There's no easy way to explain global warming

Your editorial analysis of the differences between political and scientific discourse is impeccable but for the (unscientific) lumping together of the spread of BSE and the threat of global warming ("Drive a car and drown", 6 November). It is incontrovertible from the Phillips report that if there had been an earlier involvement of specialist scientists - that is, unbiased and from the appropriate discipline - the worst consequences of BSE would have been avoided.

The report states: "If the CVL [the Maff-funded Central Veterinary Laboratory] had consulted them at this [earlier] stage, the NPU [the Neuropathogenesis Unit in Edinburgh] would have confirmed that this was indeed a new transmissible spongiform encephalopathy" (my italics). In layman's terms, vets were given a job that should have gone to nerve-tissue specialists.

That carbon dioxide emissions lead to a dangerous rise in global temperatures (and thence to climate change) has no equivalent scientific analysis. There are a number of causes that are very likely contributors to climate change. These are seldom mentioned - so completely has the CO2 mantra been accepted. Tectonic plate movements, irregularities in the earth's orbit round the sun, variations in solar radiation, oceanic factors - all these and more should be taken into account, as should the overlooked fact that Chaucer, circa 1370, would have had every reason to believe that the 5oC increase in temperatures that Britain was then experiencing was due to . . . well, to what exactly? Not fossil fuels or motor cars, surely? Yet it happened, and the overheating continued. CO2 may be an important aspect of the problem, but it is both naive and bad science to see it as the only, or even the major, one. For a start, our timescale for evidence is too short.

But politicians will, for the reasons you rightly state, continue to make facile statements: high fuel tax will cut car use and so stop the floods. More plausibly (and scientifically), a thorough survey of all flood-risk areas and the transfer of cash from the arms trade and military expenditure to highest-tech flood-barrier construction would go much further towards using public money for the public good.

Ian Flintoff
London SW6

This article first appeared in The New Statesman Interview - Lord Falconer

2000-11-20