What if “Climate Change” is the next “Y2K”?

There is a growing debate about whether or not mother earth has pressed the “pause” button on global warming.  Reputable publications such as The Economist are raising the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the climate scientists haven’t got it quite right.  The main exhibit in this trial by fire is the following combination of cause and (lack of) effect: between 2000-2010 about 25% of all the CO2 ever generated by human activity was injected into the atmosphere and yet the average surface temperatures did not rise at all.

There are, of course, retro-active explanations – deep-sea energy storage being the flavour of the month.  But the fact remains that none of the extremely sophisticated (read filled with complex mathematical calculations based upon many assumptions and sparse data) climate models predicted this outcome.

It reminds me of the models that were run at the turn of the century which predicted economic ruin.  Y2K computer bugs would surely lead to nuclear plant shut-downs, major disruptions in global trade and untold other negative impacts.  Literally billions of dollars were spent on consultants hired to prevent the cataclysm.

At the time I was running a 5 year old computer with the Windows ’95 operating system.  I dutifully downloaded a piece of software that told me that I would absolutely have to upgrade my BIOS and do other software upgrades to the point where maybe I should just buy a new computer.  I ignored that advice, got up on January 1st, 2000, reset my computer’s clock (which had reverted to some date in the 1970’s) and that was it.  No other actions were required.  That computer still runs just fine 13 years later.

So here is the thing.  What if the arctic ice sheet starts growing again?

What if cool springs in Europe and North America become the norm?  What if it becomes harder and harder for the public to be able to see any impact on the weather other than it is becoming even more impossible to predict? (And by the way, the weather prediction models we use are much more sophisticated and incorporate many more actual data points than climate change models).

The phenomenon formerly known as “Global Warming” has been rebranded as “Climate Change”.  But let’s get real here.  The scientific community has been uniformly claiming that CO2 added to the atmosphere will increase the “greenhouse effect” which will inevitably lead to warming of the atmosphere.  That added energy can lead to other side effects like increases in variability, changes in precipitation patterns, and more extreme weather events.  But in the end more retained heat has to result in higher temperatures.  There is no getting around that.  So what the last decade is probably telling us is that we really don’t have a solid understanding about what is going on with this incredibly complex planet. 

If the public begins to doubt the reality of “Climate Change” or that it is caused by human activity the backlash could be pretty intense.  In a thousand ways taxpayers and ratepayers have been footing a large bill to reduce the burning of hydro-carbons and they may not feel inclined to keep paying such a heavy price. 

As far as I am concerned that would be a real shame.

Oil and gas will run out.  Probably not while I am still breathing but quite likely during my children’s lifetimes.  So we need to kick the hydro-carbon habit. 

Although we are making good progress on developing affordable and renewable energy technologies we do need to alter course somewhat.  Renewables without energy storage are, quite frankly, useless unless we are prepared to do without electricity on calm nights.  It is time to redirect a large portion of the subsidies currently going to solar panels and wind turbines to energy storage research and a number of other measures and technologies that will help us move to a sustainable energy environment.  I have listed many of these in my Sustainable Energy Manifesto.

We don’t need to drag out the “Climate Crisis” Powerpoint deck in order to justify building a sustainable world.  We just need to honestly admit that the way we are powering our prosperity at the moment won’t work over the long term.  No drama required. Just a bit of consideration for future generations.  Let’s leave them with a planet and a way of living that are even better than what we have had the good fortune to enjoy.

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Davis started his career working with the Geological Survey of Canada and has spent more than 20 years working in the Oil & Gas Industry in Calgary, Alberta. For a number of years he was the energy policy advisor to the leader of the official opposition in the Alberta Legislature.More recently Davis has been involved in alternative energy research, focused primarily on grid stability and overcoming the problems of variability and dispatchability with renewable sources such as solar and win.

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