Responses to Questions & Objectionson Climate Change
Dr Brett ParrisResearch Fellow,
Lecturer, School of International & Political Studies
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For the poor and for today’s children who will inherit our legacy, these are not abstract debates. They are not opportunities for political point scoring, or for fighting left-right culture wars. The science of climate change matters and it deserves to be taken seriously.
When the British economist John Maynard Keynes was derided for changing his position on economic policy he replied: “When the facts change, I change my position. What do you do, sir?” Keynes’ response reflects the open-minded attitude of a genuine inquirer, a true skeptic, willing to change his mind when new information emerges, or when the weight of evidence, the balance of probabilities and the risks and consequences of being wrong become overwhelming.
Not everyone approaches the issue of climate change in this open-minded way. Some come to the science through the lenses of political ideologies or economic interests, maintaining positions dogmatically in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and endlessly recycling views that have been repeatedly debunked by scientists. We have seen this approach before with those who continue to deny the moon landings, the link between HIV and AIDS and the link between smoking and cancer. Some continue to try to convince the public and governments that there is a raging debate among scientists about the main drivers of climate change. There isn’t. As Nicholas Stern, author of The Stern Review on the climate change for the British Government, wrote recently:
The argument for inaction, or for weak or delayed action, would make sense on the basis of reservations about the science only if one could assert that we know for certain that the risks are small. In the face of the evidence we now have, that is a complacent, ignorant and dangerous position to take. It is not healthy skepticism or an openness of mind; it is a denial of evidence and reason.
This document discusses some of that evidence and responds to some of the most common objections. It is not intended to be comprehensive and the interested reader is referred to the reference list and the ‘Useful Resources’ section at the end for more comprehensive websites and other materials. Please send any constructive comments or suggestions for improvements to:
Brett [dot] Parris [at] buseco.monash.edu.au
are many misconceptions about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
(IPCC). Some people appear to believe the IPCC’s reports are concocted
small band of ‘UN scientists’ in collaboration with (presumably)
governments intent on deceiving the world. Nothing could be further
truth. The IPCC is a scientific intergovernmental body created in 1988
World Meteorological Organization (
The IPCC does not conduct its own research or climate monitoring. Instead it undertakes a comprehensive review and distillation of many thousands of published peer-reviewed papers and reports, representing the work of the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists and produces assessment reports publishing these findings. A good summary of the nature of the IPCC’s work was given by Rik Leemans: “a scientific assessment applies the judgment of experts to existing knowledge to provide scientifically credible answers to policy-relevant questions.”
three working groups of the Fourth Assessment
Report, published in
2007, produced reports on The Physical
Science Basis, Impacts, Adaptation
and Vulnerability and Mitigation of
Climate Change, as well as a Synthesis
Report. Drafts of the chapters attracted more than 30,000
were taken into account in producing the final reports.
of the reports includes a Summary for
Policymakers. Unlike the chapters making up the substance of
the reports on
which these summaries are based, the summaries are agreed line-by-line
government delegates, which includes all governments who are members of
Some have interpreted the government approval of the summaries as proof that the IPCC reports are ‘political’ and therefore unreliable. Usually those making this charge are implying that the IPCC reports are unnecessarily ‘alarmist’ and are being driven by radical left-wing government agendas. A moment’s thought should show that this is nonsense: Sitting around the table approving the Summaries for Policymakers for the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report were: the conservative government of Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, under John Howard, the United States under the conservative administration of George W. Bush, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the other OPEC states and Russia, all major oil and gas producers, and the government of China, the fastest growing greenhouse gas emitter in the world. If anything the influence of some governments served to make the final summary texts more conservative than the scientists would have preferred.
A couple of examples are useful here: For the Summary for Policymakers of Working Group II, the text that had been submitted to the final government review was:
Roughly 20-30% of species are likely to be at high risk of irreversible extinction if global average temperature exceeds 1.5-2.5°C.
The actual paper which formed one of the main bases for this statement had used the phrase “committed to extinction”. So during discussions the statement was modified to:
Twenty to thirty percent of species will be committed to extinction if increases in global temperature exceed 1.5-2.5°C.
The final text approved by the governments however watered down the notion that species were “committed to extinction”, preferring the far more vague “likely to be at increased risk of extinction”:
Approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5°C.
This phrasing is far more difficult to interpret than the original wording. “At increased risk …” – from what baseline? An “increased risk of extinction” from 0% to 5% would meet that criterion, which is far from the sense of the original idea of species being “committed to extinction”.
David Biello cited another case where government intervention resulted in a more conservative stance than scientists would have preferred:
example, after objections by
There are two other ways in which the IPCC reports tend to be conservative:
Firstly, because of the lengthy process of assessment, review, drafting and approval, the reports published in 2007 could really only assess papers published up to late 2005 to early 2006, often based on work undertaken a year or more previously because of the time it takes for findings to be published. This means that inevitably, the Assessment Reports are somewhat out of date when they are published and tend not to adequately represent some of the more worrying findings that were only just being discovered or had not had time to become widely accepted.
