How do we Know who to Trust?

While the scientific community is united in its recognition of climate change, there are those in the media who do not agree, and this leads to a great deal of confusion, and scepticism, in the general population. In compiling this website, we have gone with the scientific community, but the question should be asked, "Why?" In one sentence, those who deny climate change and our role in bringing it about invariably are well connected to polluting giants (who have much to lose if the general public recognises climate change) or do not engage in peer-reviewed science (in other words, they make spurious claims that cannot be backed up). Below are some examples of fraud by climate-change sceptics.

In the 1980s, Fred Palmer was the head of Western Fuels, and stated that the earth's atmosphere was "deficient in carbon dioxide" and suggested that by increasing atmospheric CO2 to 1000 ppm, our planet would be comfortably warmer, and crop productivity would increase by over 30%. These views were the basis for the film "The Greening of Planet Earth." It was known then that these claims were spurious, but the influence of the film was far-reaching - James Watkins, President Bush Snr's energy consultant, described the film as a credibly source on climate change.1

In 2005, the New York Times reported that oil lobbyist Philip A. Cooney, an advisor to President George W. Bush, modified (and in some cases, entirely removed) descriptions of climate change that had been scientifically reviewed and approved. The Bush administration ignored or edited many reputable scientific studies that indicate that climate change is a matter of serious concern. The administration, and the Republican part, received large donations from coal miners and from Exxon Mobil (known in the UK as ESSO).2

The Global Climate Coalition was formed in 1989 by fifty oil, gas, motor and chemical companies3 with the stated intention to "cast doubt on the theory of global warming." After DuPont and BP left the Coalition to focus on greening their businesses, over three years the Coalition wound up, finally coming to an end in March 2000, with only a few companies such as Exxon Mobil (ESSO) and Chevron remaining.4

The Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics suggested that if Australia followed Europe's example of emissions-cuts, Australian gross national expenditure would fall. Closer investigation revealed that they had been funded $400,000 by mining and petrol companies, including Mobil.5

In his book "State of Fear," author Michael Crichton picks up on a claim by the Lavoisier Group that the IPCC is a conspiracy designed to serve scientists with assured research funding for many years. Because of the popularity of the author (Jurassic Park, ER), who states in the book that he believes we do not yet know the causes of climate change, many members of the general public are easily persuaded by the conspiracy theory. In fact, the IPCC is not funded by any industry or lobby, immediately making their claims more respectable than those of other groups already mentioned. As the IPCC explain, "The IPCC is a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)...The IPCC is open to all member countries of WMO and UNEP. Governments participate in plenary Sessions of the IPCC where main decisions about the IPCC work-programme are taken and reports are accepted, adopted and approved. They also participate in the review of IPCC Reports... Hundreds of scientists all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC as authors, contributors and reviewers." In terms of peer-review, there is no more thorough process than the process by which the IPCC's reports are published. It is the most authoritative voice in climate change, since every report it produces has the backing even of countries which are critical of their findings (such as the USA). Unfortunately, as Tim Flannery says, "the pronouncements of the IPCC do not represent mainstream science, nor even good science, but lowest-common-denominator science - and of course even that it delivered at glacial speed." The result of this is that sometimes sceptics attack them for being unscientific or vague, when in fact they are merely attacking the public presentation, not the scientific papers that formed that presentation.

In the UK, the most prominent expression of climate change scepticism was the documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle" shown on Channel 4 in 2007. The film suggested that the famous "hockey-stick graph" (which demonstrates global temperatures and shows a pronounced increase in temperature over the last 100 years) is wildly inaccurate, and that our current global temperature is cooler than the "medieval warming period." After much public scrutiny, Martin Durkin, the author and director of the film, had to admit that his graphs contained serious errors. As the Independent newspaper reported (March 14th 2007, p.7), the documentary claimed information came from NASA, where in fact is came from a 1998 diagram "in an obscure journal called Medical Sentinel. The authors of the paper are well-known climate sceptics who were funded by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and the George C Marshall Institute, a right-wing Washington think-tank." The NASA website, it should be noted, has a graph showing conclusively that the amount of global warming since 1975 is much greater than before. Most importantly, though, Durkin admitted that his graphics team had doctored graphs to suit his claim, and admitted using a graph on data 16 years old, despite more recent data on the same topic demonstrating the opposite of his documentary's claim. To add to this, one scientist who featured in the film said that his views has been misrepresented, a claim made about another film of Durkin's many years previously (for which Channel 4 upheld a complaint against him).

