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Editorial - Global Warming 1704-2004 -When did it start exactly?

It was a dark and stormy night and it was all he could do to keep warm by the gentle heat of his laptop. Yes Portsmouth in winter is a tad windy and cold and what seemed like a great idea in October is turning out to be a nightmare. OK not the kind of nightmare that people in Iraq are having, or Iran for that matter or even Afghanistan or all the other places where real nightmares take place on a daily basis. I’m just talking about a cold flat with no central heating. My own fault. I wanted a place with lots of space for my photographs. Now it’s too cold to into the living room to see them and there’s ice crystal on the glass anyway. Darn it.
In 1804 , when this was an actual gentleman’s home and one of the best addresses in Old Portsmouth, every room sported a glowing coal fire and I am sure even the servants in the roofspace or in the basement were warm or at least tucked in with the horses in the stables. A laptop just isn’t as warm as a horse. Not even my Ibook.

I was thinking about all those coal fires, in every room, in every house (that could afford coal in 1804 and 1904 for that matter) and the quality of air back then. Remember all those London fogs in Sherlock Holmes movies. Granted there were fewer people. (Around 30 million in the UK a hundred years ago as opposed to 56 million or so now.) Did anyone mention acid rain then? Or global warming? Think of million upon million fireplaces right across the western world daily burning coal fires to warm a home for hundreds of years and still burning them in summer to cook. How much did it alter the climate then? Were the hurricanes and floods man-made disasters then? There were many such recorded events and the winters were very much colder. OK, the earth was further away from the sun for part of that time, on its elliptical orbit, and that makes winters more harsh. Nevertheless, when we were burning all that coal and releasing all that carbon into the upper atmosphere did they know they were causing ‘global warming’ or just trying to get their socks dry?

Now we live in a world where hardly any coal is burned in fireplaces (I’d burn some if I knew where to buy the stuff) but still a lot of coal is used to generate electricity. Nevertheless, coal is on the way out, at least in Europe, because of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. The air is cleaner than at any time people can remember. So they say. However, just because we can’t see all the stuff coming out of car exhausts, doesn’t mean it isn’t killing us or the planet. Which is better? Invisible pollution or visible?

Are cars and diesel engines and power stations (whether gas powered or coal) causing worse global warming than the centuries when we all used coal. (We might want to address the problem of methane from all the horses and cows out there back then too - and right now by all those hamburger cows in Texas.)

No doubt, anyone reading this will say, there’s a website where you can look up these exact comparisons. ‘Global Warming from 1700 (prior to the industrial revolution - to 2004.) Century by Century.’ No doubt, you can measure the contaminants in the Arctic Ice to gauge the situation going back hundreds of years. Certainly, you can measure volcano activity or even wars I should think. But just for the record, is it worse now because there are six billion plus people on the planet as opposed to three billion or because we switched from coal to oil based economies? Nevermind all the millions of species they say will be made extinct by global warming. We shall of course miss them. But what if one of those species is us?

I was concerned because I was reading in The Times the other day that energy experts reckon the UK will be a net importer of all or 90% it’s energy needs within 20 years. We will be importing that natural gas and oil from Russia and other volatile countries that, no doubt, given their history, will from time to time, turn off the tap for political reasons, or internal social unrest, or even spite, or worse, because the pound is worthless in 2024. I am not sure how the UK will survive being an energy importer, because it has never been such a ‘needy’ place before. Thanks, first to forests (which they chopped down) then coal, then lately, North Sea Oil, it has been energy self-sufficient for around 2500 years. In twenty years then, about the time you (not I) will be paying off your mortgage, your home will be bloody cold. Most houses no longer come with fireplaces so you won’t even be able to burn that MDF furniture you bought in the sales.

The last coal mines will have been shut. What kind of jobs will people do here if energy prices go through the roof? Will the UK be like Romania now? Who will adopt British orphans?

I know I am the world’s worst pessimist, but when you are cold, you think about these things and I am thinking: I don’t want to be living here when my oven light is dependent on the whims of Moscow.
Wind power can and is being used, of course. Visit Cornwall to see it in action. Wave Power is a great idea. But so far, there are more protesters than wind turbines or wave turbines. It’s logical that we must use our weather to generate power and NIMBYS will have to take a back seat eventually. However, the better idea might be to design cars, homes, appliances, and lifestyles that consume less power. After all, if my laptop is all that is keeping me warm, it means that it probably isn’t using its available power efficiently enough.
Your constructive ideas on how to survive this energy poor future are welcome.
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© Sam North-

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