EU Watch – Interview May 2008
Dr Patrick Moore
May 24, 2007
There are clear evidences of global warming, but the reasons are debated. Some climate scientist states that human activity has only a very limited impact on global greenhouse emission, because much more comes from natural sources. What is your point on it? Could you give some statistical evidence of the greenhouse emission of human and natural (volcano, seas, swamps etc.) origin.
Dr Moore Answer:
We do not know if we are a small or large part of the present global warming. It is not possible through science to determine an exact answer to this question. Certainly the natural factors, and there are many, that have acted to change the climate many times through the history of the Earth, are still operating today. They have not gone away. But human emissions of CO2 is a new (natural) factor. So it is very unlikely that we are the only factor causing the present global warming but we may be one of the factors.
Some climatologist says that climate has been changing continually and warmer periods are followed by colder periods and the nowadays warming is not an exceptional one. What is your point on it? Could you give historical statistical data how the temperature of the earth has changed? evidence of the greenhouse emission of human and natural (volcano, seas, swamps etc.) origin.
Dr Moore Answer:
Here’s what we know: During the last billion years, there have been at least four occasions when the entire planet was much warmer than it is today, and that at these times when global average temperature was approximately 22 degrees C, there was no ice at either pole and the entire planet was tropical or subtropical. Similarly, there have been times when the planet was cooler than it is today – as cold as 12 degrees C – and was covered in ice. We are still in an “ice age” now called the Pleistocene. It is relatively cool now compared with the warm ages that have occurred in the past.
So the real question becomes: Why would we assume the natural systems no longer exist that were at play during those significant swings in global temperature, long before humans had evolved on Earth?
Something else we know is that we are currently in a warming trend. But we are coming out of a long period of cool global temperature, known as the Pleistocene, and the truth is we don’t know how much of the present warming trend is due to our emissions. It could be that we’re not contributing, that we are but only slightly, or that we’re a large part of it.
We also know that it suddenly turned colder between 1940 and 1980 — this is when many scientists and members of the mass media were predicting a new Ice Age. Then it began to warm again in 1980 and has been going up ever since (in fact, through to 1998, interestingly the warmest year over the last several years, and still unsurpassed since.
Indeed, it has been gradually warming for the past 500 years since the peak of the “Little Ice Age” which was preceded by the “Medieval Climate Optimum” 1000 years ago when grapes grew in northern England and the Norse colonized Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, only to be frozen out by the Little Ice Age.
The climate is ever changing, within bounds that may be set by Gaia. CO2 emissions may well form part of the cause, but other systems are at play.
What might be the impact of global warming, and what can we do against it?
Dr Moore Answer:
It is likely that global warming will bring both positive and negative impacts in future. For example, some areas may see an increase in arable land while others may see a decrease. Irrespective of these positive and negative effects, I believe it is prudent to maintain a personal policy to reduce my fossil fuel consumption and to help other people do the same. There are many good reasons to do so; air pollution, conservation for the future, saving fossil fuels for higher uses such as durable goods and chemicals, and climate change potential.
In my view, there are three main ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption:
1. Adopt a mix of renewables plus nuclear power for electricity production
2. Install ground source heat pumps instead of burning gas in buildings
3. Promote the use of hybrids and more biofuel for transportation
If we were just to adopt these technologies more widely it would be easy for all countries to comply with Kyoto.
What is your point on the use of the different energy sources (coal, oil, gas, nuclear, wind, sun) on the long run?
Dr Moore Answer:
The only way to reduce fossil fuel emissions from electrical production is through an aggressive program of renewable energy sources (hydroelectric, geothermal heat pumps, wind, etc.) plus nuclear. Wind and solar power have their place, but because they are intermittent and unpredictable they simply can’t replace big baseload plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too volatile to risk building big baseload plants. Given that hydroelectric resources are built to capacity in many regions of the world, nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It’s that simple.
We know climate change is, at least to some degree, related to energy in the form of fossil fuels, which account for about 85 percent of the world’s total energy consumption. Let’s examine the largest global greenhouse gas emitter: coal. Although it provides cheap electricity, worldwide coal burning creates approximately nine billion tons of CO2 each year, mostly from power generation. Coal-fired plants cause acid rain, smog, respiratory illness, mercury contamination, and are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, 441 nuclear plants operating globally avoid the release of nearly 3 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions annually—the equivalent of the exhaust from more than 428 million cars. If we want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels like coal, we must choose a cost-effective solution that’s good for the environment and provides a safe, reliable baseload supply of electricity. In my estimation, the most practical approach is to adopt an aggressive program of renewable energy plus nuclear. Baseload sources of electricity are required for the grid and the only viable choices are hydroelectric, coal and nuclear.
An advisor to government and industry, Dr. Patrick Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace and is chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada. www.greenspiritstrategies.com.