is much deeper than that.

    I will hate it if what follows this post is a debate or argument about what I just articulated, but Christ did not mean for his followers to go around telling people that they are going to hell.

    I personally don't know that much about the science of global warming. I just know that I believe in taking care of each other, and people are affected strongly by their environment. Given what I have read and understand about pollution and such, I have chosen to take steps to be less wasteful, more efficient, etc. My wife has asthma, I believe in part because of air pollution. I do not want to be the cause of other people getting sick because of my pollution.

  • Comment number 60.

    I agree 100%, it's scary to think there are people out there who get so fanatical.

    I brought it up because it strikes me that many Eco warriors are starting to talk like the scary religious people.

    CO2 does not cause people to get sick, in fact CO2 is emitted when we breath, and is breathed in by plants.

    Particulate CO2 is a problem for Asthma sufferers but most scientist agree the particulate CO2 from Diesel engines are not a major cause of Asthma (I disagree).

    Of course most trains, buses and low CO2 cars are Diesel, which according to the Eco's are exactly what we are meant to be driving.

    I want to save the planet as much as the next man, I'm a big fan of recycling after visiting SA and seeing a field of plastic bags that stretched as far as the eye could see.
    It was like something from Science fiction.

    I just think reducing CO2 should not be the be-all and end-all to all Eco problems.

  • Comment number 61.

    True, things are much more complex than just that. And I do get irritated with people who basically claim that the world will end tomorrow because of (fill in environment disaster).

    But then, I'm irritated with people who rant about how stupid the people who care about the environment are, or just don't care one way or the other. As sad as it is, there are both extremes, with plenty of people on either side, and often they care more about fighting each other than actually making something happen.

    SA? I'm curious where that is, I haven't heard of a place like that.

  • Comment number 62.

    Sorry should be RSA or The Republic of South Africa.
    I spent a few years there back at the end of the 90s.
    It's a country with a huge social divide, where many people are extremely well off, but a large chunk of the population live in iron shacks.
    For anyone thinking that what we need is to live off the land like the Africans then I urge you to visit Soweto.
    When the Taxis stop running (which are hugely over crowded and extremely dangerous) people are forced to walk to work, which is often a walk of 10 to 15 miles.
    Of course the one thing that mitigates this slightly is the fact that winters over there are the same as our summers, except it never rains.

  • Comment number 63.

    Climate Change scepticism? The climate has always changed. Do these academics and Green Left morons believe that the earth’s climate began changing in the 20th century, but was non-changing before that? Do you really beleive this c*&p?

    The Bureau of Meteorology and scientists can't even predict tomorrow's weather correctly so how can they predict what will happen in fifty year's time? Oh, that's right, climate modelling! You only get out what you put in.

    Doesn't Al Gore preside over one of the largest carbon credit management companies? Doesn't that say something about his eagerness to promote "Global Warming".

    Can anyone see a pattern emerging here? It is all about the money and how much can be extracted from the dumb public. Wake up to yourselves!

  • Comment number 64.

    Why are you surprised that people are not reacting to the global warming message with great alarm? Consider:
    1. People are willing to live in areas that have repeating disasters during their lifetime, living in earthquake, flood, volcanic zones. Are these people likely to get excited about something that hasn't happened?
    2. The hyperbole - "the most serious threat mankind has ever faced." Gosh, some pretty serious things have actually happened such as two world wars and unbridled nuclear proliferation.
    3. This is based on computer modeling by academics in far away places and not something being confirmed by individual experience where people are living.
    4. The face of man-made global warming, Mr. Albert Gore, has lost serious credibility. His movie has been debunked. His lifestyle does not match his rhetoric. (private jets, expansive energy use at his private residence, etc.) Furthermore he is invested in a corporation set up to make money off of carbon offsets (not actual carbon reduction) which is a bit of a conflict of interest.
    5. The track record of the politicians leads many people to believe this is another government scheme to wrest money and power from the working people.

  • Comment number 65.

    @ElonStudent - I'm inclined to agree with your comment. Over the last 15 years there have been massive steps to improve the environment. When you consider that, Cars are now being sold with more economical engines which are selling because of higher taxes on fuel guzzlers.

    We are also making much bigger efforts to insulate and heat are homes more efficiently. The installation of double glazing, wall insulation and underfloor heating have all made a real difference to our energy consumption.

    Fifteen years ago, nothing was recycled. Now a large percentage of things are. As far as I can see at least in the UK we have come on leaps and bounds towards preventing it.

    One thing that would help is educating younger people so younger generations understand the importance of recycling. That said I dont believe we will ever stop Global Warming and we need to come up with more technology based solutions to weathering the storm that is coming.



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