Thin on the Ground

Land Resources: Now and for the Future






363 000 people were born

154 000 died

World population increased by 209 000

Annual world population increase:
2008 77 M, 2009 80 M, 2010 78 M, 2011 76 M




Living with climatic change


"The climate has always changed;

it will go on changing;

and nothing that politicians can do will stop it."

Anthony Young (2008)

See Updatesbelow and on following page

Of all environmental questions, climatic change, usually referred to as 'global warming', is the one most often on the lips of environmental lobbyists, the media, politicians, and the general public.

Awareness of climatic change goes back further than most people realise. It was studied by Gordon Manley, at Bedford College, London, back in the 1950s, using early temperature records kept by vicars. Then Hubert Lamb, originally a lone climatological voice at the UK Meteorological Office, moved to the University of East Anglia and founded the pioneering Climatic Research Unit.

Many scientists have voiced caution about the more extreme claims by environmental activists. Although not a climatic specialist let me, as a broad-based environmental scientist, summarise my current views.

Mean global temperatures have risen by a small amount in recent years, beyond what would be expected from random fluctuation. One cause of this rise is most probably the emission of carbon dioxide and other 'greenhouse gases'. This may not be the only cause. It is unlikely in the extreme that adherence to the Kyoto Protocol, or any other measures, will have an appreciable effect on this. Politicians delude themselves if they think they can control the climate.

'Global warming' is bound to have positive as well as negative effects for humanity. Better crop growth in the cool temperate zones, and savings in fuel costs on heating, are examples. The British public, out of self-interest, welcomes it: we enjoy hot summers, and do not wish to go back to the Dickensian winters of the nineteenth century, when the Thames froze over.

So should we ignore calls to 'reduce carbon emissions'? No! What matters is to reduce the consumption of increasingly scarce fossil fuels.

Policy and action

There are two consequences for realistic policy and action:

1. Reduce fuel consumption Yes, by all means: more economical cars, house insulation, power generation by other than coal, oil and gas. Use the 'carbon emissions' cry if this is what will lead to action, but it is the saving of oil and other, ever more scarce, non-renewable fuels that is the main reason.

2. Adapt to change We shall not stop climatic change. Money is much better spent adapting to it. There are a multitude of ways, e.g. food reserves and warning systems in semi-arid regions, improved coastal flood defence works.

Of course, the major contribution to reducing emissions, fuel burning, not to mention hunger, poverty, and all other environmental problems: to check rates of population growth. For discussion of this, see Poverty, Hunger and Population.

UPDATE (February 2009) Compare the statement which opens this page with the following: "The climate changes all the time, it always has done and always will do, for reasons that may have little or nothing to do with...man", taken from Nigel Lawson's book, An Appeal to Reason: a cool look at global warming. Lawson argues that political attempts to halt global warming by checking carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are highly unlikley to be successful, and would harm the progress of developing countries. Public investment is better spent on adapting to change, where and when it happens.

  • September 2008,

Climatic change is discussed in Chapter 12, Research and technology, of Land Resources: Now and for the Future.