Sometime in 2003, I developed an interest in the subject of Global Warming. Newspaper articles discussed the perils of a warming world, the forthcoming global food crisis, and the touted culprit was carbon, or to be more precise carbon dioxide, which is much different. I was supposed to be concerned about my "carbon footprint", be doing more to use "sustainable" foods, fuels and products, and to be seen to be doing "my bit" to "save the planet".
Always having subscribed to the motto "take no-one's word for it", I decided to do a little research on the internet. I was surprised to find myself in an enclosed sphere of blogs and websites, many of which seemed to me to have a rather shrill background tone, and much of the analysis seemed to be unquestioning and authoritative. There was very little on the actual science of this "Global Warming", such as references to research papers or articles written by actual scientists. Blog discussions were almost entirely between comment posters who clearly knew one another, and were generally in agreement. I read that the "science was settled", and that phrase alone alerted me that there was a little too much certainty in these discussions.
One item on one website was the clincher - an article on "acid rain". This had been a great scare many years ago, but the subject had disappeared from news reports once it became clear that many of the scientific studies were badly flawed. Trees were not dying at an unprecedented rate worldwide, much of the observed "damage" had been occurring for decades if not centuries, and the acid that was detected in the soil around the trees was mostly created naturally. The article was unquestioning; acid rain was a serious problem, it was entirely due to the burning of coal in power stations and from some industrial processes, and the forests were doomed to all but disappear within decades. The fact that decades had already elapsed since the "problem" was identified, and no arboreal disaster had occurred was clearly being ignored.
The author had penned several other articles, which now received my critical attention. One of these claimed that carbon dioxide (CO2) had increased since the start of the industrial revolution, and now stood at over 3% of the atmosphere, due to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels. I knew that CO2 was considered to be a "trace gas" and so couldn't possibly occupy 3% of the atmosphere, so dug around a little to discover that the correct figure was just over 0.03%, which is 100 times lower. En route I also found that water vapour was the main "greenhouse gas" and was in fact more powerful, molecule-for-molecule, than CO2. I commented on the article, pointing out the error, and was rebuffed - "How could a gas at only 0.03% of the atmosphere have much effect? The correct figure is the quoted 3%". However, I had by then discovered an authoritative report, which had been published by a body called the IPCC, which confirmed my figure, so I returned to the article to find that I'd been labelled as a "skeptic". Undaunted, I provided details of my source, with several other references and posted another comment, which I later found had been deleted. Seemingly, facts were inconvenient for the author and his supporters. I had learned a valuable lesson. I had also noted his response - how could a gas at only 0.03% of the atmosphere have much effect?