CLIMATE CHANGE IS ONE OF THE DEFINING ISSUES OF OUR TIME. It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, accompanied by sea-level rise, a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, and other climate-related changes.
The evidence is clear. However, due to the nature of science, not every single detail is ever totally settled or completely certain. Nor has every pertinent question yet been answered. Scientific evidence continues to be gathered around the world, and assumptions and findings about climate change are continually analysed and tested. Some areas of active debate and ongoing research include the link between ocean heat content and the rate of warming, estimates of how much warming to expect in the future, and the connections
between climate change and extreme weather events.
ref. “Climate Change Evidence & Causes, An overview from the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences”, February 2014.
Most of the leading scientific organisations worldwide have issued similar public statements endorsing climate action. Yet, the world remains divided between “climate alarmists”, “climate warmists”, “climate sceptics” and even “climate deniers”. To this list might be added “climate agnostics”, those with no opinion.
97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities (NASA, 2014). This was the finding of a “citizen science” project by volunteers linked to the global-warmist website SkepticalScience (Cook et al, 2013). This large website, translated into 23 languages, is run and financed by John Cook and his wife as a “labour of love”, with the aid of anonymous PayPal donations. Of almost 12,000 papers examined, most of those that expressed a position agreed that man-made “global warming” was occurring, but without distinguishing between benign warming and warming that results in catastrophic change. In 7,930 of the papers (66.4%), no position was expressed. In only 41 papers (0.3%) did authors explicitly endorse the statement attributed to them by NASA (Legates et al, 2015).
Most people accept that there is global warming – based on the greenhouse effect theory published by Svante Arrhenius in 1896 – but many remain sceptical about whether higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion will lead to the extreme and catastrophic outcomes predicted in reports prepared by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their doubts stem from a “scientific consensus” expressed using uncertain phrases such as “very likely”, “active debate” and “ongoing research”.
Despite these doubts, President Obama is certain about his belief in climate change (White House correspondents dinner, 25 April 2015 – after the Comedy Central series “Key & Peele”).
A man who wanted to be the US president, Al Gore, starred in the Oscar-winning movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”, that warned of impending doom (Participant Productions, 2006).
This movie, and in particular the hockey-stick chart showing a sharp temperature rise in recent years, which Gore linked to man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, convinced many that climate action was urgently needed.
In a 2007 decision of the High Court of England and Wales, Mr. Justice Burton concluded, “Mr. Gore shows two graphs relating to a period of 650,000 years, one showing rise in CO2 and one showing rise in temperature, and asserts (by ridiculing the opposite view) that they show an exact fit. Although there is general scientific agreement that there is a connection, the two graphs do not establish what Mr. Gore asserts.” In other words, the case for anthropogenic global warming was not proven.
To see an objective, science-based assessment of global warming and climate change, we must turn to the Royal Society in the UK. Established in 1663, this is one of the word’s most respected and revered scientific bodies. The letters “FRS” (Fellow of the Royal Society) bestow a high honour on any scientist.
The Royal Society has collaborated with the US National Academy of Sciences on a publication by a UK-US team of leading climate scientists that makes clear what is, “well established, where consensus is growing, and where there is still uncertainty”. The resulting “Climate Change Evidence & Causes” report echoes and builds upon the long history of climate-related work from both national science academies, as well as the newest climate change assessment from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This video, the aforementioned report and other climate-related information on the Royal Society’s website were sponsored by the Raymond and Beverly Sackler US-UK Scientific Forum. Others can judge whether it is morally right for the Royal Society to accept money from a man who made his $14 billion fortune from Purdue Pharma, a palliative care company that was fined $600 million in 2007 for the off-label promotion of OxyContin – a controversial and addictive opiate drug. Any such sponsorship detracts from the Royal Society’s independence.
Climate sceptics dispute the conclusions made in the Royal Society’s “Climate Change Evidence & Causes” report. For them, atmospheric CO2 concentration is not the main forcing function in climate. Other, more powerful forces are at play, such as Milankovitch cycles that lead to changes in the intensity of solar radiation reaching various parts the globe. Piers Corbyn, brother of the UK government opposition leader, holds this minority view (This Week, BBC, 4 December 2015).
Whatever one’s view on climate science, few would dispute the need for affordable, clean energy. How that is provided in the future remains the subject of heated debate, with proponents of fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable sources all vying for attention and money.
EURACOAL believes that energy economics will ultimately decide the winners and losers: the decadent will be overtaken by those who have abundant and affordable energy at their disposal.
In 1605, Francis Bacon wrote on the excellency of learning and knowledge, and on the merits of disseminating knowledge:
“I think good to deliver it from the discredits and disgraces which it hath received, all from ignorance, but ignorance severally disguised; appearing sometimes in the zeal and jealousy of divines; sometimes in the severity and arrogancy of politicians; and sometimes in the errors and imperfections of learned men themselves.”
“Of the Advancement and Proficience of Learning Divine and Human”, a letter to King James, Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England, 1605.
Or, in modern English:
“I think that it is good to keep learning and knowledge free from the lies and distortions that come from ignorance. Ignorance takes many forms: sometimes the jealously guarded self-interest of religious zealots; sometimes the single-mindedness and arrogance of politicians; and sometimes the errors and faults of educated men.”
As the age of enlightenment and industrial revolution draws to a close and we enter a new world, the coal industry finds itself in the position of being an early victim. Other sectors should be aware of what the politicisation of science and control of social media mean for them.
Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., et al. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environmental Research Letters, vol. 8, no. 2, 024024.
Legates, D. R., Soon, W., Briggs, W. M., and Monckton, C. (2015). Climate consensus and ‘misinformation’: a rejoinder to agnotology, scientific consensus, and the teaching and learning of climate change. Science and Education, vol. 24, iss. 3, pp. 299-318.
NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2014). Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming. http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/, accessed 23 December 2015.