Climategate - Global Warming and Climate Change
Climategate - Global Warming and Climate Change
The Controversy over the Debate
December 2009 - When the issue of man-made culpability in the onset of global warming is contested the climate change sceptics are dismissed as either conspiracy theorists or living in ignorance of scientific data.
To question the current zeitgeist is to be treated as derisively as a member of the Flat Earth Society or receive the opprobrium normally reserved for Holocaust deniers.
At best they may be chided for their irresponsibility as UK Foreign Secretary David Milliband recently described such vocal critics.
Proponents of conspiracy theories may allege it is a huge western confidence trick to impede the industrial development of China and to a lesser extent India. Others may view it as a stealth tax using the credibility of unimpeachable science to increase the utility bills and fuel prices of the public in order to pay for the implementation of environmental programmes. Therefore the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore must be pulling the wool over our eyes if this is to be believed. On the other hand scientists who raise questions are often criticised for spreading disinformation simply to protect the interests and influence of the oil industry.
When the issue of the shrinking ozone layer first came to public attention in the 1980's I myself found it incredible that aerosol cans and open refrigerators could possibly be to blame for greenhouse gases. How could such prosaic household items inflict this worldwide damage especially after 200 years of industrialisation, decades of international air-travel and numerous nuclear tests that all disgorged pollutants into the atmosphere? I was more willing to accept the news broadcasts that said perhaps the massive reduction in the Amazonian rainforests had played a more significant part.
The Science of Dissent
However, the debate is made the more compelling when we learn that scientists themselves are arguing against the party line on climate change. In Germany, more than 60 scientists wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel in August asking her to "strongly reconsider" a change to government policy. They claim that modern temperature fluctuations have been within normal ranges. Similarly in May this year scientists in Australia questioned the orthodox view and in the USA the numbers run into thousands.
Nevertheless on the 4th December 2009 an open letter to Congress signed by 25 notable experts in the field criticised the opponents of climate change action. They stated that “The body of evidence that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming is overwhelming” and this evidence has been produced by the “robust exchange of ideas in the peer-reviewed literature” which establishes its integrity.
In the UK the Meteorological Office have decided to review 160 years of data on weather conditions in the country. This will take three years and was the result of leaked e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit(CRU) of the University of East Anglia. Sceptics suggest that these e-mails provided evidence that some climatologists colluded in manipulating data to support the consensus view that climate change is genuine, and is mainly the result of the actions of mankind.
Any unsupportive data, it has been alleged, has been deliberately hidden from the public. Incredibly, in what the press have called 'Climategate', the CRU Director Professor Phillip Jones of the University of East Anglia was accused of deleting correspondence and in an e-mail from 1999 is said to have advocated “tricks” to “hide the decline” from the public. Professor Jones however, told The Guardian newspaper that “I would never manipulate the data one bit - I would categorically deny that” and believes that the release of the hacked e-mails is a politically motivated action to coincide with the climate change summit at Copenhagen this week.
In Copenhagen politicians and scientists will endeavour to formulate plans to combat the problem of climate change. This will replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol with 192 countries represented including appearances by around 100 world leaders. The global warming debate has become a highly contentious issue and it is worth examining the alternative viewpoint that often regards the accepted wisdom as a new religion which will brook no schism.
At issue are two fundamental questions. Are global temperatures actually increasing and, if so, what part have humans played in these changes? Within these two questions lie other viewpoints that seem polarised and irreconcilable in their entrenchment and apparent validity in their claims to scientific rigour. Furthermore it must be borne in mind that climate change and global warming are not necessarily the same issue. Extreme weather conditions may suggest the former rather than the latter.
An Alternative View of the World
Some critics of the consensus consistently assert that global warming is a natural phenomenenon untouched by human hand.
They may be gaining more public support as a recent survey in the UK found that only 41% of respondents believed that human activity was a causal factor.
If this poll is indicative then it suggests that 6 out of 10 people in the country are favourable to the sceptical view.
It is suggested that global warming is a natural process caused by solar variants and astronomical cycles that are outwith the earth and beyond our control.
Is the Sun increasing its energy output or has the Earth experienced a reduction in its magnetic field rendering it more susceptible to particles from the Sun? Both these claims have been made. Certainly it is know that the Earth’s magnetic field is constantly altering and will periodically reverse its polarity The official website of NASA shows a map outlining a gradual northward migration of the magnetic field in the past 150 years.
With regards to the role of earthbound causes it is claimed that again natural forces predominate from volcanoes to tectonic plate movements such as in Bangladesh which has caused the land to sink and flooding to increase. In fact, human activity is blamed for only 3% of carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore in a more advanced departure from the official view it is alleged that water vapour is more culpable than CO2 in its contribution to climate change. However researchers state that water vapour is a factor in combination with CO2 as it actually magnifies the problems initially cause by CO2 emissions.
It is difficult for a layperson such as myself to comprehend the tangled web of digits, data, claim and counterclaim. I feel blinded by science on all sides. We are told that the temperature of the Earth has definitely been increasing in the past 100 years and we are told that there has been a 2-inch rise in sea levels in the past 150 years. We are seeing ice-packs melting, lakes forming in the snow-filled valleys of the Himalayan mountains, freak storms, desertification of arable land and Pacific Islands slowly being inundated.
If all these issues were not bewildering enough in their complexity and contradiction there are some who deny that global warming is actually ocurring at all. In October, when the rulers of the Maldive Islands held a cabinet meeting underwater complete with scuba-diving equipment it is unlikely that they were discussing a study in the year 2000 that recorded a net change of zero in local sea levels over the previous 30 years. Swedish scientist Nils-Axel Morner,an ex-chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change, said that by the 1970s, sea levels around the Maldives fell by about 20 cm to its present level and have remained stable.
In the UK it is alleged that the highest temperatures in the country were reached in 1998 and have been falling ever since. It is even claimed that the Arctic ice cover was discovered to have been increasing. In 2008 data suggested that there had been a 30% increase since the previous year. This represents around an extra half-a-million square miles of ice. It is also put forward that temperatures in the Antarctic have been cooling for the past 30 years. This has been contested on the grounds that both local warming and cooling have taken place, are small in size, dependent on season and the timespan covered by the research.
Nevertheless, figures put forward by the sceptics of a human origin of global warming insist that the Earth's temperature steadily increased for 20-25 years until the late 1990's and has been reducing since then. This is at odds with the majority of scientific research, the IPCC findings as well as public opinion polls. A recent survey by Globespan, commissioned by the BBC and covering 23 countries found that 64% of people questioned believed that global warming was a very serious problem.
So what are we to make of this conundrum with its complexities, vested interests and political manoeuverings? I for one am keeping an open mind as it's hard to come down completely on either side with 100% assurance when all arguments appear compelling and are supported by reputable people in the scientific community. In other words it is well above my competence or knowledge to form an opinion on the great climate change debate.
I certainly do not believe that there is a huge international conspiracy afoot controlled by politicians in collusion with the scientific community. But if global warming is a new religion then I would recall that it was the old religions that decreed that the Earth was flat and was the centre of the universe. It took Aristotle and such heliocentric subversives as Copernicus and Galileo to prove them wrong. Sometimes the minority can rule the day and eventually be proven the truthsayers.
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