Secondly, some of the findings are presented in a way that inadvertently obscures some worrying implications. For example, Table 5.1 from the IPCC’s Synthesis Report presents a range of possible CO2 stabilization levels and likely associated temperature and sea-level rises. Tucked away in the footnotes to the table are two critical pieces of information: the emissions reductions required to achieve particular CO2 stabilization levels could be underestimated because many of the models do not include carbon-cycle feedbacks (natural processes reinforcing and exacerbating climate change) (note a) and the contributions to sea-level rise of melting ice sheets, glaciers and ice caps are ignored (note f).
for Policymakers of Working Group I on the science of climate
presented a table (Table SPM.3, p. 13) which showed the estimated upper
of likely sea-level rise from the worst climate change scenario by 2100
column heading included the caveat “Model-based
range excluding rapid dynamical changes in ice flow” and on the next
report emphasised: “Models used to date do not include
climate-carbon cycle feedback nor do they include the full effects of
in ice sheet flow. … Larger values cannot be excluded, but
these effects is too limited to assess their likelihood or provide a
estimate or an upper bound for sea level rise.” Despite these caveats,
people only looked at the table and took 59 cm as the IPCC’s
estimate, when it was actually simply the upper bound of what
models were capable of representing.
In summary, far from being unreliable, the IPCC reports represent the best assessment of the published peer-reviewed scientific consensus up to about a year before their publication. Any political influence during the process of government approval of the summaries tends to make the reports err on the side of conservatism rather than radicalism. Since 2006 when the reports were being written, scientists have become increasingly concerned by the pace and extent of climate change.
True – but misleading. This argument is used to suggest that the agreement of the vast majority of qualified climate scientists is irrelevant. Not so. On the edge of every scientific field, for every true Galileo who was proven right, there are usually hundreds of people who would like to think of themselves as a Galileo. Their odds are not good. It is perfectly sensible for lay-people to take the overwhelming agreement of the vast majority of qualified climate scientists as a strong indication that the scientists are probably right – particularly since the evidence has been painstakingly built up over many years from many different fields.
‘Consensus’ does not mean that climate scientists agree on every single detail of climate change and its implications. Of course there is disagreement and uncertainty about a range of issues. But one of the most useful features of the presentation of the IPCC reports was the fact that the most important statements came with an indication of the level of confidence the scientists had in them. On the main features of climate change, and on the dangers posed by rising greenhouse gas emissions, there is very strong agreement.
It is important to emphasise that this is not simply an argument from authority. An argument from authority is weak because it asserts that we should believe something simply because an authority figure says it is true. That is not what is going on here. No-one is saying that we should believe the IPCC simply because of its status as an international institution. The reasons for confidence in the statements of the IPCC and the world’s leading scientific bodies do not rest not on their status as authoritative institutions but on the evidence for their statements. This evidence has already been through the wringer of peer-review publication and has survived post-publication scrutiny by the international scientific community.
So, far from being able to be dismissed simplistically as an argument from authority, giving due weight to the strong consensus among climate scientists is an entirely appropriate acknowledgement of the rigorous process of evidence gathering and sifting that the international community of climate scientists has undertaken over many decades.
There is and they didn’t. Some of those who denied the link between greenhouse gases and climate change didn’t have much confidence themselves in the argument that the scientific consensus was irrelevant, so they tried to gather signatures from professional scientists for statements asserting that humans are not one of the main causes of climate change. As a result of these efforts, it is often claimed for example, that 31,000 or more scientists have signed a petition denying the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. But it is well known that the great majority of people on these kinds of lists are not practising research scientists with PhDs, and of those who are, very few are climate scientists. Science encompasses a broad range of fields, many of which are quite unrelated to climate science. When the views of climate scientists are considered, very few remain unconvinced that greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are contributing to climate change, and will continue to do so in the coming decades.
So is it true that the vast majority of qualified scientists agree that humans are significantly contributing to climate change? Yes it is. Aside from the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, strong statements affirming the reality of human contribution to climate change have been released by the National Academies of Science of many countries, including: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Caribbean, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the US and UK. Reviews have also been undertaken of the scientific literature and again and again the finding is that the vast majority of qualified scientists with expertise in the relevant areas support the view that humans are influencing the climate.
A large number of professional scientific bodies and associations have also affirmed the reality of human influence on the climate, including, in the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Physics, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the American Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the Royal Society of the UK, the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, and Australia’s CSIRO.
a recent survey of Earth scientists,
predominantly from the
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
Of the 10,257 invited to participate, 3146 individuals responded, 90% of whom answered ‘risen’ to question 1 and 82% answered ‘Yes’ to question 2. Earth science of course takes in a broad range of fields, not all of which have a close familiarity with climate science. It is a common misperception among the public that just because someone has a PhD and is a scientist in one field, it somehow gives them a privileged insight into other fields. It may, if they have closely followed that field and have kept up with the scientific literature, but it does not necessarily. We should not imagine for example, that a researcher in electrical engineering would necessarily have a highly developed up-to-date understanding of developments in aeronautical engineering. Equally, just because someone is a qualified tradesman, like a plumber, that does not make them an expert on carpentry. It is therefore important to sift the respondents to see what those with particular expertise in climate science believe.
Of the respondents, 79 scientists had expertise in climate science and had published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change. Of these 79 scientists, 96.2% (76 out of 79) answered ‘risen’ to question 1 and 97.4% (75 out of 77) answered ‘Yes’ to question 2. The authors of the survey concluded:
It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes. The challenge, rather, appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.
