Insights from the UK and beyond
Are you losing faith in climate science?
While attending a meeting of prominent climate sceptics during the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December (an anti-COP15, if you will), I listened to each of the speakers put forward their theory on why conventional evidence on the primary causes of climate change should be dismissed as, for lack of a better phrase, complete hokum.
Among their denunciations of widely-accepted truths regarding global warming, greenhouse gases, melting glaciers and rising sea levels was the assertion that a change in attitude was afoot; the public may have been duped into believing the mainstream scientific assessment of climate change, but not for long.
There was something in the air, the sceptics said, and soon people would begin to question their trust in the majority view.
I’m no scientist and am in no position to comment on the validity of any of the evidence on show; as journalists we were there to make sure both sides of the argument were being heard. This group of climate outcasts were in every sense on the fringes of COP15, but after a series of controversies in recent weeks it seems they were right about one thing at least — the public conviction about the threat of climate change is slipping.
Well, it is in Britain anyway. An Ipsos Mori poll of over 1,000 UK adults found that the proportion of people who believe climate change is definitely a reality dropped from 44% to 31% in the past year.
Meanwhile, 31% said the threat was exaggerated, up 50% on last year – worrying statistics for the government and charities trying to convince the public to change its behaviour and to accept higher priced energy and goods as a small price to pay for saving the planet.
Why the sudden drop off? The poll follows weeks of suggestions that mainstream climatologists have, in the past, manipulated data and that an influential study by the U.N.’s main climate science body contains inaccurate information.
The arguments of sceptics were fuelled late last year by the incident dubbed “Climategate”, when hundreds of emails and documents passed between leading climate scientists were leaked online. The deniers claimed this was evidence that some climatologists were colluding to distort data and mislead the public on climate change.
Elsewhere, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admitted its claim that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035 was unsubstantiated. The U.N. has since announced it is setting up an independent board of scientists to review the IPCC’s performance.
Meanwhile a 2009 report which claimed sea levels would rise by as much as 82 centimetres by the end of the century has been withdrawn by its author, who now says the true estimate is in fact unknown. At the sceptics conference in Copenhagen I spoke to Nils-Axel Mörner, an expert in sea levels, who questioned the general conception that sea levels are rising — in the video clip below he explains why, in his opinion, they are in fact falling.
And, of course, the failure of world leaders at COP15 to agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol didn’t help matters either.
If this trend continues, the climatologists, politicians and activists who subscribe to the mainstream view may find that the real challenge now isn’t getting the public to change their behaviour, it’s getting them to trust their evidence.
Has your faith in mainstream climate science been knocked by recent controversies? In your view, how much of a threat is global warming?