Talking To A Climate Change Skeptic.

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Dear EarthTalk: I keep meeting people who say that human-induced global warming is only theory, that just as many scientists doubt it as believe it. Can you settle the score?

So-called “global warming skeptics” are indeed getting more vocal than ever, and banding together to show their solidarity against the scientific consensus that has concluded that global warming is caused by emissions from human activities.

Upwards of 800 skeptics (most of whom are not scientists) took part in the second annual International Conference on Climate Change sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank in March 2009. Keynote speaker and Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorologist Richard Lindzen told the gathering that “there is no substantive basis for predictions of sizeable global warming due to observed increases in minor greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and chlorofluorocarbons.”

Most skeptics attribute global warming – few if any doubt any longer that the warming itself is occurring, given the worldwide rise in surface temperature – to natural cycles, not emissions from power plants, automobiles and other human activity. “The observational evidence suggests that any warming from the growth of greenhouse gases is likely to be minor, difficult to detect above the natural fluctuations of the climate, and therefore inconsequential,” says atmospheric physicist Fred Singer, an outspoken global warming skeptic and founder of the advocacy-oriented Science and Environmental Policy Project.

But green leaders maintain that even if some warming is consistent with millennial cycles, something is triggering the current change. According to the nonprofit Environmental Defense, some possible (natural) explanations include increased output from the sun, increased absorption of the sun’s heat due to a change in the Earth’s reflectivity, or a change in the internal climate system that transfers heat to the atmosphere.

But scientists have not been able to validate any such reasons for the current warming trend, despite exhaustive efforts. And a raft of recent peer reviewed studies- many which take advantage of new satellite data-back up the claim that it is emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks (and now factory farmed food animals, which release methane) that are causing potentially irreparable damage to the environment.

To wit, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences declared in 2005 that “greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise,” adding that “the scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action.” Other leading U.S. scientific bodies, including the American Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union have issued concurring statements “placing the blame squarely on humans” shoulders.

Also, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 600 leading climate scientists from 40 nations, says it is “very likely”(more than a 90 percent chance) that humans are causing a global temperature change that will reach between 3.2 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.

CONTACTS: Heartland Institute; Science and Environmental Policy Project; U.S. National Academy of Sciences; IPCC.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 USA; submit it at EarthTalk; or e-mail us. Read past columns at our archives.

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  1. I always wondered what global warming skeptics based their argument on.
    Even if there was no global warming, water and air pollution is very real and hurting the environment and our health everyday. That alone is reason enough for me to take notice.

  2. Lindzen and Singer’s pronouncements at a nonscientific conference are meaningless. If there is ‘observational evidence’ Singer could publish what it is in a scientific journal, where it would be peer reviewed, and could be validated or refuted in later research articles.

    These guys are a joke, except that the warming of the globe is serious.

  3. I”™m a student currently researching a piece on bias in science in relation to global warming and the arguments for and against it. I was just wandering what has influenced your strong views on the topic? There is evidence that backs up these scientists”™ views that it is not manmade. However each website, book, TV station etc. has a different slant on the topic. Plenty of scientists are against the idea of manmade climate change as well as those who believe it is our fault. Any thoughts on the topic would be helpful as you can understand it such a huge topic to look into.

  4. Lizzie,
    I first heard about the effect of greenhouse gases on the temperature of planetary atmospheres after Mariner spacecraft went to Venus in 1963 and found it is hotter than an oven.
    At that time, a senior scientist explained to me that the earth was vulnerable to heating due to the fossil carbon dioxide being released to the atmosphere. If it wasn’t for CO2, and other gases, the earth would be as cold as the moon.
    The current rise in the temperature of earth is consistent with calculations using the extra CO2 now in the air. We’ve added 38% more CO2 than there was 50 years ago.
    The science was established 50 years ago. It’s frustrating to see everybody ignoring it when the global weather is changing worldwide.
    Fossil fuel companies pay for denying websites who spout mumbo jumbo that can sound scientific if you don’t know the exact details. Go to NOAA, NASA, NCAR, MIT, AIP, web pages if you want to know what the real science is.
    Or maybe you chose to believe in science “bias” for the last 150 years, involving thousands of physicists, chemists, biologists. Some of whom look for the signals of global warming in their data; others find it accidentally when they are studying something else.
    In summary, the reason for my strong “views”: I know the science and I have grandchildren.

  5. You stated “current rise in the temperature of earth” from what I’ve recently seen there’s been a 10 cooling period. And just yesterday I read where they are considering pulling Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize. Didn’t read the details but I’m pretty sure it’s due to him being wrong.

    Don’t forget in the 1970s they were worried about the return of the ice age. Oh the horror.

    I am a GW sceptic, I believe it’s cyclical. However as someone above mentioned we need to stop polluting the earth for our own health reasons not because the earth is going to turn into Venus.

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