Global Warming Increases, And So Does Scepticism

Greenland Kangerlussuaq icesheet

The US Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] has released data showing June 2010 to have been globally the warmest June sine its records began in 1880. NOAA has combined data from land and oceanic records to produce a global mean temperature. This was 16.2°C [61.1°F], 4% higher than the twentieth century average of 15.5°C. This June data follows the warmest January to June period on record and sets up 2010 to be the warmest year since records began.

Reflecting this warming trend, Arctic sea ice was 10% below the 1979-2000 average with the lowest recorded June coverage. Conversely, the Antarctic showed an 8% increase in ice cover, a point that will be seized on by sceptics who will ignore the Arctic data. This growth in Antarctic ice is a reflection of the switch from El Nino to La Nina conditions in the Pacific resulting in cold-water conditions in the southern oceans.

The June data conforms to a warming trend stretching back to the 1940’s with a decreasing number of years recording mean temperatures below the long-term average. Since 1985, there have been 304 consecutive months in which the global land-sea temperature has been above the twentieth century average. This trend is highlighted by the fact that the ten warmest years have occurred in the last 15 years.

During the last decade, solar output has been unusually low, with periods when there has been no sunspot activity. During a solar minimum, global temperatures should cool because of increased cloud cover, triggered by an increase in non-solar cosmic particles hitting the high atmosphere, [the cloud-chamber effect]. The steady rise in temperatures during a solar minimum blows another hole in the arguments of the sceptics.

So why is it that, at the same time as the scientific evidence for man-made change becomes ever stronger, we are witnessing an increase in climate change scepticism? In the New York Times on May 24, Elisabeth Rosenthal observed:

“Last month hundreds of environmental activists crammed into an auditorium here [in Britain] to ponder an anguished question: If the scientific consensus on climate change has not changed, why have so many people turned away from the idea that human activity is warming the planet?” (Rosenthal, ‘Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons,’ New York Times, May 24, 2010; (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/ science/earth/25climate.html)

The change in public opinion, Rosenthal noted, has been most striking in Britain, which has become “a home base for a thriving group of climate skeptics who have dominated news reports in recent months, apparently convincing many that the threat of warming is vastly exaggerated”.

A BBC survey in February found that only 26 per cent of Britons believed that “climate change is happening and is now established as largely manmade,” down from 41 per cent in November 2009. A poll conducted for the German magazine Der Spiegel found that 42 per cent of Germans feared global warming, down from 62 per cent four years earlier. A Gallup poll in March found that 48 per cent of Americans believed that the seriousness of global warming was “generally exaggerated,” up from 41 per cent a year ago. (Ibid.) Rosenthal cited newly sceptical members of the public:

“Before, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this climate change problem is just dreadful,’ said Jillian Leddra, 50, a musician who was shopping in London on a recent lunch hour. ‘But now I have my doubts, and I’m wondering if it’s been overhyped.'”

Up to this point, Rosenthal’s analysis was reasonable enough. But this was her explanation of the change in public opinion:

“Here in Britain, the change has been driven by the news media’s intensive coverage of a series of climate science controversies unearthed and highlighted by skeptics since November. These include the unauthorized release of e-mail messages from prominent British climate scientists at the University of East Anglia that skeptics cited as evidence that researchers were overstating the evidence for global warming and the discovery of errors in a United Nations climate report.”

Rosenthal’s account is deceptive because it portrays climate scepticism, and media enthusiasm for climate scepticism, as naturally occurring phenomena, as if they simply are. But this is a lie. In fact, the public debate on climate is massively tilted in favour of the corporate interests that have long fought environmental responsibility tooth and nail. Environmental journalist Andy Rowell – author of Green Backlash and co-founder of Spinwatch (www.spinwatch.org) – offers a brief summary of the corporate stance on climate change:

“In the late 1960s, the leading PR company Hill and Knowlton, advising the tobacco industry on how to confront its critics over health, argued that doubt was the product they should use: ‘The most important type of story is that which casts doubt in the cause and effect theory of disease and smoking.’ Eye-grabbing headlines were needed and ‘should strongly call out the point – Controversy! Contradiction! Other Factors! Unknowns!’

