Over Christmas I got into a few arguments about global warming with some friends who live in London and migrate up to these icy northern latitudes only for special occasions (and, in one case, her dad's chili). See, I told you I was a party animal.
The problem with friends you only see occasionally is that on the rare occasions you get to spend any time with them you are invariably drunk to the point of bed-wetting to make up for lost time. As a result of this you end up with endless heated debates on subjects you are ill-equipped to deal with. Global warming is, of course, one of these subjects.
As I mentioned a few days ago I am not trained in science. My belief that everything is transparent should prove this to be the case. Even in subjects in which I can claim some degree of knowledge I can barely hold my own. For instance, I noticed while watching University Challenge yesterday that I can't remember anything about sediments. I spent 4 years learning about the different types of soil we have on this little planet, but I couldn't tell the difference between a podsol and terra rossa - or even if there is a difference. I've forgotten everything I learned about climate change, and I'm not sure I can recall whether the uplift of land following the retreat of glaciers is called isostatic or eustatic change.... nope, that's gone too. Quaternary geography, town planning, the effect of oil spills on mangroves - all of it, vanished.
I wouldn't want my growing ignorance of my degree subject to influence anyone about to go off to study, though. Most of you will be able to remember your facts for many years after you graduate. You may even get a job in a related field. The only reason the facts of my course have fallen out of my head is that I filled it to capacity with other, less academic knowledge. The words to the back catalogue of Hawksley Workman, for instance.
Anyway. Global warming. A few weeks ago I took the unenviable position of arguing against it with my older brother and a teacher friend who is vastly more intelligent than I (I make up for it in other ways, though. It takes me less than 2 hours to have a shower, for example. You know who you are).
The discussion didn't go according to plan. As so often happens when you talk science with a belly full of warm, flat lager you end up going off on ridiculous tangents that always seem to end with vulgar words about the opposition's mother. That shit wouldn't fly on the debate team.
The point I'm trying to get at, if I could just steer my brain in the right direction for a moment, is that I'm not getting on board with the global warming crowd. As I mentioned I'm no scientist, so don't expect anything like facts or proof. I find that evidence just gets in the way in an argument. I prefer to go with gut feelings and instinct, along with a healthy dose of mistrust of anyone who spends his days studying ice cores and frowning a lot. I'm simple like that.
The main point of my argument, I suppose, is that I find it hard to believe that we can predict what our climate will be like in a hundred years if I can't be told with any degree of certainty whether I should take an umbrella with me when I go out on Saturday. Yes, I know that climate prediction is far removed from weather prediction but... please. Almost every single variable in global warming is up for debate. Will sea levels rise dramatically or will we disrupt the Gulf Stream and freeze up western Europe? Why is the Antarctic breaking up at the ice shelves but thickening at the centre? Will it get hotter or colder? Wetter or dryer? Will it happen in a week of a thousand years? And where's my fucking coffee?
None of these questions can be answered reliably (apart from the coffee. I'll just have a Coke). I'm not inclined to trust any scientist who can't give me a solid answer. The only scientist I'd trust is the one who answers these questions with a shrug of the shoulders and "You're guess is as good as mine, buddy. Toss a coin."
Of course, most proponents of global warming will say that this doesn't matter. We can see that sea levels are rising and temperatures increasing. It would be folly to ignore this and go on living as we do. That may be true, but at the end of a day I live on a big hill. I also live inside. It may sounds crass and heartless, but I'm not gonna drown, and I'm not gonna freeze or burn (whichever way we happen to go).
If I believed anything really bad was going to happen I probably wouldn't be so blasé about it all, but honestly I think global warming, at least the apocalyptic, Day After Tomorrow hollywood version, is plain bunk, just like mad cow, SARS, bird flu and Pajamas Media. They all generate a torrent of hype and then fizzle away into an embarrassing memory. Global warming will, I predict, be remembered as a slighty longer-lived groundless panic.
Bob: Hey, remember when people believed humans were drastically altering the climate, heading toward a global catastrophe the like of which the world had never seen?
Jeff: Oh, yeah. That was stupid. Not like that fog that turns people inside-out. Or the moon-eating space goat. Wanna go get a Soylent Green?
Bob: Nah. I'm on South Beach.
Ha! A study released today shows that almost a third of the methane entering the atmosphere is doing so through plant life. We don't even know where our greenhouse gases are coming from, and we presume to predict their effect on our climate in a hundred years? Bearing in mind that all of our predictions of climate change are necessarily dependent on, y'know, our knowledge of the origins of greenhouse gases, then surely all of our computer models are pretty much useless, no? And the new ones we make will become useless the next time we make a discovery, and on and on and on.