In 1995, the Leipzig Declaration tried to show that there was not scientific consensus on the issue of the causes of climate change. While it was hailed by climate change sceptics as very important, closer review showed that many were not even climate scientists - indeed, 25 were TV weather presenters. Some individuals denied ever having signed it, and some said that they had never even heard of it. As it became evident that the Leipzig Declaration was not reliable, climate sceptics created the Oregon Petition. This document was claimed to be tighter than the Leipzig Declaration so that no-one could claim that they had not signed. However, it was soon noticed that not only were there repetitions of names, but names such as Geri Halliwell (a singer formerly with the Spice Girls), Michael J. Fox (actor) and Perry Mason (fictional TV lawyer). In 2005, Scientific American conducted a survey of the list and calculated that perhaps 200 were real climate scientists, and demonstrated that this constitutes a tiny fraction of the number of scientists in the field.6

Climate sceptics use tactics very similar to cigarette companies in order to sow doubt in public opinion, for while there exist doubts people will continue to pump petrol into their cars at a terrific rate, fly across the world without restriction, and will keep consuming and emitting more and more. While the above are examples of notable public incidents of fraudulent climate scepticism, there are also many examples of comments that make their way into the thought-patterns of the general public, and scientific responses to them:7

"There is no warming." 1998 and 2005 were the joint hottest years for 150 years. 2002, 2003 and 2004 also ranked in the top five hottest years. Ten of the past eleven years have been in the top eleven.8 Ice-core readings demonstrate conclusively that this is true. Most climate sceptics have moved away from this position realising the futility of this argument. Unfortunately, the general public tends to lack around ten years behind the scientific debate, so are not aware that most sceptics have abandoned this position.

"There was a medieval warming period." There was, but it was miniscule compared to what we are experiencing now. This claim was made in particular by "The Great Global Warming Swindle" and was shown conclusively to have been made from doctored graphs and data. "A survey of global temperatures records (from ice cores, tree rings, and lake deposits) shows that, if anything, Earth was then overall slightly cooler (0.05ºC) than in the early and mid-twentieth centuries, proving that the idea of a global Medieval Warm Period is bunk."9

"The warming is natural." A claim made, for example, by Soon and Baliunas in 2003, this paper was "lauded in the US Congress, but its methodology was slammed by a number of climate scientists."10 Now that ice-core samples show this to be untrue, this claim is also losing favour.

"The atmosphere was cooling while emissions were increasing." We now know that this is the phenomenon known as Global Dimming, referred to earlier. There was a slight cooling in particular between the 1940s and 1960s, but as pollution was cleaned up, so the effect got smaller. These emissions were simply masking the damage that was being done.

"Global warming is caused by variations in the Sun." We know that the Sun is producing more sunspots, although this increases radiation in the UV spectrum. The total solar energy needs to be considered, and that follows a simple 11-year cycle. Indeed, if we only looked at solar radiation, we would expect a very slight cooling of the atmosphere.

"Global warming will bring many benefits." Much of the rest of the summary demonstrates how this is patently untrue.

"Technology will come to the rescue." This is not science, but a belief based on arrogance. Yes, it is possible that we will be able to minimise our emissions through technology (such as hybrid cars or nuclear power (see later)), but we take an awful risk by not changing our behaviour and hoping that someone clever will fix it for us.

