Politics of climate change

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The validity of climate change is being continuously debated. The main arguments are: What are the causes of an increased global temperature? Is the change unprecedented or is the Earth simply naturally fluctuating? Is mankind the cause of the changes? How valid are the scientific results? The following section further outlines the global warming controversy.


What is the Supposed Cause of Increased Global Temperature?

Global Warming Advocates: Man-made greenhouse gas emissions

Global Warming Opponents: The earth is simply fluctuating as it should.

Example Argument:

"Global warming and cooling are caused by fluctuations in the sun's heat (solar forcing), not by the minor greenhouse effect of human-produced gases such as CO2 and methane (CH4). Between 1900 and 2000 solar irradiance increased .19% (3 MB) . [19] This increase correlates with the rise in surface temperatures in the US."

Is the Change Unprecedented?

Global Warming Advocates: Varying opinions. The main argument is that they believe that continued behavioral patterns of humans producing greenhouse gas emissions will do create an unprecedented increase in global temperature and will result in dangerous effects.

Global Warming Opponents: No.

Example Arguments:

"The 20th century warming of 1-1.4°F is within the +/- 5°F range of the past 3,000 years. A 2003 study (660 KB) by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows temperatures from 1000-1100 AD (before fossil fuel use) that are comparable to those from 1900-1990 (845 KB)."

"Deep ocean currents cause climate warming and cooling in long term cycles. The minor greenhouse effect of human produced CO2 pales in comparison. Global cooling from 1940 to the 1970s, and warming from the 1970s to 2008, coincided with fluctuations in ocean currents and cloud cover driven by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) - a naturally occuring rearrangement in atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns."

"Ocean acidity levels have risen over the 20th century, but they are not out of the ordinary considering the fluctuations of the past 7,000 years. Average ocean surface water pH is 8.1 and has only decreased 0.1 (989 KB) since the beginning of the industrial revolution (neutral is pH 7, acid is below pH7)."

Is Mankind the Cause?

Global Warming Advocates: Absolutely.

Example Arguments:

"75% of the 20th century increase in the atmospheric greenhouse gas CO2 is directly caused by human actions like burning fossil fuels. CO2 levels were 389ppm (parts per million) as of Apr. 2010 - the highest they have been in the past 650,000 years. This increase in CO2 was a substantial contributor to the 1°F."

"Human-produced CO2 is warming the earth, not natural CO2 released from the ocean and other "carbon sinks." CO2 from fossil fuel combustion has a specific isotopic ratio (6.5 MB) that is different from CO2 released by natural "carbon sinks." 20th century measurements of CO2 isotope ratios in the atmosphere confirm that the rise results from human activities, not natural processes."

"Human produced greenhouse gases will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere causing climate change because the earth's forests, oceans, and other "carbon sinks" cannot adequately absorb them all. As of 2009, these carbon sinks were only absorbing about 50% of human-produced CO2 (19 MB) . The other 50% is accumulating in the atmosphere."

"Human greenhouse gas emissions, not changes in the sun's radiation, are causing global climate change. Measurements in the upper atmosphere from 1979 - 2009, show the sun's energy has gone up and down in cycles, with no net increase. While warming is occurring in the troposphere (lower atmosphere), the stratosphere (upper atmosphere) is cooling. If the sun was driving the temperature change there would be warming in the stratosphere also, not cooling."

"Computer models show that increased levels of human produced greenhouse gases will cause global warming and other climate changes. Although these climate models are uncertain (4 KB) about how much future warming will occur and how it will affect the climate, they all agree that, to some degree, these changes will happen. The reality of climate change is not contradicted by this uncertainty."

Global Warming Opponents: Absolutely not.

Example Arguments:

"Human releases of CO2 cannot cause climate change as any increases in CO2 are eventually balanced by nature. CO2 gets absorbed by oceans, forests, and other "carbon sinks" that increase their biological activity to absorb excess CO2 from the atmosphere. 50% of the CO2 released by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities, has already been absorbed."

"Rising temperatures are caused primarily by water vapor, the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, not by CO2. Water vapor concentrations in the atmosphere are driven by natural storm systems and ocean currents. According to a Mar. 5, 2010 study by researchers at NOAA, water vapor in the stratosphere was responsible for increasing the rate of warming during the 1990s by 30%."

"The increased hurricane activity over the past decade (1995-2005), including hurricane Katrina, is not the result of human-induced climate change; it is the result of cyclical tropical cyclone patterns, driven primarily by natural ocean currents, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) testimony in the US Senate on Sep. 20, 2005."

What is the Validity of Global Warming Science?

Global Warming Advocates: Science is directly reflecting the increase in global temperature and science is valid.

Global Warming Opponents: Some are valid but are being misinterpreted, others are invalid.

