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An Ocean of Air

7 January 2013

Quoting somebody who visualised humans as living beneath an ocean of air, the atmosphere, Gabrielle Walker has the opposite point of view – fully committed to the consensus as far as AGW is concerned. Her book, An Ocean of Air; A Natural History of the Atmosphere, Bloomsbury:2007, is an altogether nice overview of not simply the science but how the scientists themselves arrived at their positions, and what hurdles were jumped. She has a chapter on Birkeland, oft quoted by the Electric Universe advocates, and describes his work, difficulties, and his life – including his premature death in a hotel in Japan at the start of WWI. However, somewhat frustratingly, she passes over Lord Kelvin's disaproval of his discoveries in one sparse sentence.

In a chapter on the ozone hole (obligatory I suppose as it was a doomsaying prior to CAGW) she does not dwell too much on the scientists responsible for the discovery of CFCs as a suitable refrigerant gas and describes Midgeley as an unfortunate man. What she does, instead, is concentrate on the scientists and environmentalists that decided there was an ozone hole (without any historical data to back the claim up). These include Lovelock, and we are taken through the various processes involved before a worldwide ban on CFCs came into operation. Nowadays, scientists are not so sure that CFCs play much of a role – but it is interesting to see how these campaigns begin, grow, and continue to gather momentum before reaching some kind of conclusion. No mention is made of the enormous economic costs involves, monies that could have been used instead on humanitarian projects and genuine environmentalism.

Likewise, the chapter on co2 begins with John Tyndall, progresses to Arrhinius, and then to the modern scientists responsible for projecting the doomsaying meme. A nice interesting read written in an agreeable manner without any shrill protestations and thoroughly recommended to those who want to understand the issues. The aspect that I found quite interesting was the link Tyndall claimed he had found between low co2 levels in the atmosphere and the Ice Ages. He did some of his research in the Alps, and at that time the Ice Ages were defined by evidence of major glacial advances in those mountains – the four Ice Ages of the original theory. They are easily marked out in the geology. Nowadays of course, since the advent of ocean sediment cores, many more Ice Ages are reputed to have advanced and retreated, and all is revealed as the science proceeds from the 19th to the late 20th centuries.

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