Global Warming Combatants Raise The Temperature.
A scientific argument is blazing over a U.N. agency’s view that global warming is probably caused by people.
Some scientists say flawed data and politics have tainted the case. Arguments over the quality of the science behind the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have led to normally calm scientists heatedly hurling epithets such as “disingenuous”, “nonsense” and “distortion” at each other.
On July 19, the IPCC winds up its latest deliberations on climate change — dominated by its contentious assertion that human activity plays a key role in global warming — at the end of a two-week meeting in Geneva attended by government officials and scientists.
They will report on the progress made by industrialised countries towards meeting the goal set by the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio that emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide should return to 1990 levels by 2000.
Both sides of the global temperature argument, rumbling for months since the IPCC laid the blame at mankind’s door in a report at the end of 1995, can at least agree on one thing — progress has at best been painfully slow.
The stakes are huge because if serious progress is to be made on cutting emissions, this would entail momentous and unpopular action in the developed world.
Governments would seek to curb energy consumption and car use by higher taxes or decree. Economies and wealth creation would slow. Resources would be switched from the developed to the developing world.
Scientists and politicians who agree with the IPCC that the hand of man is behind the warming of the world’s climate say urgent action must be taken. Unless warming is stabilised by slashing use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, large parts of the world will face terrifying consequences.
As the ice caps melt and sea levels rise, low-lying coastal areas will be engulfed. Higher temperatures will mean less rainfall in many parts of the developing world, devastating agriculture and health.
These scientists say the IPCC evidence is powerful, and some suggest that those who disagree have hidden political agendas. Perhaps they are financed by oil firms, electricity generators, or car manufacturers.
The dissenters say that the deliberations by the around 2,500 IPCC scientists are fatally flawed, twisted by politicians and special interest groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
Opinion which throws doubt on the IPCC conclusions has been ruthlessly slashed from published reports, they say, charging that evidence from satellite observation which shows there is no global warming has been ignored by IPCC scientists.
In a recent newspaper article, Dr Frederick Seitz, president emeritus of New York’s Rockefeller University, said passages had been removed from an IPCC report.
These passages said there was no evidence linking climate change to increases in greenhouse gases, no study had linked climate change to human cause, and climate change was so poorly understood anyway that any conclusions about its pattern were likely to be controversial, according to Seitz.
Deceive Policy Makers
Seitz said the IPCC report would deceive policy makers and the public into believing that the scientific evidence shows human activities are causing global warming.
“It’s nonsense. They’ve turned the whole thing on its head,” he said.
What would be the motivation to distort the IPCC findings?
“That’s a complicated question. People have egos and agendas of their own. Some of them don’t like our industrialised society; they’d like to revert to what they think of as good times. Some people want power over others; but I don’t ascribe this to the (IPCC) leadership,” Seitz said.
These arguments are seized on by scientists closely involved with the IPCC process.
Wrong End Of The Stick
“Seitz has got it completely wrong,” said Sir John Houghton, chairman of Britain’s Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. He also co-chairs a major IPCC working group.
Houghton said Seitz and others were personalising the arguments, attacking the scientists rather than the science. He said the report had been changed before publication, but only to make it easier to understand.
“We made sure the science was not compromised in any way. At the end it was clearer, better written, and more scientifically accurate than at the beginning,” Houghton said.
He agreed there is still much uncertainty about global warming but says Seitz’s comments are without foundation.
“What he (Seitz) is saying is trying to deceive the public and politicians. It is complete and utter nonsense; there is no foundation in fact whatsoever,” Houghton said.
Seitz supporters, like atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer, fire back with equally aggressive counterblasts.
“Houghton’s remarks are disingenuous, if I may say so,” Singer said in a telephone interview from his office in Fairfax, Virginia, when told that Houghton had said the changes in the report were to make it more readable.
“I will tell you that it’s not yet possible to draw the conclusions that the IPCC draws from the evidence. The scientists have done the best job they can with the data, but in my view the data is not adequate to support the (discernible human climate influence) conclusion,” said Singer.
Convinced “warmer” Dr Stephen Schneider, professor at California’s Stamford University’s Department of Biological Sciences, has no time for these arguments.
“This polemical nonsense from Seitz and Singer is outrageous distortion and character assasination which is demonstrably false. Their prime interests are vested, and it’s pure smoke to divert the fact that the bulk of the opinions are against them,” Schneider said.
Population Explosion More Dangerous
Some experts say the argument over global warming is a sideshow diverting attention away from the real threat to the future of mankind — the population explosion.
“Global warming is not proven. Reputable science says there is only about one degree of warming,” said Sir John Mason from Imperial College’s Centre for Environmental Technology.
“The notion that global warming is the biggest catastrophe facing makind is a gross exaggeration,” Mason said. “The biggest threat is the population explosion over the next 50 years or so. Many environment problems — climate, shortage of water, pollution –will stem from this rapid increase in the world’s population.”
Neil Winton – July 1996