Example Arguments:

"Due to the inherent unpredictability of climate systems it is impossible to accurately use models to determine future weather. Climate models have been unable to simulate major known features of past climate (199 KB) such as the ice ages or the very warm climates of the Miocene, Eocene, and Cretaceous periods. If models cannot replicate past climate changes they should not be trusted to predict future climate changes."

"The general consensus that the earth has warmed during the 20th century is based upon flawed temperature measurements. These measurements, taken from surface monitoring stations set up by the National Weather Service (NWS), are often contaminated by the "heat island effect." According to a Mar. 2009 study published by the Heartland Institute, 89% of NWS monitoring stations are too close to artificial heat sources (4 MB) such as large asphalt parking lots, air conditioners, heaters and other sources of artificial heat."

Varying Public Opinion:

The level of coverage that US mass media devoted to global warming "was minimal prior to 1988" but interest increased significantly after the drought of 1988, and after Senate testimony "attributed the abnormally hot weather plaguing our nation to global warming".

Similarly, coverage of climate change in the British press was minimal until 1988 when discussion was stimulated by Margaret Thatcher and her discussions of the risks of climate change. All European Union member states ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and many European countries had already been taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions prior to 1990.

In Europe, the notion of human influence on climate gained wide acceptance more rapidly than in many other parts of the world, most notably the United States.

A 2009 Eurobarometer survey titled "Europeans' Attitude Toward Climate Change" notes that, on the average, Europeans rate climate change as the second most serious problem facing the world today, between "poverty, the lack of food and drinking water" and "a major global economic downturn." 87% of Europeans consider climate change to be a "very serious" or "serious" problem, while 10% "do not consider it a serious problem."

The authors of the 2010 book Merchants of Doubt accuse climate change "skeptics" of trying to sow seeds of doubt in public opinion in order to halt any meaningful social or political progress to reduce the impact of human carbon emissions. The fact that only half of the American population believe that global warming is caused by human activity could be seen as a victory for these so-called skeptics. One of the authors' main arguments is that most prominent scientists who have been voicing opposition to the near-universal consensus are being funded by industries, such as automotive and oil, that stand to lose money by government actions to regulate greenhouse gases.

A compendium of poll results on public perceptions about global warming is below.


(USA) Global Warming is very/extremely important - 49% agreed in 2006

(International) Climate change is a serious problem - 90% agreed in 2006

(International) Human activity is a significant cause of climate change - 79% agreed in 2007

(USA) It's necessary to take major steps starting very soon - 59% agreed in 2007

(USA) The Earth is getting warmer because of human activity - 49% agreed in 2009

Media’s Affect on Public Opinion

There has been a debate among public commentators about how much weight and media coverage should be given to each side of the controversy. Andrew Neil of the BBC stated that "There's a great danger that on some issues we're becoming a one-party state in which we're meant to have only one kind of view. You don't have to be a climate-change denier to recognize that there's a great range of opinion on the subject.


Climate Change ProCon.org. Web. 20 Mar. 2011. <http://climatechange.procon.org/>.

McCright & Dunlap 2000 p. 500.

Carvalho, Anabela (2007). "Ideological cultures and media discourses on scientific knowledge". Public Understanding of Science 16 (2): 223–43. doi:10.1177/0963662506066775 (inactive 2010-08-23). <http://pus.sagepub.com/content/16/2/223.abstract.>

Speech to the Royal Society (September 27, 1988), Public Statement, Speech Archive, Margaret Thatcher Foundation. Retrieved April 9, 2007. <http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107346.>

Mintzer, Irving M. (1992). Confronting climate change. Cambridge University Press. pp. 265–272. ISBN 978-0-521-42091-4.

"The Top Politically inCorrect Words for 2006". Global Language Monitor. Retrieved 2007-04-14. <http://www.languagemonitor.com/politics/politically_correct/.>





Weart, Spencer (2006). "The Public and Climate Change". In Weart, Spencer. The Discovery of Global Warming. American Institute of Physics. ISBN 978-0-674-01157-1. Retrieved 2007-04-14.

Langer, Gary (March 26, 2006). "Poll: Public Concern on Warming Gains Intensity". ABC News. Retrieved 2007-04-12.

David Suzuki (18 August 2006). "Public doesn't understand global warming". David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved 2007-08-18.

Richard J. Bord, Ann Fisher & Robert E. O'Connor (1997). "Is Accurate Understanding of Global Warming Necessary to Promote Willingness to Sacrifice?". Retrieved 2008-02-29.

Richard J. Bord, Robert E. O'Connor, Ann Fischer (1 July 2000). "In what sense does the public need to understand global climate change?". Public Understanding of Science 9 (3): 205. doi:10.1088/0963-6625/9/3/301.

No Global Warming Alarm in the U.S., China - 15-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey. Released June 13, 2006.

Rising Environmental Concern in 47-Nation Survey. Pew Global Attitudes. Released June 27, 2007.


External Links

New York Times


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