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  Straits Times 15 May 07
Global warming: Four possible scenarios
Letter from Eugene Tay Tse Chuan

Straits Times 15 May 07
Policymaking mindset must change to combat global warming
Letter from Kua Harn Wei (Dr)

Straits Times 12 May 07
Why I am not a climate change sceptic
By Warren Fernandez

A STORM has been raging in the scientific community over a controversial television documentary on the dangers of global warming.

Dozens of scientists are calling for a DVD recording of the programme, titled The Great Global Warming Swindle, to be blocked from sale or edited before it is released.

The programme alleges that the emerging consensus that human actions - especially emissions of carbon dioxide - have contributed to the warming of the earth's atmosphere to catastrophic proportions is nothing more than an elaborate sham.

Instead, it argues, man's actions have had a marginal impact and global warming can be better explained by changing patterns of solar activity, among other things.

The climate change lobby, it adds, has made theirs the 'defining moral and political cause of our age', based on bogus evidence - 'lies', it calls them. This is allegedly being done because thousands of scientists, government officials, journalists and businessmen have a vested interest in promoting this dubious theory.

'If the whole global warming farrago collapses, there'd be an awful lot of people out of jobs and looking for work,' Professor Phillip Stott of London University says on the programme, aired in Britain in March.

Hogwash, other leading scientists have cried.

Sir John Houghton, former head of the British Met Office, and Mr Bob May, former president of the Royal Society, Britain's academy of science, are among 37 experts who have taken issue with the programme.

'So serious and fundamental are the misrepresentations that the distribution of the DVD of the programme without their removal amounts to nothing more than an exercise in misleading the public,' they say in an open letter to Mr Martin Durkin, the man behind the 75-minute documentary.

They charge that the programme contains a 'catalogue of mistakes', distorts evidence and charts, and uses selective editing to push its case.

Ironically, this controversy has flared up even as thousands of the world's top scientists were gathering in Bangkok to try to agree on the third part of an international report on climate change.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a network of 2,000 scientists from more than 110 countries, had concluded in February that it is more than 90per cent likely that human activity is responsible for climate change.

It warned that the world must act immediately, if it is to cap the average global temperature increase at around 2degC, generally recognised as the threshold at which some of the most extreme impacts of climate change will be triggered.

Even the aimed-for level of a 2degC increase could mean up to two billion people facing water shortages by 2050, and could threaten extinction for 20 to 30per cent of the world's species, the IPCC warned.

So, the question that ordinary folk like you and I might well ask is this: Are these doomsday scenarios no more than a pack of lies? Are thousands of the world's top minds in cahoots to hoodwink the public? Or guilty of some elaborate form of groupthink, bowing meekly to the orthodoxy of the day, as the climate change sceptics charge?

Should we ignore all the dire warnings and shrug off the environmentalists' pleas to change our lifestyles to protect the world from the grim picture of global warming that some have painted?

After all, how much easier life would be if it were true that little needs to - or can - be done to deal with the problem, since scientists can't agree - let alone prove - just what is causing climate change, not to mention how to tackle it?

As I see it, such a 'don't-worry-be-happy' stance would not only be wrong factually, but also downright misleading.

Besides, it would also be to mistake the nature and roles of scientists and policymakers. Scientists are naturally sceptical and rightly see a need to continually test prevailing assumptions.

Policymakers, however, cannot wait for certainty, and must often make judgment calls on the basis of the best - often partial - evidence available to them at the time.

On something as critical as the survival of life as we know it, waiting for definitive 'proof' before taking measures to avert a disaster might be a luxury no one can afford.

A level-headed response to the 'don't-know-enough-yet' camp is found in the book by Paul Brown, environment correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, titled Global Warming: The Last Chance For Change.

He writes: 'The danger grows with the increase in average temperature above what is called the pre-industrial level - the mid-18th century. Some scientists estimate that when the temperature reaches an extra 2degC above that equilibrium, the earth's systems will be in serious trouble. It will affect many species' survival prospects, including ours.

'So the key question to ask is how close are we to a 2degC rise, and when will we get there?

'The first thing to admit is that nobody knows for sure, but that many who understand the science say the answer to this twin question is, first, that we are already very close, and second, we might get there terrifyingly soon.'

Still not convinced? Well, consider these facts: Last month, Britain recorded its warmest April since records began in 1659. China's top meteorologist Zheng Guoguang warned on Wednesday that the country faces its greatest threat in a decade from typhoons, floods, droughts and other extreme weather, which he attributed to climate change.

'The situation is urgent. Temperatures in most areas will be higher this year than in previous years, and typhoons are expected to arrive in larger numbers than last year.'

In the United States, frequent warnings that climate change would result in more frequent and fiercer tornadoes and storms sprang to mind when a devastating Category 5 tornado literally wiped the town of Greensburg, Kansas, off the face of the earth last weekend.

Freak occurrence? Not conclusive proof? Just more hot air put out by the climate change lobby? Perhaps.

The truth is this: No one can say for sure that the extreme weather being experienced is caused by global warming. Nor can anyone prove with certainty what is causing climate change.

But the signs are increasingly clear for all to see. Many - certainly not all, but many if not most - of the world's top scientists are now sounding the alarm and calling for urgent action, saying that the old debates on this issue are passe, and it is time to forge a consensus on how to deal with a very real problem.