There is rarely total unanimity on anything very complex in the Earth sciences, so by any measure, the agreement of more than 96% of scientists with demonstrated expertise in the field, plus the backing of all of the world’s major national academies of science and major professional scientific associations represents an extremely strong professional consensus on the core issue that the climate is warming and that humans are contributing to the problem through excessive greenhouse gas emissions.
We’ve already done that and the evidence is in. The basic physics of the warming potential of the greenhouse gases was worked out more than a century ago by John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius, and in 1938, G.S. Callendar solved a set of equations linking carbon dioxide to climate change. In modern times, scientists became increasingly concerned about the possibility of climate change. In 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up by the UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization in response to growing scientific concern, exemplified by NASA scientist James Hanson’s testimony before the US Congress that year that global warming was a reality.
IPCC produced its First
Assessment Report in 1990 and the UN Framework Convention on Climate
(UNFCCC) was produced in 1992. By 1995 the IPCC had
concluded in its Second Assessment
“The balance of evidence, from changes in global mean surface
air temperature and from changes in geographical, seasonal and vertical
patterns of atmospheric temperature, suggests a discernible human
Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, the IPCC produced its Third Assessment Report in 2001 and its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007,
concluding: “Warming of the
climate system is unequivocal”
“The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on
has improved since the
In short, we now know enough to know that drastic reductions in emissions are needed. What’s more, we also know that the climate system is a highly complex, nonlinear system with considerable momentum. We have already had about 0.76ºC of warming; we have about another 0.6ºC above 1980-99 levels guaranteed by 2100 from past emissions, plus another 0.4ºC from emissions over the next couple of decades as we try to bring our emissions under control. So we are guaranteed at least 1.8ºC warming above pre-industrial levels. Another recent study however, revealed that the warming we are committed to, due to past greenhouse gas emissions, could already be around 2.4°C, much higher than previously suspected, and that the effect of the greenhouse gases was being masked by aerosols – fine pollutant particles in the atmosphere which reflect the sun’s heat:
The observed increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) since the preindustrial era has most likely committed the world to a warming of 2.4°C (1.4°C to 4.3°C) above the preindustrial surface temperatures. The committed warming is inferred from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates of the greenhouse forcing and climate sensitivity. The estimated warming of 2.4°C is the equilibrium warming above preindustrial temperatures that the world will observe even if GHG concentrations are held fixed at their 2005 concentration levels but without any other anthropogenic forcing such as the cooling effect of aerosols. The range of 1.4°C to 4.3°C in the committed warming overlaps and surpasses the currently perceived threshold range of 1°C to 3°C for dangerous anthropogenic interference with many of the climate-tipping elements such as the summer arctic sea ice, Himalayan–Tibetan glaciers, and the Greenland Ice Sheet. IPCC models suggest that ~25% (0.6°C) of the committed warming has been realized as of now. About 90% or more of the rest of the committed warming of 1.6°C will unfold during the 21st century, determined by the rate of the unmasking of the aerosol cooling effect by air pollution abatement laws and by the rate of release of the GHGs-forcing stored in the oceans.
The climate system is like driving a fully-laden semi-trailer down a mountain road. We need to brake when we see the bend in the road coming. If we wait until we’re heading into the bend before we brake, we’re going over the cliff. In his Review conducted for the Australian Government, economist Ross Garnaut warned:
[T]he science, and the realities of emissions growth in the absence of mitigation, show that we do not have time. The world is rapidly approaching points at which high risks of dangerous climate change are no longer avoidable. We would delude ourselves if we thought that scientific uncertainties were cause for delay. Such an approach would eliminate attractive lower-cost options, and diminish the chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.
Mostly true – but irrelevant. Climate changes have certainly happened throughout history, but with differing degrees of severity and different rates: Between around 130,000 to 118,000 years ago for example, at the height of the last interglaciation (the period between ice ages) the sea levels were some four to seven metres higher than they are now. This is around the same increase in level that would occur if the Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt. But more extreme levels have also occurred in the past. Sea levels were around 70 metres higher 45 million years ago when CO2 levels were around 1000 to 1500 ppm and there was no permanent ice on the planet. More recently, they were around 130 metres lower during the Last Glacial Maximum 21,000 years ago when CO2 levels were around 185 ppm.
and regional temperatures have also increased rapidly in the past. In
Paleoclimatic records show that large, widespread, abrupt climate changes have affected much or all of the earth repeatedly over the last ice-age cycle as well as earlier – and these changes sometimes have occurred in periods as short as a few years. Perturbations in some regions were spectacularly large: some had temperature increases of up to 16°C and doubling of precipitation within decades, or even single years.
abrupt warming episodes appeared more than 20 times in the
Sea-levels have also risen rapidly in the past, with average rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period of around 1.6 m per century, and peak rates of up to 5 m per century.
