David Attenborough’s unhelpful response when I wrote to him about climate change - Neil McNicholas

TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
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IT IS difficult to swim against the tide of the current debate on climate change. While someone like the respected naturalist Sir David Attenborough continues to receive plaudits for his stance on the subject, the other David, the late David Bellamy, who his obituary mentioned was actually more academically qualified than Sir David, was accused by one national newspaper of causing “incalculable harm to environmentalism” because he was seen to be “dogged and unrelenting” in his dismissal of man-made CO2 as a driver of climate change.

Let me state my position before we go any further.

The late naturalist and broadcaster David Bellamy was maligned, according to Neil McNicholas, for his stance on the environment.

The late naturalist and broadcaster David Bellamy was maligned, according to Neil McNicholas, for his stance on the environment.

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I don’t deny the reality of global warming or that of climate change, but they are not the same thing. We may be able to do something about the former, but we can never do anything about the latter and that’s just how it is. We are living on an ever-changing planet and it will change with or without us.

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It was Mark Twain who said “There are lies, damned lies and statistics” and, in the field of global warming, he was right on the money. As with Brexit, there is a lot of blatantly obvious scaremongering around. While many scientists will claim the ice caps are melting, glaciers are shrinking, polar bear populations are decreasing, and Pacific sea-level islands are vanishing under the waves, others claim the exact opposite. So who do we believe?

Do holidya-makers at Scarborough understand the difference between global warming and climate change?

Do holidya-makers at Scarborough understand the difference between global warming and climate change?

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There may well be irrefutable evidence for man-made global warming, but I wish broadcasters would please stop showing stock footage of steam belching from cooling towers trying to pass it off as atmospheric pollution. H2O is not CO2.

And while environmentalists might condemn the likes of India and China for failing to support international agreements on pollution, any damage to the environment that they may or may not be causing pales into insignificance compared with the atmospheric pollution resulting from the recent wildfires in California and Australia and volcanic activity in the Philippines.

Between 60 and 80 volcanoes erupt around the world every year, throwing all kinds of pollution into the atmosphere. Mother Nature will always do her thing regardless and we can do nothing to stop her – just ask King Canute.

And that’s the point really. Just because it rained the whole week you were in Scarborough last year whereas the year before was glorious, doesn’t meant the climate is changing – it just means you picked a bad week to go to Scarborough. And even though we think summers were always glorious when we were kids but they aren’t now, this has less to do with climate change and more to do with selective memory. Compared with how long people may have been on the face of the earth, our personal experience of changes in our climate is irrelevant.

Science estimates that the earth is over 4.5 billion years old, whereas people have been around for only some 200,000 of those years – insignificant.

Famously the Earth wobbles on its axis as it orbits the sun and that is why the climate has undergone some pretty spectacular changes over the millennia and will continue to do so despite our presence on it.

When continents froze over and then those ice ages gave way to the climates we are familiar with today, people weren’t to blame then any more than they are now. It was the wobble that did it. And considering how short a time we have been around anyway, who’s to say the climate we are familiar with today is the norm? Maybe the ice ages are the norm and another one is on its way after this current warming trend that we are worrying about.

At one time the terms global warming and climate change were used quite separately, whereas now they are used confusingly interchangeably.

In my frustration with this situation I tried the direct approach and wrote a letter to Sir David Attenborough appealing to him to differentiate between the two things in his various television documentaries, but he replied (at least he had the courtesy to do so) to the effect that he sees no problem in using the two terms interchangeably – which isn’t very helpful. And as outstanding as his documentaries are, predictably they always end with a lecture on climate change.

The point is, and I repeat, global warming, which we might be able to do something about, is not the same as climate change, which we most certainly can’t.

Climate change is a cosmic thing and it is sheer arrogance to think that we can influence the cosmos. Let’s at least put the right name to the symptoms of global warming so that we can correctly identify possible remedies instead of wasting our time chasing the wind.

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest from Yarm.