Climate race still being run in sacks

Climate sceptics aided by powerful industry lobbies have clashed with scientists from day one of the controversy about a warming planet. They will slug it out anew over the latest study from the World Meteorological Organisation showing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit their highest single-year spurt last year. It was the fastest rate of increase in 30 years. The report does not say why the surge occurred, but scientists are left in no doubt about the cumulative impact on global warming. For context, the 2013 gas loads were 142 per cent of what they were in the pre-industrial age in 18th century Europe.

The conventional view holds that global warming, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions mean the same thing. If disagreement over the science is just an esoteric exercise, little harm can be done. But the divergence is not benign.

If the energy and transportation industries press on with promoting fossil fuels as the cheapest energy source, planetary degradation will speed up, to the detriment of all. Of that, there can be little doubt as extreme weather events and fast retreating ice in the polar regions and Himalayan glaciers demonstrate.

A way has to be found to mediate the differences as they influence the formulation of public policy. The United States is enjoying a new energy boom through shale fracking. Might this mean less incentive to fund research in clean energy? Wind farms are sprouting all over China and the country leads the world in solar panel production. That is encouraging, until one learns that the burning of dirty coal will pace its industrialisation and home heating for decades to come.

India, another growing polluter, is much further behind the curve. Japan's car industry is only just adopting more stringent emissions standards.

One issue that all sides to the debate can agree on is the environmental damage caused by chemical by-products of fossil-origin matter. Dirty air, poisoned water and toxic soils strike home more graphically than can studies about ambient temperatures and rising sea levels a century away. Another image is of fisheries diminishing when the oceans get acidic from absorbing carbon dioxide.

A report in the MIT Technology Review warns that the use of clean energy, although more widespread, is not keeping pace with economic activity. This is an unwinnable race: The faster the growth, the greater the use of fossil fuels and the less probable Earth's regeneration gets. The despoiling should act as a spur to research and greater use of alternatives like wind, solar, hydro and geothermal sources. If nations still refuse to run this race together, all will wind up as losers.