Most of the strong climate changes of the past however, were either local or regional or, if global, took at least many thousands of years. As the IPCC emphasised:
The largest temperature changes of the past million years are the glacial cycles, during which the global mean temperature changed by 4°C to 7°C between ice ages and warm interglacial periods (local changes were much larger, for example near the continental ice sheets). However, the data indicate that the global warming at the end of an ice age was a gradual process taking about 5,000 years … It is thus clear that the current rate of global climate change is much more rapid and very unusual in the context of past changes. The much-discussed abrupt climate shifts during glacial times … are not counter-examples, since they were probably due to changes in ocean heat transport, which would be unlikely to affect the global mean temperature. … although large climate changes have occurred in the past, there is no evidence that these took place at a faster rate than present warming. If projections of approximately 5°C warming in this century … are realised, then the Earth will have experienced about the same amount of global mean warming as it did at the end of the last ice age; there is no evidence that this rate of possible future global change was matched by any comparable global temperature increase of the last 50 million years.
In summary, the past global ‘natural variability’ of sea levels, rates of sea-level rise, temperature changes and so on, cover an enormous range, and the extremes are outside the experience of human civilizations. There is also no evidence of a global temperature increase of 5°C (which would be accompanied by much larger regional increases) in a single century for the past 50 million years. Neither human social systems nor many eco-systems, nor many eco-systems, could adapt to some of these changes, so the fact that some are of similar magnitude to those in the past is hardly comforting and does not provide a reason for inaction.
False. It is sometimes asserted that if climates changed in the past from natural causes without any human influence, then any climate change occurring now must also be entirely due to natural causes. This is simply an error of logic. The fact that lightning strikes caused bushfires in the distant past, and continue to do so today, does not imply that arsonists never cause bushfires. The same event can have a number of different possible causes and no fire investigator in her right mind would rule out arson simply because the natural explanation of lightning strikes was adequate to explain the outbreak of bushfires in general. She is not interested in past bushfires in general – she is interested in how particular bushfires started. In the same way, the fact that past climate changes were entirely natural in no way rules out the possibility that humans are contributing to the current changes – particularly if, as we know, humans are now emitting gases on an epic scale which have strongly influenced the climate in the past. We are interested in the causes of this particular episode of climate change, not past climate changes in general.
The overwhelming, broad consensus of the world’s climate scientists is that we cannot explain observed climate changes without taking into account human influence. A recent comprehensive study of the polar regions concluded for example,
[T]he observed changes in
changes in the climate of the
They found that the models could produce the observed trends in temperature, snowpack, and river flow of the past few decades only when they included the actual amounts of human-made greenhouse gases and pollutant hazes. Run without them, the models poked along, warming and cooling without a long-term trend. “There’s no way we can make a natural-variability explanation for what we’ve seen” in the West, said Barnett. “I’d put the odds at between one in 100 and one in 1000 that we were fooled. Quite frankly, it’s us.”
Similarly, the warming of the world’s oceans cannot be explained without taking into account human influence:
A warming signal has penetrated into the world's oceans over the past 40 years. The signal is complex, with a vertical structure that varies widely by ocean; it cannot be explained by natural internal climate variability or solar and volcanic forcing, but is well simulated by two anthropogenically forced climate models. We conclude that it is of human origin, a conclusion robust to observational sampling and model differences.
2003 a heatwave in
Using a threshold for mean summer temperature that was exceeded in 2003, but in no other year since the start of the instrumental record in 1851, we estimate it is very likely (confidence level >90%) that human influence has at least doubled the risk of a heatwave exceeding this threshold magnitude.
Lean and David Rind undertook a statistical regression analysis of the
influences on temperature of both natural influences, such as solar
volcanoes and the El Niño
Southern Oscillation (
Figure 1. Natural and anthropogenic contributions to temperature change
Source: Lean & Rind (2008), Figure 2, p. 2. Caption: “Reconstructions of the contributions to monthly mean global surface temperatures by individual natural and anthropogenic influences (at appropriate lags) are shown. The right hand ordinates give the native scales of each influence and the left hand ordinates give the corresponding temperature change determined from the multiple regression analysis. The grey lines are trends for the whole interval. The inset in Figure 2d shows the individual greenhouse gases, tropospheric aerosols and the land surface plus snow albedo components that combine to give the net anthropogenic forcing.”
Overall both empirical and theoretical studies are in agreement that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities must be taken into account to explain the warming we have witnessed:
Natural changes cannot account for the
significant long-term warming in the historical global surface
anomalies. Linear trends in temperature attributed to
Sea levels have been more than 70 metres
higher in the past.
Melting of the
The world experienced several mass extinctions in the past where 50-90% of species became extinct with temperature changes of around 5°C. The Permian-Triassic extinction around 251 million years ago, for example, is thought to have extinguished 95% of the world’s species in existence at the time. Under today’s circumstance with possible migration routes blocked by fences, human settlements and degraded habitats (such as isolated pockets of forest surrounded by cleared farmland), it is wishful thinking to imagine that species can simply migrate and adapt to any climate change.
Probably false, but irrelevant anyway. Many of those who most strenuously deny any link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change make a great deal of the period from roughly 800 to 1300 AD, when it is possible that temperatures may have been slightly warmer than at present – at least in northern Europe. The argument runs that if temperatures were warmer then, and CO2 levels were lower, then (somehow) that is supposed to show that rising greenhouse gas levels are nothing to worry about because natural variability can lead to warming. There are a few problems with this logic.
