Ten tall-tales from the climate change skeptics

By Email author - Wed, 29 Jun 2011 10:15:00 GMT
Ten tall-tales from the climate change skeptics

The devil has all of the best songs, so they say. And the climate change denial camp have certainly banged out their tunes, to good effect, over the last few years. It's not hard to see why the clamor of the climate skeptics has won more and more of those thronging in the stalls.

But if you're caught out by one of those seductive refrains from the naysayers, what you need is counter-melody to cut them short. So what are the top-ten comebacks to the tall-tales often peddled by the denialist community?

1 Warming isn't really happening, it's all down to the 'urban heat-island effect'

The consensus that the planet is warming didn't just drop off of a graph of dodgily-placed thermometers. Yes, cities and towns are warmer than the countryside, and yes, urban areas have swallowed rural ones over the last century. But climate scientists try to correct for these when working out the globe's average temperature.

And the indicators that temperatures are rising come from a myriad of sources, not just land-based temperature records. Satellites, tree-rings, snow and ice-cores, stalactites and corals - all of these are used to piece together the global temperature record, and they confirm that the recent warming is unprecedented.

2 Global warming stopped years ago; it's yesterday's story..

This is a story which can always be shown to be true - as long as you do some careful cherry-picking of the wildly wiggly graph of global temperatures. The planet's climate, even from year to year, isn't a sedate old tabby by the fire - it's a skittish kitten careering up and down, always on the go. Some years will be colder than others, even as temperatures are rising over the long term.

That's down to shifting oceanic and atmospheric circulations patterns, which can cycle up-and-down over a number of years. When scientists talk about 'global warming', what they mean is a change in the average atmospheric temperature across the whole globe - and across a 10 to 15-year period. That's enough to even out much of that natural bumping around. On that measure, the inexorable rise in global temperatures is just as apparent recently, as it was in the 1990's and before.

3 Even if the planet is warming, the climate has always changed - why worry?

Geologically, planet earth's climate is always on the go, thanks to plate tectonics, volcanic eruptions, and a wobbly orbit around the sun. But the changes being seen now are not comparable to those seen in the past - they are faster than any previous temperature changes we see in the geological record. And speed kills. The rate of change may be too much for much of the life on the planet to adapt to and survive.

4 Carbon dioxide is a boon to the green world, we really need more of it!

CO2 can indeed be seen as a plant food - and enclosed trials have shown that raising CO2 can help some plants to grow more - which could boost agricultural yields. But those rises are naturally limited, because other nutrients are also needed to help plants grow. Also, the effects of a changing climate are likely to knock-back most plants more severely than any limited benefit from more CO2. And CO2 is much more of a poison than a food for coral reefs, as it is driving the acidification of the oceans, which is killing them.

5 There's 50 times more water vapor than CO2, and no-one worries about that.

Given that the atmosphere contains 2 to 3% water vapor, and H2O is a greenhouse gas, just like CO2, it's not surprising that it accounts for up to 72% of the greenhouse effect. So why do we worry about CO2? Because, unlike water vapor, CO2 is increasing rapidly in the atmosphere, down to man, and that is what is producing the rising temperatures. CO2 is also very persistent - once in the atmosphere, it carries on warming it for thousands of years, unlike extra water vapor, which is cycled out within days.

6 If the world is warming, why is there more sea-ice around the Antarctic?

Global warming isn't acting everywhere, in the same way at the same time. Some parts of the world are cooling, or showing higher rainfall - which is why 'climate change' makes more sense as a label than 'global warming'. And much of the interior of the Antarctic has seen such cooling. But the increase in sea-ice around that continent is more down to increased rates of snow. More snow acts to insulate the sea-ice, helping it to last through the summer.

But with the waters warming, even around the Antarctic, that increased snow could eventually become rain - and the sea-ice would then lose its insulating cover. And looking up to the north pole shows a very different picture - sea-ice volumes there are continuing to plummet, in the fastest warming part of the globe.

7 'Climate-gate' proved that climate scientists are part of a global conspiracy

One thing 'Climate-gate' proved is that those opposed to taking action on climate, will go to extreme lengths to further their agenda - including hacking computers and stealing e-mails. The scientists involved, however, have had the basic climate science and methods vindicated numerous times, since their private communications were leaked. Did they act in a self-protective and far-from open manner? Almost certainly - but that in no way undermines the picture of a globe threatened by man-made warming.

8 How can the puny efforts of man compare to mighty furnace of the Sun in affecting climate?

Whilst the sun is responsible for the vast majority of energy arriving at the surface, and does go through a regular cycle of rising and falling energy levels, those changes are minute. Solar cycles  show fluctuations over a period of 10-11 years, which are not apparent in the global temperature record. Longer-term changes in the sun may have had subtle influences on the climate, but given that the last 30 years have seen falling levels of solar activity, but rising temperatures, the flickering of the sun seem unlikely to be part of the global warming story.

9 Even if global warming is happening, we're clever enough to engineer our way out of the problem.

If you're stuck in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging, not to start trying to dig your way out. The problem of global warming was kicked off by mankind conducting a gigantic experiment in geoengineering - releasing vast amounts of CO2 from fossil fuels. Now that we've realized that things are starting to go hay-wire, the last we should be doing is gearing up for is another round of counter-geoengineering. Attempts to slow down warming that way could backfire badly if they were stopped suddenly - and would almost certainly throw unforeseen spanners into the delicate global ecosystem.

10 Well it wont affect me..

This is the most scary of all denialists tales - because it shows what they are really interested in is not upsetting the golden goose of the global economy, which seems to be laying lots of shiny golden eggs for them personally. Whilst climate chaos from global warming may leave some in the more developed parts of the world less affected, the back-wash from global insecurity is sure to hit most countries eventually. And with the worst predicted for the future, do we really want to pass Pandora's box on for our children to open?

Top Image Credit: © James Steidl

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Topics: Climate