“Since the Sixties, the tobacco industry have continued their attempts to maintain the controversy. Their documents are peppered with statements such as ‘no clinical evidence’, ‘no substantial evidence’, ‘no laboratory proof’, ‘and unresolved’. Nothing has been ‘statistically proven’, there is no ‘scientific proof’.

The techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry in the 1960’s have now been successfully adopted by the climate sceptics. To quote Andy Rowell again:

“‘Creating controversy’ is precisely what the fossil fuel industry and its spin-doctors have done on climate change. The longer they can throw doubt on the issue, the more we carry on burning fossil fuels and the more money they make. Simple. So a small number of fossil fuel-funded think tanks and scientists have managed to create doubt over the scientific consensus of climate change for nearly two decades. They have been joined by a small group of right-wing ideologues, who are opposed to climate change on political grounds.

“The mainstream media continue to give these sceptics air-time in the name of balance, but do not tell an unsuspecting public that many are fossil-fuel funded, politically opposed, or even have no scientific credentials. So no wonder the public are confused. Like the corporate media, (which take significant money off the fossil fuel industry) many people do not want to change their behaviour, so it is reassuring for everyone when a sceptic throws doubt on climate change. This is compounded by parts of the right-wing media which are running what is effectively a misinformation campaign on climate.” (Rowell, email to David Edwards of MediaLens.org, May 27, 2010)

The website Campaign Against Climate Change reports:

“It has recently been revealed that Koch Industries, a little-known, privately owned US oil company, paid nearly US$50 million to climate denial groups and individuals between 1997 and 2008. In a similar period Exxon Mobil paid out around $17 to $23 million.” (http://www.campaigncc.org/sceptics)

As the website notes, the manufactured ‘Climategate’ ‘scandal’ of autumn 2009, mentioned by Rosenthal – in which emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were illegally hacked and published – was a nonsense. Sir Muir Russell, a senior civil servant who led a six-month inquiry into the affair, said recently:

“Ultimately this has to be about what they did, not what they said. The honesty and rigour of CRU as scientists are not in doubt… We have not found any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.”  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/08/muir-russell-climategate-climate-science)

Myles Allen, head of the climate dynamics group at the University of Oxford, commented:

“What everyone has lost sight of is the spectacular failure of mainstream journalism to keep the whole affair in perspective. Again and again, stories are sexed up with arch hints that these ‘revelations’ might somehow impact on the evidence for human impact on climate. Yet the only error in actual data used for climate change detection to have emerged from this whole affair amounted to a few hundredths of a degree in the estimated global temperature of a couple of years in the 1870s.” (Ibid.)

Rosenthal’s article was titled, ‘Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons.’ Even if we accept this ‘turn’ at face value, honest analysis of why these fears have turned to doubt, demands that we consider the deepest forces empowering climate scepticism. It is public opinion that is being manipulated, not the scientific data. Sceptics now have the upper hand in Parliament with a majority of Conservative MP’s leaning towards this viewpoint. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/feb/07/climate-scepticism-grows-tories)

The message is clear: be sceptical of climate scepticism, and act now on climate change. The longer we wait to take effective action, the more the planet will warm. A 2°C rise will be uncomfortable and will strain the global economy, but we are online for a rise of over twice this, resulting in conditions that human beings have never experienced in their history, conditions in which we will struggle to survive. We can avert this, but only if we act now, together. Please consider joining the Green Party.

Thanks to MediaLens.org for the sections on scepticism

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One response to “Global Warming Increases, And So Does Scepticism

  1. Pingback: Changing Global Weather Patterns – by David Foster « DERBYSHIRE GREEN PARTY

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