Firstly, even if temperatures were slightly higher in medieval times, that is irrelevant to our current situation. No-one claims that rising greenhouse gas levels are the only factor that has ever led to higher temperatures. Changes in solar intensity, variations in ocean currents and a number of other factors can influence temperatures. In this case a persistent positive North Atlantic Oscillation from 1050 to 1400 seems to have played an important role. The fact that temperatures appear to have been warm during medieval times in certain regions does not necessarily imply that the warming in our current era can be explained by similar factors. The main reason scientists are so concerned is because they cannot explain the changes over the past century without taking into account rising greenhouse gas levels.
Second, recent research suggests that the ‘Medieval Climate Anomaly’ as it now increasingly described by scientists, was warmer than the Little Ice Age, which lasted from around 1500 to 1850, but globally it was probably slightly cooler than the last 30 years. It was also most likely a regional, rather than a global phenomenon.
Third, as David Archer has warned, “Beware the bait and switch!” The projections for global climate change for the current century and beyond do not depict a fraction of a degree increase in temperatures that would usher in a benign era of more pleasant winters and balmy summer evenings. Instead, projections show that even 2ºC above pre-industrial temperatures would bring major adverse impacts. As Figure 2 shows, on current trajectories we could see average global temperature increases of 6ºC or more by 2100, which would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and a dramatically different planet.
Figure 2: Past and projected future temperature variations
Source: UNEP (2009), p. 26.
False. No-one claims that climate models are perfect, but they are based on sound science and have been able to replicate past observations to a good degree of accuracy and have also anticipated effects such as the global cooling effects resulting from major volcanic eruptions such as Mt Agung in Bali in 1963 and Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, as well as the more recent partial offsetting of the effects of rising greenhouse gas levels by natural internal variability.
Some commentators however, misunderstand or deliberately misrepresent the purpose of modeling complex systems such as the climate. For any chaotic or complex system it is not possible to construct a simulation that will precisely predict the future time path of the system, except under very strict conditions such as complete, accurate knowledge of all initial parameters and a short prediction horizon. That is why the weather is so hard to forecast over more than a few days. In an overview of chaotic complex systems, the authors asked their readers to imagine an idealised game of billiards where the balls move across a frictionless surface and collide with negligible loss of energy. They then asked us to guess for how long an expert player with perfect strike control could precisely predict the cue ball’s trajectory. Their answer: “If the player ignored an effect even as miniscule as the gravitational attraction of an electron at the edge of the galaxy, the prediction would become wrong after one minute!”
The future trajectories of complex nonlinear systems like the climate are extremely sensitive to initial conditions. Long-term modeling of complex systems therefore focuses, not on a precise single ‘prediction’ of a system’s future time path, but on modeling suites of possible scenarios across a range of parameter values using hundreds or thousands of simulation runs. This process yields a set of scenarios within which the future path of the system is highly likely to lie. If the system is well understood, the set of likely scenarios will be relatively narrow and there will be high confidence that the evolution of the actual system’s path will fall within that set of scenarios. All complex systems scientists understand this approach as it is common across a range of scientific disciplines.
When people disparage climate models because they have not ‘predicted’ the evolution of the temperature path in one particular locality, they reveal that they do not understand climate modelling or complex systems modeling more generally. It is also extremely misleading to give people the impression that because models can’t necessarily ‘predict’ the future temperature paths precisely, that the models are therefore useless as guides for policy. If, as is the case currently, a large number of model scenarios from a large number of different models all yield dire projections for future climate scenarios, then it strongly suggests we have a problem.
It should also be noted that it is not possible for anyone, including those who deny the human influence on climate, to make assertions about the future relationship between greenhouse gases and global climate without some explicit or implicit reference to a model of how the world’s climate works. So when someone asserts definitively that greenhouse gases will have no effect on climate, or only a minor effect that is not worth worrying about, we are entitled to ask: How do they know? They can only make that assertion based on some more or less sophisticated understanding of how the climate system works – in other words, a model. But where are these climate models? Where are the models which show that human greenhouse emissions will have little or no effect on the world’s climate?
Lastly, it is also worth mentioning how striking it is that so often the same people who deny the validity of climate models, place so much faith in the minority of economic models which suggest that mitigating climate change would be terrible for our economies. Most economic models in fact have far less claim to scientific validity than climate models.
False. This is one of those persistent assertions that is repeated endlessly, but which has little basis in fact. The implication of the statement is that if scientists were wrong in the 1970s, there’s no reason to believe them now when they warn of climate change. But it is a complete myth that there was any kind of consensus among climate scientists in the 1970s that we were heading into a cool period – in fact there was far more concern about warming. The most thorough recent debunking of this myth was given in a 2008 paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The authors undertook a review of climate science publications and found 7 papers “predicting, implying, or providing supporting evidence for future global cooling”, 20 that were neutral and 44 supporting future warming. From their publication date to 1983, “The cooling papers received a total of 325 citations, neutral 424, and warming 2,043” (p. 1333). The authors concluded (p. 1326):
A review of the climate science literature from 1965 to 1979 shows this myth to be false. The myth’s basis lies in a selective misreading of the texts both by some members of the media at the time and by some observers today. In fact, emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then.
