New research confounds climate sceptics

A conservative foundation has unwittingly funded a study that proves climate change is real. What will this mean for the future of our planet?

Richard Muller had long been sceptical about climate change. From unreliable data to the bias of a 'political activist frenzy', he thought there were many reasons to doubt that the world was hotting up.

As chair of Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, Muller hoped to set the record straight. The Charles Koch Foundation, his chief funder, was also hopeful. Notorious for opposing the consensus that carbon emissions are increasing the temperature of our planet, the Foundation is described by Greenpeace as the 'financial kingpin' of clean energy opposition.

The conclusions of Muller's study, though, may have come as a surprise. Climate change, it confirmed, is happening. Over the past 60 years global temperatures have increased by 0.9ºC. And you should not be a sceptic – at least not any longer.

Muller's findings – gleaned from over 1.6 billion temperature records – back up all the previous studies that show the world is warming. The data even matches the 'hockey stick' graph that displays a sharp increase in temperature, and that Muller once described as an 'artifact of poor mathematics'.

For climate sceptics, the findings will be a blow. For years they have argued that older temperature measurements, or those located near urban hot-spots, make climate change predictions unreliable. Others say climate scientists have cherry-picked data to construct a persuasive picture of global warming.

By using virtually all the data available, the Berkeley team have avoided these problems. They have designed precise statistical methods to account for different kinds of data, and found little difference between urban and rural areas. And because they're headed by someone known to be sceptical, there will be few accusations of bias.

What Muller's team doesn't reveal, though, is what is causing this warming. Though most scientists agree that increased carbon dioxide and methane definitely increase temperatures, the lack of decisive investigations into this could leave the door open for further debate.

Consensus?

For climate change campaigners, today's news is a significant victory: decisive evidence, once and for all, that the world is getting hotter. With such a clear confirmation of the problem, many say, action cannot be far away. If anything can prompt governments to reduce carbon emissions and fight global warming, it must be this.

Such a hopeful reception, however, may prove to be overly optimistic. With sceptics already scrabbling to show global warming is not man-made, there's still plenty of room for excuses. The scientific community have been lobbying for action for a long time, with limited success: there is no reason to believe that another study will change anything.

You Decide

  1. Do you perceive that there is a scientific consensus on climate change, or is there still a debate to be had?
  2. Should environmental concerns set the agenda for politics – or should people come first?

Activities

  1. Conduct an investigation into media coverage of climate change. Compare two news sources – do you think coverage is biased, or objective?
  2. The Australian Government has introduced radical new proposals for a 'carbon tax'. Research the policy, and the arguments for and against it. Try developing a proposal for reducing carbon emissions in your own country.

Some People Say...

“I don't worry about the planet. Science will find a solution.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How have climate change sceptics reacted to the claims?
Some have pounced on the lack ofexplanation for warming in the study. They claim that no-one ever doubted that the world was getting hotter, and only disputed whether humans, or natural causes, were to blame.
Is that true though?
Not really. A central tenet of many sceptical arguments rested on the problems like urban heat islands, and even suggestions that the planet was actually cooling. But the argument as to what is causing warming does remain.
And should we be listening to this criticism?
Temperatures have risen with atmospheric CO2, and most scientists hold that emissions have contributed, at least to some degree, to global warming.

Word Watch

Sceptic
Someone who doubts the truth of often widely accepted beliefs. With regard to global warming, a climate sceptic is someone who doubts, or does not believe, that man-made climate change is happening.
Charles Koch Foundation
A charitable foundation, known for donating large amounts of money to conservative organisations, like the Tea Party.
Clean Energy
Ways of generating electricity that do not produce carbon emissions: solar, tidal or wind power, for example, rather than coal.
Urban Hot-Spots
Areas around cities, which many sceptics believed gave artificially inflated temperatures, thanks to the heat of fumes and buildings.
Cherry-picked
Carefully selecting data that best fits your argument.
Lobbying
Campaigning for political action on a particular issue. Lobbies are extremely powerful all over the world, particularly when campaigning for large companies.

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