"We shouldn't damage the economy." Climate sceptics often suggest that the price of abating climate change is too high. However, the Stern Report (2006) "estimates that if we don't act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action - reducing greenhouse gar emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change - can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year."11 The suggested responses by the Stern Report were heavy but well-considered - "Sir Nicholas set out a tough prescription: emissions from power generation will need to be cut by 60-70 per cent, and there will have to be an end to deforestation and huge cuts to emissions from transport. And he argues that the bulk of these emission cuts should be borne by the rich world."12

One financial consequence of climate change worth noting is the 2001 pledge by the EU, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and New Zealand toward developing countries to help them cope with the effects of climate change. While the group pledged £600 million, less than £90 million has in fact been paid out.13

"It is impossible to predict the weather." We have all experienced weather reporters making mistakes one or two days ahead, so it is easy to suggest that looking fifty years ahead is impossible. In fact, the opposite is true - it is much harder to predict specific weather one or two days in advance than it is to predict long-term trends over a matter of years. That said, there is a reason that weather presenters have moved from a stick-on cloud covering the span of a hundred miles to a computer-generated, time-lapse display of local areas - computer prediction has been shown to be significantly more accurate than ever before.

"There's no point doing anything since China will kill the atmosphere." In 2006, China "hiked its emissions by 8 per cent, or around 450 million tonnes - an increase almost as great as the UK's entire annual carbon footprint."14 While China plans to build a number of new nuclear power stations (which have minimal carbon emissions when running), we know that nearly 250 coal-fired power stations are due to be built between 1999 and 2009, almost half of which will be in China. Many hundreds more are planned to be built in the decades that follow.15 However, China has said that it will eventually agree to cut its emissions, although only according if there is an equitable deal with the United States and the rest of the developed world.16

"Scientists said there would be global cooling, now they say global dimming - they can't be trusted." Thomas Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center held a comprehensive review of scientific journals of the 1970s and discovered that while 7 journals supported the idea of global cooling, at the same time 20 were neutral on the issue and 44 journals were predicting warming.17 The fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists were talking about warming thirty years ago shows that this climate-denier myth is based only on selective reading.

When it comes to talking about the environment and how the way we lead our lives may affect it, the stakes are very high for certain businesses. In 1989, the American Petroleum Institute, which was a group set up by ExxonMobil, wrote in an internal memo that "victory would be achieved" when uncertainties in the eyes of individuals and the media become part of the conventional wisdom and, most importantly, that "those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality." The document was never meant to go public, and for obvious reason because it shows the intentions of the big hydro-carbon companies. If we change our ways and switch to renewable energy sources then they stand to lose everything. They have poured enormous amounts of money into creating groups such as this one that seem to be independent think-tanks,18 and whose very purposes is to plant doubt in the populace who while doubting human-induced climate change will keep pouring polluting energy sources into their cars and homes.

Unfortunately, because climate change has arisen because of our own success, many have mistakenly felt that addressing the issues will create winners and losers, and so special interest groups try to ensure that they are winners.19 [As businesses that green themselves have shown, though, in fact this usually puts them ahead in the market.]

It is clear that the claim that there is a global conspiracy of scientists who are just writing articles that scare people (or that serve the conspiracy's masters' agenda) is ridiculous. Indeed, when climate change sceptics come under close scrutiny, they are usually found to have been sloppy scientifically, or to have been funded by at least one company whose interests are best served in playing down the impact of climate change (most notably oil giants). Disagreement within the scientific community is important since scepticism promotes rational enquiry. However, what we see now in the majority of public cases is the equivalent of the "Flat Earth Society" - individuals who continue to hold onto their beliefs despite conclusive proof to the contrary. Now that we know that independently-funded, peer-reviewed science is as good as united in agreement that the increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are responsible for serious climate change, the rest of this summary explains what the effects of those changes are.