False. There are a couple of issues that need to be addressed here: the cherry-picking of data and the complex relationship between emissions and temperatures.
Firstly, the cherry-picking: Choosing particular years, like 1998, to derive ‘trends’ that are not representative of the data is called cherry-picking. The years 1997-1998 saw a major temperature spike from the strong El Niño in the Pacific, so if we take a big El Niño year like 1998 as a starting point, then of course the years immediately following it during the neutral and La Niña phases are going to be relatively cooler.
To see why such cherry picking is so silly (or deliberately deceptive), consider the following: As Figure 3 shows, the 2005 global temperature was statistically indistinguishable from 1998 (they were both very warm years), and the NASA GISS data, which also takes into account Arctic temperatures, put 2005 as slightly warmer than 1998, which in the NASA data tied with 2007. So if we took either 1997 or 1999 as our starting year rather than 1998, we’d be able to show a strong warming trend between those years and 2005. Even taking the period 1999 to 2008 would show a strong, statistically significant, warming trend.
Figure 3. ‘Plateaus’ and ‘cooling’ within the recent warming trend
Scientists don’t cherry pick data like that because it is meaningless to try to pick major long-term climate trends based on just a few years of data. If we look back through the 20th century and most recent years, or forwards through the simulations produced by climate models, we see a number of periods where temperatures were flat or even cooled for a period of a few years – but all within a long-term warming trend. For example, as Figure 3 also shows, if we took either of the periods 1977-1985 or 1981-1989 we would see no significant trend at all, even though both periods fall within the period 1975 to 2008 which showed a strong overall warming trend.
Australia’s Garnaut Review, commissioned by the Australian Government to examined the science and economics of climate change, investigated the assertion that warming had finished, using experts in the analysis of time series data. They concluded: “Viewed from the perspective of 30 or 50 years ago, the temperatures recorded in most of the last decade lie above the confidence band produced by any model that does not allow for a warming trend.” From a scientific, statistical perspective, there is no justification for asserting that the warming trend witnessed in the late-20th century has ended.
Second, the relationship between emissions and temperatures is complex. One of the most persistent misunderstandings among the general public, and one of the most willful misrepresentations by those who deny the human influence on climate, is that climate scientists are claiming that atmospheric temperatures will increase relentlessly, year after year, in lock-step with CO2 levels. This is simply incorrect. For one thing, atmospheric temperatures are only part of the story – as Figure 4 shows, an enormous amount of energy has actually gone into warming the oceans since the 1950s.
Figure 4. Heat content of the oceans, 1955-2008
Source: Levitus et al. (2009), Figure 1, p. 2. Caption: “Time series of yearly ocean heat content (1022J) for the 0-700 m layer from this study (solid) and from Levitus et al.  (dashed). Each yearly estimate is plotted at the midpoint of the year. Reference period is 1957-1990.”
leaving ocean temperatures
aside, surface temperatures are not just governed by greenhouse gas
Variations in solar radiation over the 11-year solar cycle play a role,
declining solar activity in the waning of the previous solar cycle are
to have countered much of the warming due to greenhouse gas emissions
Major volcanic eruptions, such
as Mt Pinatubo in the
alter surface temperatures, producing as much as 0.2ºC
global warming during major
The coupling and synchronization of modes in nonlinear systems gets complicated, to say the least. There seems to be some evidence that major climate shifts from warming periods, such as those from around 1910-1940 and after about 1975, and temperature stabilizations or slight cooling periods, such as that from the 1940s to mid-1970s, are influenced by the degree of coupling and synchronization between major climatic modes. Temperatures have been relatively stable so far this century and so while not enough years have yet passed to make a statistically significant judgement, it is not impossible that changes in these natural couplings have begun to temper the strong warming trend we have experienced since the 1970s. It may even be possible that we will see a cooling trend for some years before the resumption of warming. That would bring welcome relief, but we should not delude ourselves that these natural reorganizations of heat transfer within the global climate system somehow invalidate the well-established evidence for human influence on the long-term warming trend. It would be particularly unfortunate, scientifically irresponsible and counter-productive for global climate change mitigation efforts, if a possible series of cool years in the coming decade were seized on as evidence that the century-long warming trend has ‘stopped’ or ‘gone into reverse’ so that we can just carry on pumping out greenhouse gases as before. As Swanson and Tsonis emphasized in concluding their study on these effects:
Finally, it is vital to note that there is no comfort to be gained by having a climate with a significant degree of internal variability, even if it results in a near-term cessation of global warming. It is straightforward to argue that a climate with significant internal variability is a climate that is very sensitive to applied anthropogenic radiative anomalies … If the role of internal variability in the climate system is as large as this analysis would seem to suggest, warming over the 21st century may well be larger than that predicted by the current generation of models, given the propensity of those models to underestimate climate internal variability.
In summary, cherry-picking data is poor scientific practice, it cannot yet be concluded statistically that the warming trend since the late 1970s has ended, and greenhouse gas increases were never expected to lead to a relentless year-after-year increase in temperatures in any case. Temperatures have zigzagged up and down due to the complex natural internal variability of the climate system, and they will continue to do so. But despite these year-to-year variations, we have every reason to believe, based on the science of the climate system, that the long-term warming trend experienced since the early 20th century will continue, even if for certain periods temperatures stabilize or even cool for a while.
