"No change whatsoever" in scientists' conviction that climate change is occurring

Jeremy Hance
February 22, 2010

Despite some politicians and TV personalities claiming that climate change is dead, a panel of influential US and European scientists held a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to set the record straight on the state of the science and the recent media frenzy against climate change.

"There has been no change in the scientific community, no change whatsoever" in the consensus that globally temperatures are rising, said Gerald North, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. Recent data has shown that the decade from 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record.

The scientific theory of climate change has been battered in the media lately by a scandal involving leaked emails from prominent climate change scientists, the discovery of errors in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and, most recently, unusually large snow storms on the US's east coast. Yet, scientists say that none of these 'scandals' diminish the science of climate change.

"The reporting on this has been truly abominable," said ocean scientist James McCarthy of Harvard in regards to the snow storms on the east coast. While media outlets, some politicians, and well-known figures—such as business-mogul and TV personality Donald Trump—have stated that the record snowfalls have proven climate change wrong, the science behind climate change has in fact predicted larger precipitation events due to a warmer atmosphere, and therefore increased evaporation.

The heightened backlash against climate science began when emails were hacked from the East Anglican University server last fall. While the scientists admit the emails were embarrassing, they have explained time and again that sentences in the emails were in fact taken out of context. For example, the media jumped on the use of the word 'trick' in one of the emails, but the word trick in scientific parlance simply means a shortcut or clever way to fixing a problem.

Next came the revelation that the IPCC report had a number of mistakes in it, including a prediction that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. Although, the mistake has been flaunted in the media, McCarthy said that such mistakes were "careless", but minor in the big picture. The IPCC report spans thousands of pages, but has been undermined in the media, according to McCarthy, by "two sentences on glaciers".

Still, McCarthy added that IPCC should have done a full and public examination of how the errors occurred: “The names of the authors, who was on the review, what happened—it all should have been up there, and it wasn’t done. And I think that the institution was hurt as a result,”

"The greater the stature of the institution," McCarthy added "the harder the fall."

Climatologists have been taken aback by the forcefulness of attacks against climate change and sometimes targeting researchers personally.

"One guy e-mailed me to say I'm a 'whore for the global warming crowd,'" said climatologist Gerald North. He also pointed out that this sort of hateful rhetoric was seen in mainstream news by showing a quote from TV personality Glenn Beck who suggested that if the IPCC had been run by the Japanese they should have committed mass-suicide by "hari-kari".

"The situation is completely out of hand," North commented.

Part of the problem scientists say is that they do not have the training to be media-savvy nor how to easily convey their findings to the public.

"We are very immature in our public communications," North commented. "We need some coaching."

Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Science and chair of the National Research Council agreed: "A lot of what we need to do is translate basic information into terms the public can understand."

Researchers made a "tactical error" by not responding to the attacks in public and allowing "the situation to get out of control," said Sheila Jasanoff, policy expert at Harvard University. She added: "There is a kind of arrogance—we are scientists and we know best. That needs to change."

Lord Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society in the U.K concluded that while some of the details of climate change were uncertain, "we think despite all the uncertainties...action is justified and indeed imperative."

Related articles

The Amazongate fiasco

(02/03/2010) A claim published in the Sunday Times over the veracity of a statement published in an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report may land the British newspaper in hot water. On Sunday, Jonathan Leake, Science & Environment Editor of the Sunday Times, accused the IPCC of making a "bogus rainforest claim" when it cited a report warning that up to 40 percent of the Amazon could be "drastically" affected by climate change. Climate change skeptics immediately seized on "Amazongate" as further evidence to discredit the IPCC just two weeks after it was found to be using shoddy glacier data in its 2007 climate assessment.

Rainforest expert agrees with IPCC: warns of 'tipping point' for Amazon

(02/03/2010) Amid questions over the Amazon forests' capacity to survive climate change, a renowned tropical biologist says that in fact the fears are real, reports Tierramerica. Speaking at the Biodiversity Science Policy Conference in Paris, Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair at the Washington DC-based Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, and chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank, described the Amazon rainforest as "very close to a tipping point".

The warmest decade on record

(01/27/2010) The 2000s were the warmest decade on record according to analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

NASA: 2009 second warmest year on record

(01/24/2010) According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), last year was tied for the second warmest year on record after 2005, the warmest year on record. If just looking at the southern hemisphere, however, 2009 proved the warmest yet recorded since record-taking began in 1880. Overall 2009 tied a total of five other years—four from the 2000s—for the second warmest on record. But, researchers say what is most important was that the past decade, from January 1st 2000 to December 31st 2009, proved the warmest on record.

Climate change pushes massive Antarctic glacier past tipping point

(01/14/2010) A new study shows that a major Antarctic glacier has likely passed its tipping point, putting it on track to lose 50 percent of its ice in 100 years. Such a loss is estimated to raise global sea levels by 24 centimeters (9.4 inches), according to the study published in the Proceedings of Royal Society A.

Canadians say climate change bigger threat than terrorism

(01/11/2010) A new poll shows that Canadians now see climate change as a larger threat than terrorism, even though their government has largely scaled back efforts to combat climate change. Half of the poll's respondents said that climate change was a 'critical threat', while only a quarter said the same about terrorism.

Chinese official links extreme snowstorm to global warming

(01/05/2010) Bitter cold and snow have shut down Beijing after it received 4-8 inches (10-20 centimeters) of snow on Sunday, the largest snowfall since 1951, according to the Sydney Morning Hearld. Guo Hu, the head of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau linked the storm to global climate change.

Record-breaking snow across the US and climate change

(12/26/2009) Over the past few weeks the United States has been pounded by a number of big snow storms. A week ago Washington DC received 18 inches of snow, setting a number of records. Over Christmas, the middle of the country, from Texas to Minnesota was also hit by record amounts of snow. While snow fall over the East Coast and middle of the country in the United States in December is hardly unusual, a number of record amounts of precipitation may point to a larger shift in the climate. Scientists say that higher temperatures causes more water evaporation, which increases the chances of heavy precipitation events, such as floods and snowstorms.

Catastrophic sea level rise could occur with only two degrees Celsius warming

(12/17/2009) Allowing the climate to rise by just two degrees Celsius—the target most industrialized nations are currently discussing in Copenhagen—may still lead to a catastrophic sea level rise of six to nine meters, according to a new study in Nature. While this rise in sea levels would take hundreds of years to fully occur, inaction this century could lock the world into this fate.

Climate change causing irreversible acidification in world's oceans

(12/15/2009) A new study from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity has synthesized over 300 reports on ocean acidification caused by climate change. The report finds that increasing ocean acidification in the oceans will lead to irreversible damage in the world's oceans, creating a less biodiverse marine environment. Released today the report determines that the threat to marine life by ocean acidification must be considered by policymakers at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (February 22, 2010).

"No change whatsoever" in scientists' conviction that climate change is occurring .