Unless we do so, there is little hope of galvanising the public to accept the difficult changes that will be needed if this looming global challenge is to be dealt with, and soon enough.

This, in short, is why I am not a climate change sceptic.

Those who choose to remain so should ponder what answer they will give to today's youth when they ask, just a few decades from now, why they chose not to act earlier when something might still have been done to save their planet.


Don't wait too long

Scientists are naturally sceptical and rightly see a need to continually test prevailing assumptions. Policymakers, however, must often make judgment calls on the basis of the best - often partial - evidence available...On something as critical as the survival of life, waiting for definitive 'proof' before taking measures might be a luxury no one can afford.

Straits Times 15 May 07
Global warming: Four possible scenarios
Letter from Eugene Tay Tse Chuan

I REFER to the article, 'Why I am not a climate change sceptic' by Warren Fernandez (ST, May 12).

For sceptics, is it possible to not believe in global warming but still take action?

What if we do not presume that global warming is happening? Can we look at different scenarios and choose what to do?

Let us imagine four simple scenarios.

Scenario One is called 'Happily Ever After', where there is no global warming and no early action taken. The sceptics were right. No money was spent to implement useless plans to tackle climate change. Everyone lived happily ever after.

Scenario Two is called 'Pat On The Back', where there is global warming and early action was taken. Global warming is happening but with less impact because we took preventive actions. Money was spent but it turned out to be a good investment. We gave ourselves a pat on the back for doing what was necessary and right.

Scenario Three is called 'No Regrets' where there is no global warming and early action was taken. The scientists were wrong and money was wasted. Sceptics lambasted that the money could have been used instead to help developing countries. But the scientists retorted that the sceptics were right with hindsight. The money spent was not wasted, it was used to make buildings and transport energy-efficient; develop alternative energy and reduce reliance on oil; and conserve trees and natural habitats.

We are not short of money, we are short of political will power and foresight. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that stabilising greenhouse gases at 535 to 590 parts per million will reduce the global economy in 2050 by 1.3 per cent.

In 2005, global advertising expenditure alone was 1.3 per cent of world GDP and is sufficient to help developing countries meet United Nations millennium development goals.

Scenario Four is called 'Reap And Sow', where there is global warming and no action was taken. We see the impact of climate change, and now everyone believes. But it is too late. We reap what we sow.

Which scenario will happen? If we take action, we either have no regrets or can pat ourselves on the back in the future. Nothing much to lose and everything to gain. If we do not take action, we either live happily ever after or reap what we sow.

Everything to gain or everything to lose. What is your choice?

Straits Times 15 May 07
Policymaking mindset must change to combat global warming
Letter from Kua Harn Wei (Dr)

I CONCUR with Mr Warren Fernandez's views in 'Why I am not a climate change sceptic' (ST, May 12), as he correctly pointed out that policymakers often have to make decisions based on partial evidence and the true effects of those policies they implement - intended or unintended - normally take a period of time to manifest.

This increases the cost of making policies as a precautionary measure to battle possible global warming consequences. And this has caused many nations to make incremental progress in their climate change efforts, if any.

The fact is, there need not be any dilemma in climate change policies. To most people, 'sustainable development' means developing ourselves without compromising the ability of our future generations to develop themselves.

However, unfamiliar to many, one of the gists of sustainable development is that it is enabled by policies that aspire to co-enhance the economic, environmental and social attributes of the systems to which it is applied as much as possible.

That said, only a policy that, for example, promotes a renewable energy technology and at the same time ensures a net benefit to a country's economy and social well-being of its people can be considered as truly sustainable.

Implementing such a sustainable policy implies that the coupled benefits are likely to outweigh the risks and uncertainties lurking in the process. Such potential benefits also cause policymakers to feel comfortable and secure to act based on partial data about the existence of global warming.

Is this model of policymaking wishful thinking? No.

The relative success of the US policy to cut back on sulfur dioxide emissions exemplifies the power of this concept.

Why then do countries not embrace this philosophy of policymaking in tackling global warming? The greatest challenge is that it requires a drastic change in the current widespread mindset in policy making, implementation, monitoring and improvement.

Since such a policy is very likely to impact different factors and stakeholders, it requires politicians to meaningfully and effectively engage these stakeholders in policy discussion and feedback; this serves to identify how a concerned policy can affect, and be affected by, them.

It also requires different governmental departments to break down their walls and work closer than ever before.

These multi-partied exchanges are likely to dish out a wide range of variables that need to be addressed, many of which appear to be conflicting. It takes dexterity and ingenuity to formulate policies that link up these seemingly disparate issues and aim to co-enhance the benefits for all the stakeholders involved - in an economic, social and/or environmental way.

Above all, considering these myriad issues concurrently introduces more policy options and strategies to rectify any unintended consequences that can be deduced.

With this mentality, even countries that are not bound by the Kyoto Protocol will find reasons to embrace climate change policies; they can reap benefit by steering their policies towards developing technologies and know-how that can be exported to other countries.

For example, even when mandatory capping of carbon emissions are deemed as impractical (for many countries), incentives should be provided for firms in specific polluting industries to voluntarily reduce their emissions; if these voluntary efforts involve innovation of technologies or technique, they will put the country in a competitive advantage in a future when more countries are compelled to adopt carbon-reducing technologies.

Unfortunately, not many countries, if any, are prepared to make the necessary changes to their existing policymaking culture.


Related articles on Singapore: general environmental issues and climate change
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