Scrambled up in these comment threads are the memes planted in the public mind by the professional deniers employed by fossil fuel companies. On the Guardian's forums, you'll find endless claims that the hockeystick graph of global temperatures has been debunked; that sunspots are largely responsible for current temperature changes; that the world's glaciers are advancing; that global warming theory depends entirely on computer models; that most climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting a new ice age. None of this is true, but it doesn't matter.
I thought I'd do a quick post about anthropogenic global warming (AGW), as it's something I'm thinking about at the moment (when I get the time to think - like on a day off...)
So far I've been wholly persuaded about AGW (eg in my Let us be Human talks) but what's happening now as I dig into it further, and look more explicitly into some of the science, is that I realise the situation isn't as black and white as it is portrayed by people like Monbiot. For example it does seem true that (running through his list):
- the hockey stick graph is rather dodgy, and had to be significantly amended in the light of criticism;
- sunspots are clearly involved in the process somehow, and there is ongoing research to find out to what extent;
- some of the world's glaciers ARE advancing;
- global warming theory IS heavily dependent upon computer models, but not exclusively;
- some climate scientists in the 1970s were worried about an ice age coming (but this is a point about the media not the science).
All of which, added up, doesn't mean that AGW is unreal. I still think it probable that the carbon emissions from industrial civilisation are damaging the climate and likely to tip it into a new equilibrium - and that this tipping will cause havoc to us. In addition (not least for wider reasons) I think that the sooner we embark upon a massive shift away from fossil fuels the better.
However, I would also say that:
- the polarisation in the debate isn't helping the access to truth, and if the science was totally robust, people wouldn't talk about the 'scientific consensus' (one million lemmings can be wrong);
- the IPCC reports are seriously flawed - ie they significantly overstate the potential risks - because they overestimate the amount of fossil fuels available;
- we are not in control of the situation, and I think people like Monbiot are getting hysterical because they want to be. He is consumed by fear and has no faith.
I'm becoming more and more persuaded that Bjorn Lomborg has basically the right approach. I haven't read 'Cool it' but in his earlier 'Sceptical Environmentalist' he argued that there are many other problems which humankind face that, if addressed, could do much more for the sum of human happiness (eg ensuring clean water access, or educating all girls in the third world etc). Of course, all these things should be done as well as shifting off fossil fuels; all I'm saying is that global warming is one problem amongst others. It's not the be-all and end-all of the crisis we have entered into.
(Oh, and for the record, I do subscribe to the Real Climate blog and read it regularly. I just now also read some of the sceptical sites as well.)