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Oliver L Campbell : Climate Change


Some people affirm climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels that produce carbon emissions which create the greenhouse effect. The latter then causes global warming which leads to climate change. This chain reaction starts with carbon dioxide (CO 2) which is the most prolific greenhouse gas. The present level of CO 2 is well in excess of the natural range over the last 800,000 years, as determined from ice cores and, furthermore, there has been an increase of some 40% since the start of the industrial revolution. Based on this, environmentalists assert it is humans who have caused global warming by burning fossil fuels like coal in power stations and gasoline in cars. They lobby for a reduction in the use of fossil fuels and their substitution by "renewables" such wind and solar power. Anyone who has experienced the smog in Beijing, Los Angeles or Mexico City will certainly support measures to reduce carbon emissions. .

Others argue it is not just humans that cause CO 2 emissions and cite the effect of volcanic eruptions which spew out huge amounts of this gas. It was only in 2010 the mountain in Iceland with the tongue-twister name of Eyjafjallajokull erupted. Apart from the clouds of ash it threw up, in just a few days it ejected more gases (carbon dioxide CO 2 and sulphur dioxide SO 2) into the atmosphere than thousands of coal-burning power plants in a year. In 1991, the eruption of Pinatubo in the Philippines expelled huge amounts of sulphur dioxide which blocked out sunlight and caused a drop in global temperature during the next two years. Similar, but very much worse, was the 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia which also blocked out sunlight, reduced global temperature and caused the much quoted "year without a summer." In Europe, very cold weather destroyed crops and people starved. It was a catastrophic event which caused worldwide disasters. Such huge eruptions are infrequent but minor eruptions occur all the time and create constant CO 2 emissions.

Another potent greenhouse gas is methane (CH 4) which is the main component of the natural gas we burn in our homes. About 60% of these emissions emanate from human activity with live stock, through their digestive process, being a main culprit. I was amused to read that s cientists in the UK are seeking chemicals to add to cows' food to stop them farting and belching so much--garlic has had a good effect and no one goes around smelling cows' breath! They have found there is a correlation between the amount of methane they produce and a substance in their faeces called archaeol--they got this off pat! So, if after eating beans for lunch, you are sitting in the garden and have a bout of flatulence, you too may be contributing to global warming! Other human causes of these emissions are landfill sites and the oil and gas industry. However, substantial natural emissions emanate from wetlands, decaying matter from both land and sea, forest fires and volcanoes.

I leave it to you to decide if humans or nature contribute most to global warming. The more important issue is if global warming has been the cause of the severe weather changes we have recently experienced. There is a general consensus th at, in future, we can expect more extremes of weather worldwide, but is this due to global warming? More and more scientists are now questioning if man is responsible for climate change and believe it is a natural phenomenon.

A couple of good friends are geologists and they convinced me climate change has been occurring ever since the world was formed 4.6 billion years ago. Many ancient peoples worshipped the sun with some reason--it gave light and warmth and made the crops grow. It is the intensity of the sun's radiation that most affects our climate and this is influenced by changes in the way the earth orbits the sun which goes from being an almost perfect circle to being an ellipse. The result is the distance from the sun varies as we go from circle to ellipse and the difference in radiation received causes our climate to change. However, this cycle take thousands of years (see Milankovitch Cycles) and does not explain our current climate change. The problem is with what do we compare our present climate to prove there is climate change? Do we compare it with 100 years ago, 1,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago? For instance, five hundred years ago it was much colder than it is now and the river Thames used to ice over. A thousand years ago, it was warmer and the Vikings planted wheat in Greenland--which was a green land--where now there is just ice. Twenty thousand years ago, as water changed into ice during the last glacial maximum, the sea level fell by 120 metres. All of Canada, as well was a large part of northern Europe, was covered by ice sheets. It is quite probable our present climate was replicated in the past. The fact is colder and warmer spells during glacial and interglacial periods have always existed.

There is a difference between weather upheavals and climate change. The power of El Niño, and to a lesser extent of La Niña, can cause havoc with the weather, but they are a natural phenomena that have been around thousands of years. The abnormal increase in the water temperature offshore Peru and Ecuador, as the trade winds weaken and warm water flows back from the south west Pacific, creates energy of such force that it can cause catastrophic weather worldwide from floods in the west of South America to drought in Indonesia, nearby countries, and Australia It is said El Niño has the second largest climatic impact on human activity after the earth's seasons.

I am firmly in the camp that believes climate change is a natural phenomenon and that global warming is a result of climate change and not its cause--any effect carbon emissions may have are not significant in the context of the power nature has to change our climate. You may disagree and I am not trying to convince you. My purpose to bring home that anticipated weather extremes will cause much suffering worldwide. It is unfortunate some of the poorest countries are also the ones most devastated by floods and droughts. Bangladesh has extensive low-lying coastal areas and sea surges can cause havoc there. It is also subject to floods and tropical cyclones--in 1991 one caused 140,000 deaths. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan, among others, have suffered terrible droughts which have caused extensive famine.

Floods , droughts, snow storms, heat waves, sea surges, cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes have always existed, so it is their frequency and intensity that is of most concern. If droughts and flooding become more frequent as a result of climate change, they will cause crops to fail and lead to extensive famine. There is no doubt c limate change, with its extremes of weather, is one of the most urgent challenges mankind has to face. It is up to governments and worldwide organisations to seek ways for reducing the impact periodic disasters. Can people be moved from low lying coastal areas and flood plains? Can excess river water be diverted away from urban areas? Can water be conserved by constructing dams and reservoirs? Can trees be planted to prevent soil erosion, landslides and desertification? These are just a few of the many measures that will need to be considered.

P.S. El Niño refers to the Infant Jesus since it is around Christmas that warmer water normally accumulates off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador. The term, in a climatic context, refers to an abnormal increase in water temperature whose latent energy can cause so much havoc to our weather.

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Oliver L Campbell MBA, DipM, FCCA, ACMA, CGMA, MCIM was born in 1931 in El Callao, Venezuela where his father worked in the gold mining industry. He spent the WWII years in England, then in 1953 returned to Venezuela and worked with Compañía Shell de Venezuela (CSV). He spent 15 years in the oilfields and ended up as Company Financial Controller. Upon nationalisation of the oil industry, he went to Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) as its Head of Finance. In 1982 he returned to England and was the Finance Manager of the British National Oil Corporation prior to its privatisation. He then worked as an oil consultant and retired in 2002 after fifty years in the oil industry. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

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Petroleumworld News 04/24/2013

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