But when it comes to climate change I like to think of myself as something as an optimist. Up to now I have believed that humanity is doing some really stupid things and taking reckless risks but that sooner or later enough of us will realise this in time to change before it is too late. I even allowed myself to get really excited by the Paris Climate Change agreement. After all if those all those world leaders were giving commitments to invest in a serious attempt to find better ways of generating and storing energy then we would very quickly be hitting a tipping point in technology that there would be no going back from. The wall of investment money was combining with a new era of scientific invention so that before very long the idea of digging fossils out of the ground was going to look very odd indeed. We wouldn't run out of oil. We'd simply move on to better ways of doing things and clunky old fashioned oil wells would rapidly become a thing of the past.
I still believe all this but I am beginning to wonder whether it will happen in time. The figures on the arctic ice cover for this winter are truly scary. In case you missed the numbers here they are:
Arctic sea ice extent for January 2017 averaged 13.38 million square kilometres (5.17 million square miles), the lowest January extent in the 38-year satellite record. This is 260,000 square kilometres (100,000 square miles) below January 2016, the previous lowest January extent, and 1.26 million square kilometres (487,000 square miles) below the January 1981 to 2010 long-term average.
When you read these alarming facts it is worth bearing in mind that the average for 1981 to 2010 isn't a base reading of the situation before humans started burning fossils. It is simply the record of the era during which we could measure the situation with scientific factual accuracy. All the evidence suggests that arctic ice cover was much wider at the start of the industrial era - we just couldn't measure it accurately enough to establish a start point. This means that we are going through the mildest winter at the arctic that we know of in measurable history and something even more remarkable when you consider the last couple of hundred years. The situation seems to be getting worse each year. And more rapidly.
Without arctic ice ocean sea currents change radically and more darker areas of water get exposed to absorbing rather than reflecting sunlight. This in turn creates a feedback mechanism on frozen methane in arctic tundra areas. No scientist can possibly predict with accuracy the timing or the extent of the impact. We are therefore conducting a gigantic experiment on ourselves and the rest of the species on this planet with no certainty as to the outcome.
Which would be scary enough. But what is really scary is the emergence of a growing number of people in very senior positions who will happily challenge this statement and claim that it is all a matter of opinion. For example, Owen Patterson, the UK Conservative former Minister responsible for climate change told the listeners of Question Time recently that they needn't worry over much because the planet has only warmed by half a degree and that's no big deal. Despite all the briefings from the experts employed by his former Department he chose to believe the more convenient alternative facts supplied by .... well whoever chose to manipulate them. For the avoidance of doubt he wasn't sacked to appoint someone better - he was replaced by someone every bit as silly.
It is of course true that weather always changes. It is of course true that the climate has warmed and cooled in the past. It is of course true that the earth's orbit and the number of sun spots are the main impact on our climate. It is also quite true that no one can predict how many volcanic explosions there will be and whether any of them will tip us back into a period of cooling. It is not true that these simple facts mean everything is OK and we don't need to worry.
It is a matter of measurable scientific fact that the higher the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the warmer the planet. Not argument. Not opinion. Not alternative fact. Real scientific provable fact. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also a matter of measurable scientific fact. It is over 400 parts per million for the first time since humans have lived on the planet. We know that human activity has created this situation. We don't know precisely what the impact will be. The level of methane is also at record highs and that does the same thing only more powerfully.
It is therefore extraordinarily unlikely that the best scientific predictions we have are deliberately negative and that we can carry on burning fossil fuels and everything will turn out alright. What is making me very depressed is the number of people who are prepared to stake everyone's future on that very remote possibility. The view seems to be that all those pesky scientists who have carefully researched the subject aren't as reliable as any two bit alt right blogger who wants to create some alternative facts.
It is much more likely that the scientists have an inbuilt bias towards caution. Each of them has a reputation to uphold and no one wants to be attacked for being amateur and alarmist. All the reputable journals know that if they publish an article on the issue they will be challenged by the more short sighted parts of the oil industry so they also have an inbuilt tendency to be cautious and defensive about what they publish. When those journals are published they are summarised and presented to politicians and economists with care and responsibility - and that again creates the potential for excessive caution in the face of political challenge.
The sea ice figures don't seem to be so cautious. They are based on what is actually happening out there in the environment instead of on the opinion of Conservative Ministers. The reality is dramatically different to anything that has been predicted. The ice is melting so much faster and so much more extensively that it falls way outside of any model models that mainstream science has presented us with. The scientists worst case scenario isn't bad enough to reflect the actual reality. The situation in the oceans is proving more dangerous more quickly than the scientists have dared to predict.
It is possible that these figures are a one off. That there is some blip in the data.
It is also possible that we have less time that we thought. And we need to take action even more urgently and more strongly than anyone has previously thought.
I leave you to judge how well the governments of the UK and the US are currently preparing us for that eventuality.