At the end of the day, when one views the issue objectively we have to wonder. Not only are the overwhelming majority of scientists agreed that climate change is real, but so is every single government represented in the United Nations - the IPCC reports show without question that this is so. What is suspect is that the only people to voice serious opposition to the notion that human-induced climate change is real are those who are set to lose fortunes over the public acceptance of this reality. In the question of who should we trust, it seems evident that trained and peer-reviewed scientists and scientific governmental advisors are more likely to be telling us the truth than people who need us to keep buying their petrol.

The IPCC's opinion on climate change could not be clearer: "Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." (IPCC Working Group I, 2007)20

There is only one potential concern about the accuracy of the IPCC findings, which is that they could be too conservative. In an effort to get their findings agreed universally, there are concerns that the reports are watered-down. For example, Stefan Rahmstorf (who was one of the climatologists who helped form the 2007 IPCC report) published a paper "showing that world sea levels are rising 50 per cent faster today than predicted in the last IPCC report in 2001."21 As it is, since the IPCC Fourth Report was released, more evidence has come forward that the lengthy time taken to create the report has meant that newer, and more concerning information, had to be ignored. For example, a study in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere faster than predicted because the natural sinks such as the oceans are slowing down in their ability to absorb CO2.22 The most extreme position, although not one that can be ignored or disproved, is that of Professor James Lovelock, who believes that cutting greenhouse gases and switching to sustainable development is unlikely to prevent disasters such as 6 to 8 billion people facing diminishing food and water supplies. He believes that the IPCC report is written in "properly cautious scientific language" and says that the IPCC "do not appear to have noticed how rapidly the climate is changing."23

An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary has become the focus of much of the climate-change debate. According to the High Court in London, there were nine errors in the film. This ruling was seized upon by climate-change sceptics to suggest that the main message of the film could not be trusted. However, closer investigation reveals that some of the errors were simply exaggerations, for example, when Al Gore said that the two graphs of carbon dioxide levels and temperatures were "an exact fit," the judge ruled that this was an exaggeration. This is because of the necessity of error bars in readings - the two graphs do show a very strong correlation, which is not an exaggeration, yet to say that they were an exact fit was. A media frenzy ensued, and few people in the public noticed the small provisos at the end of most reports, such as this: "Despite finding nine significant errors the judge said many of the claims made by the film were fully backed up by the weight of science. He identified "four main scientific hypotheses, each of which is very well supported by research published in respected, peer-reviewed journals and accords with the latest conclusions of the IPCC." In particular, he agreed with the main thrust of Mr Gore's arguments: "That climate change is mainly attributable to man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (‘greenhouse gases')." The other three main points accepted by the judge were that global temperatures are riding and are likely to continue to rise, that climate change will cause serious damage if left unchecked, and that it is entirely possible for governments and individuals to reduce its impacts."24

1. Flannery (2005), p. 240-1
2. Flannery (2005), p. 240-1
3. The full list of companies is available at
4. Flannery (2005), p. 242-3
5. Flannery (2005), p. 226-7
6. Flannery (2005), p. 245-6
7. For more information see Wikipedia (Oregon Petition)
8. Walker and King (2008), p. 259
9. Flannery (2005), p. 44
10. Henson (2006), p. 246
11. Stern Report, Review available from HM Treasury
12. Williams (2007), p. 111
13. The Guardian newspaper, Nov 24th 2007, p. 4
14. New Scientist, Nov 17th 2007, p. 34
15. Flannery (2005), p. 74-5
16. The Independent Newspaper, nov 13th 2007, p. 7
17. the Ecologist, Vol 38, Issue 3, April 2008, p. 10
18. Robert May, Plane Earth (2006), p. 139-140
19. Flannery (2005), p. 4, James Leap, Planet Earth (2006), p. 138-9
20. Dow and Downing (2007), p. 29
21. New Scientist, 10th Feb 2007, p. 8
22. The Guardian newspaper, Oct 23rd 2007, The Independent newspaper, Oct 23rd 2007
23. The Guardian newspaper, Oct 29th 2007, p. 8
24. The Times newspaper, Oct 11th 2007, p. 3