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Expert Comment: Addressing climate scepticism to address climate change

Ice Thursday 2 August 2012

Stephen Axon from the Department of Geography talks about climate change and climate sceptics.

The Earth has warmed by 1.5ºC over the past 250 years with a 1ºC increase in average global land temperatures since the mid 1950’s. These results were confirmed by “a converted climate sceptic”, Prof Richard Muller (University of California, Berkeley). Prof Muller’s research (the Berkeley Earth Science Temperature or BEST project), was funded by both billionaire coal magnate George Koch and climate advocate Bill Gates, concludes that global warming is real and that “humans are entirely the cause”.

The project sought to address scepticism about climate change, particularly after the “Climategate” affair, which included increasing temperatures were the result of solar activity. A popular theory amongst sceptics, the study found that over the past 250 years the contribution of the sun has been consistent with zero. Some climate sceptics may find this a hard pill to swallow. However, the way in which the data was analysed should appease some sceptics’ criticisms of the way climate data is handled. Prof Muller’s study supports the mainstream scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, humans are the cause and correlates with previous temperature reconstructions.

It is hoped that the study should help inform those who have honest scepticism about climate change and its causes. Prof Muller’s research compiled over one and a half billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s from 15 sources around the globe. The temperature records from the BEST project are available online with the aim of producing a transparent and independent assessment of anthropogenic climate change. With the subject of climate change becoming increasingly politicised, openness and transparency is essential.

However, climate scepticism impedes progress on dialogues which centre on addressing climate change which involves mitigating, and adapting to, its impacts. The next step, is a difficult one: agreeing on what can and should be done. This step goes far beyond scientific circles and involves the public and policymakers. Addressing climate change is a contentious and challenging issue. The conclusions are clear in order to address climate change: reorientate our lifestyles and economies towards sustainability.

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