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Two challenges to conventional thinking

There have been two challenges to conventional thinking in the past couple of days. One was a report on the BBC Today programme about an EarlyBird study from Southampton. This apparently shows that young children's activity levels at school don't reflect their over-all activity levels during the day, and also shows that the amount of activity they undertake doesn't correlate with their body mass index. One girl who enjoyed competitive long-distance running was found to have the same energy output as another girl who hated running.

If this study is correct (and it is apparently produced by respected researchers) it suggests that the government's attempts to combat childhood obesity are being misdirected. Instead of trying to increase participation in sport they ought to be attacking "junk food". So much for one of the alleged benefits of obtaining the ever more expensive Olympics for London.

The other challenge to received wisdom is a lot more open to question. This was a Channel 4 documentary which wheeled out a number of quite authoritative-seeming climate experts who disagreed with the theory that human activity is responsible for global warming. They did accept that average temperatures are increasing (after a period between 1940 and 1975 when they actually fell) but they believe that this is due to increased solar radiation. Carbon dioxide emissions have a negligible effect, it appears.

In fact, the experts even contested the view that carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas. We were shown a graph which purported to prove that although rises in carbon dioxide do correlate with rises in temperature, the temperature rise occurs before the rise in carbon dioxide, which implies that it is temperature that causes the carbon dioxide level to increase rather than the other way round.

I have to say that I sympathize with what some of the participants said about the quasi-religious fervour with which the "green lobby" is pushing its views at present. I've been an enthusiast for controlling carbon dioxide emissions myself, but the "greener than thou" tone of public pronouncements by all sorts of people, from politicians to clergymen, is becoming pretty nauseating.

At the same time I find it hard to believe that so many climate experts who are convinced of the reality of man-made global warming are mistaken. And today's Independent prints a pretty strong rebuttal of the programme. The article points out, for example, that the apparent cooling that took place in the middle of the twentieth century was due to industrial pollutants that filtered out sunlight; the improvement in air quality that has occurred since then has allowed the temperature to rise again.

Many of the graphs shown in the programme were apparently misleading, distorted, or out of date. I have to say that I'm unconvinced by the arguments advanced in this documentary, which seem to be reminiscent in tone of claims made by some scientists who contest the role of HIV as the cause of AIDS. I'm all for iconoclasm, but in this case I think it's the iconoclasts who need knocking off their pedestal


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