Climate science in six paragraphs

Several weeks back, amidst the media storm, Richard Somerville a Lead Author of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment report (IPCC AR4) wrote a short and punchy “response to climate change denialism“. We finally got round to posting it here.

It’s a great, simple communication by a veteran climate scientist. It’s not going to solve the climate communication problem, but it’s the sort of thing we need to see a lot more of. Short, punchy, accessible writing (and imagery) that scientists and others can use when covering the basic science and beyond…

A Response to Climate Change Denialism

1. The essential findings of mainstream climate change science are firm. This is solid settled science. The world is warming. There are many kinds of evidence: air temperatures, ocean temperatures, melting ice, rising sea levels, and much more. Human activities are the main cause. The warming is not natural. It is not due to the sun, for example. We know this because we can measure the effect of man-made carbon dioxide and it is much stronger than that of the sun, which we also measure.

2. The greenhouse effect is well understood. It is as real as gravity. The foundations of the science are more than 150 years old. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat. We know carbon dioxide is increasing because we measure it. We know the increase is due to human activities like burning fossil fuels because we can analyze the chemical evidence for that.

The foundations of the science are more than 150 years old.

3. Our climate predictions are coming true. Many observed climate changes, like rising sea level, are occurring at the high end of the predicted changes. Some changes, like melting sea ice, are happening faster than the anticipated worst case. Unless mankind takes strong steps to halt and reverse the rapid global increase of fossil fuel use and the other activities that cause climate change, and does so in a very few years, severe climate change is inevitable. Urgent action is needed if global warming is to be limited to moderate levels.

4. The standard skeptical arguments have been refuted many times over. The refutations are on many web sites and in many books. For example, natural climate change like ice ages is irrelevant to the current warming. We know why ice ages come and go. That is due to changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, changes that take thousands of years. The warming that is occurring now, over just a few decades, cannot possibly be caused by such slow-acting processes. But it can be caused by man-made changes in the greenhouse effect.

The standard skeptical arguments have been refuted many times over… The warming that is occurring now, over just a few decades, cannot possibly be caused by such slow-acting processes. But it can be caused by man-made changes in the greenhouse effect.

5. Science has its own high standards. It does not work by unqualified people making claims on television or the Internet. It works by scientists doing research and publishing it in carefully reviewed research journals. Other scientists examine the research and repeat it and extend it. Valid results are confirmed, and wrong ones are exposed and abandoned.  Science is self-correcting. People who are not experts, who are not trained and experienced in this field, who do not do research and publish it following standard scientific practice, are not doing science. When they claim that they are the real experts, they are just plain wrong.

6. The leading scientific organizations of the world, like national academies of science and professional scientific societies, have carefully examined the results of climate science and endorsed these results. It is silly to imagine that thousands of climate scientists worldwide are engaged in a massive conspiracy to fool everybody. The first thing that the world needs to do if it is going to confront the challenge of climate change wisely is to learn about what science has discovered and accept it.

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