False. This approach greatly underestimates the risks from unmitigated climate change and also presumes that the climate will settle into a new stable state that we can adapt to. But the Earth’s climate is a highly complex nonlinear system with the potential to cross thresholds or tipping points and lurch from one stable state to another. We cannot simply assume that the world’s climate will settle into a new state that is both stable and suitable enough to prevent catastrophic consequences for ecological and human systems. As one recent study put it: “Palaeoclimate data show that the Earth’s climate is remarkably sensitive to global forcings. Positive feedbacks predominate. This allows the entire planet to be whipsawed between climate states.” The emergence from the last ice age for example, was characterised by dramatic oscillations, or ‘flickering’ between cold and warm periods.
humanitarian, economic and security implications
of unmitigated climate change would also be staggering. In
The recommendation to just let climate change run its course and adapt to it seems to come only from those who either do not believe the climate is warming, or if it is, do not believe anything can be done. I am not aware of a single expert in humanitarian aid, geopolitics, economics or international security who believes human societies and economies could adapt smoothly or peacefully to unmitigated climate change. Those who place so much emphasis on the short-term economic costs of investing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions should consider the dire economic, humanitarian and security implications of unmitigated climate change.
False. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen from around 280 ppm (parts per million) at the start of the industrial revolution in about 1750 to around 388 ppm today – a 39% increase. Nevertheless, 388 ppm constitutes just 0.0388% of the atmosphere by volume and it is sometimes asserted that the increase in concentration can’t possibly have any significant effect – simply because it is such a low concentration. This assertion is simply an error of logic, since it presumes that, by definition, a small cause cannot have a large impact, which is demonstrably false. To take just one example, a drop of the nerve agent VX around the size of a grain of sand is enough to kill an adult. It cannot be asserted that just because the concentration of a substance is low, it therefore cannot have major effects on the system it is interacting with. The potential impact of the substance on the system must be examined and understood before any comment can be made on the likely effects of different concentrations.
Why then do scientists believe that CO2 and other greenhouse gases could be warming the planet? Isn’t water vapour the most important greenhouse gas? Yes it is, by a long way. But direct human influence on the concentration of water vapour in the atmosphere is negligible – it is largely a feedback response to temperature changes, since warmer air can hold more moisture. The warm tropics therefore already experience a strong greenhouse effect, so adding more greenhouse gases impacts the drier polar regions more than the humid tropics. At the poles, the warmer air can hold significantly more water vapour than before, which acts to reinforce the warming due to the addition of other greenhouse gases such as CO2.
If water vapour is the main greenhouse gas, then what role does CO2 play? To answer this question, a brief discussion of the basic physics of the greenhouse effect is needed. The sun emits most of its radiation, including the ultraviolet, visible light and near-infrared light, with wavelengths of around 0.2-4 μm (micro-metres). The longwave radiation that is reflected back from Earth as heat is emitted at wavelengths of 4-100 μm.  Our atmosphere consists overwhelmingly of simple gas molecules in the proportions: Nitrogen, N2, (78.08%), Oxygen, O2, (20.95%) and Argon, Ar, (0.93%). The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – water vapour (H2O), carbon-dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), ozone (O3) and others – absorb some of the radiation from the surface, emitting some of it back to the surface, which causes more warming, and emitting the rest back to space. If it were not for the greenhouse effect of these gases, the average temperature of the Earth would be around -18ºC, rather than 15ºC.
Adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere increases the altitude from which heat radiation escapes back into space. At the higher altitude, temperatures are cooler and so emission temperatures and rates of radiation emission to space will be lower than they would have been without the additional greenhouse gas. To restore thermal equilibrium, temperatures in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and the Earth’s surface increase until the incoming solar radiation is once again balanced with the outgoing heat radiation.
The effectiveness of a greenhouse gas depends on a number of factors, including the wavelength at which the gas absorbs radiation, the gas concentration, the strength of the absorption per molecule and also whether other gases are already strongly absorbing at that particular wavelength. These factors are important because it means that different gases absorb radiation at different wavelengths, as Figure 5 shows.
Figure 5. Radiation transmitted by the atmosphere showing greenhouse gas absorption bands. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Atmospheric_Transmission.png
Water vapour for example, absorbs across a large number of bands, but particularly strongly near 6.3 μm and 2.7 μm due to changes in molecular vibrational energy, and also at wavelengths greater than 18 μm because of changes in rotational energy. CO2 on the other hand, absorbs around 4.3 μm, only weakly between 8-12 μm and most strongly in the 13-17 μm zone, centred on 15 μm (but also with significant absorption at 13.9 μm and 16.2 μm), which is right near the peak of the longwave radiation spectrum and causes more than 90% of the warming due to CO2. From about 7.7 μm to 12 μm, the so called “atmospheric window”, absorption by water vapour and CO2 is weak and other trace gases such as ozone (with a peak around 9.6 μm), methane (7.7 μm) and nitrous oxide (7.8 μm) absorb more strongly, despite their low concentrations. Other greenhouse gases such as the chlorofluorocarbons are present only in low concentrations but they are very powerful greenhouse gases and they absorb strongly in the atmospheric window where water vapour and CO2 are weak, at wavelengths such as 8.7 μm, 9.1 μm, 9.2 μm, 10.9μm and 11.8 μm.
