‘Fake news’ or ‘inconvenient truth’? The global community agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement to recognise climate change as man-made and work together on a common response. They made their decision based on scientific advice, with 97 percent of climate researchers agreeing that the current period of global warming has been caused by human activity. The science on this issue seems to be settled. Is everyone convinced now?
Clearly not. The most prominent climate sceptic in the world is American President Donald Trump, who has tweeted that climate change is an invention of the Chinese designed to harm the American economy. He has also deployed the infamous “but it’s cold outside” argument. Others are more subtle in their denial, such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which, in their election program, accepted that climate change is occurring but denied that humanity is influencing its development.
Why the doubts? The globally-recognised scientific body for climate research is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has been producing climate change reports on behalf of the United Nations since 1988. But the credibility of this organisation has been attacked. In 2009, errors appeared in the IPCC report. The IPCC argues that a small number of errors are unavoidable in a document of nearly 3,000 pages with over 1,000 authors. This might be true, but it was immediately seized upon by critics of the IPCC. It’s fair to say that few other branches of science are so politically charged as climate science.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Jonathan, who finds it sad that there are still people who do not want to acknowledge man-made climate change. He thinks they block out the science because they believe otherwise they might have to change their lifestyles.
To get a response, we talked to climatologist Hans von Storch, Professor at the Meteorological Institute of the University of Hamburg, and Director of the Institute for Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Research Centre in Geesthacht, Germany. Here’s what he had to say:
We have no reliable empirical evidence about this; but we have done informal polls. It turns out that quite a few people who see themselves as sceptics are motivated by the rejection of political decisions made in response to climate change being man-made. In particular, energy policy and energy prices should be considered, as well as other regulations, including building regulations and transport.
Since such measures are often presented in public as the irrefutable implications of climate change being a consequence of man-made emissions, then the veracity of climate science is denied. This attitude is promoted by over-exaggeration [on the part of people who agree with climate science] that can be observed again and again, for example in the argument that virtually every extreme weather event these days is a direct consequence of climate change, which is certainly inaccurate.
We also had a comment from Hagen, who believes it is already too late to stop climate change. Is he right? What have the global agreements on climate change achieved?
The science implies that climate change can be controlled to a limited extent because the release of greenhouse gases determines their concentration in the atmosphere. By appropriately reducing global emissions, climate change can be slowed down and then stopped altogether. This would take several decades and require very substantial reductions. For example, a complete end to emissions across Europe would be effective but insufficient for this purpose.
Recent UN Climate Change Conferences have led to a general acceptance of such measures without any real obligations. But without obligations, the process cannot be stopped by individual countries if others refuse to participate. The last climate conference (COP23 in Bonn) seems to have clarified how the progress in emission reductions is measured, balanced and compared. These are significant technical advances.
Why do some people think climate change is a hoax? What would it take to convince them? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!