It is important to emphasise that the atmospheric physics of the various greenhouse gases, including their effects on different wavelengths of outgoing longwave radiation, is well established both empirically and theoretically.  It is simply incorrect to assert that gases such as CO2 must have little effect because of their low concentrations compared to the main atmospheric gases.
False - twice. The warming effect of CO2 in the atmosphere diminishes logarithmically as its concentration increases, as Svante Arrhenius confirmed in 1896. It has been claimed by some who accept this logarithmic relationship, that a doubling of CO2 would only bring warming of around 1ºC and that since we have already experienced about 0.76°C of warming there is only a very small amount of benign warming still to come. But this claim is false in two different ways:
Firstly, basic radiation calculations show that for a doubling of CO2, surface temperatures would warm by around 1.2ºC (not 1ºC) if, and only if, the structure of the atmosphere and all other factors remained fixed. So the assertion that doubling CO2 would bring warming of only 1ºC is already about 0.2 ºC wide of the mark in this purely theoretical calculation.
Far more serious is the second way in which this assertion is false, namely that in the real world, the structure of the atmosphere and a host of other factors are not fixed at all. There are a large number of feedbacks in the climate system which reinforce the warming. If the logarithmic relation between CO2 concentration increases and temperature increases is accepted, and it is accepted that the 35% increase in CO2 concentrations from 280 to 379 ppm up to 2005 led to the approximately 0.76°C warming we have already experienced since pre-industrial times, then it is easily shown that a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels would likely lead to at least about 1.74ºC of warming.
This calculation however, presumes that we have already experienced the full effects of the increase in CO2 concentrations to 379 ppm. We haven’t. We have experienced some of the feedbacks from this increase, but by no means all. The climate system has momentum and delayed feedbacks, due to factors such as the immense volume of the oceans which take a long time to warm up. So there would have been a further ‘committed warming’ already guaranteed from the increase to 379 ppm even if all emissions had ceased in 2005. In other words, the 1.74ºC figure applies only if we ignore the committed warming we will get from past emissions and their feedbacks on the climate system – or if we presume (on the basis of a climate model?) that the feedbacks cancel out. Once those feedbacks are properly taken into account however, the temperature increase resulting from a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels (referred to as the ‘climate sensitivity’) is “likely to be in the range 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C.”
The most recent assessment of climate sensitivity by James Hansen and his team, based on empirical geological evidence, is even more disturbing. Hansen argues that the figure of 3°C for the sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 used in most climate models only accounts for ‘fast’ feedback effects, such as cloud formation, water vapour, and sea ice. Once ‘slow’ feedback effects are accounted for (on timescales of centuries or less), such as ice sheet disintegration, vegetation changes, and CO2 and methane releases from soils, tundra and ocean sediments, the climate sensitivity for a doubling of CO2 above pre-industrial levels is likely to be more like 6°C. This higher climate sensitivity suggests that a 300-325 ppm CO2 target is what we need for a safe climate with sea ice restored to its area of 25 years ago. Since CO2 levels are now approaching 390 ppm, this implies not only drastically reduced emissions but an extended period of actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Furthermore, even ignoring these feedback effects, emissions projections at current trajectories are likely to see CO2 levels of 1000 ppm by 2100, leading in turn to temperatures well over 3°C. What is the highest level of CO2 that those who are opposed to strong emissions reductions would consider safe? Is there any level of CO2 concentration they would agree is too high?
Let’s allow for the moment the argument that human greenhouse gas emissions have not contributed much at all to warming so far, and that the warming we’ve seen (which is not in dispute) is mostly of natural origin: What then is the policy implication? Well, the evidence from both theoretical physics and empirical data collected over more than 100 years show that these gases do contribute to warming, so if we’re already being subjected to natural warming, does that in any way lessen the case for reducing our emissions? Hardly. That argument only follows if, for sound theoretical reasons, we believe that the greenhouse gases we emit will have no significant impact on the climate. But such a judgement has no sound basis in science and could only be arrived at by use of a climate model, none of which show negligible impact from rising greenhouse gases.
should be remembered
then, that when critics spurn climate models as ‘voodoo science’,
that the sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2
is just 1ºC
or less, they must be implicitly adopting a climate model which either
all feedback effects, or which presumes that the feedbacks cancel out.
anything about the effects of greenhouse gases on climate, there is no
alternative but to use some kind of model – and any model that
assumes either that there are no feedback effects or that they all
is scientifically unjustifiable. As Reto Knutti from the Institute for
Atmospheric and Climate Science in
No credible model has been produced that questions the strong anthropogenic influence on climate in the past and future. I, therefore, argue that the large-scale model projections are very likely robust and accurate within the stated uncertainties.
Misleading. In general, whether something is a pollutant or not depends not on whether it is natural, but whether its concentration has increased sufficiently to adversely affect an ecosystem or human or animal health. Manure is natural and highly beneficial as a fertilizer on fields – but only up to a certain point. Even at current concentrations CO2 is already a pollutant, adversely affecting human and natural systems.
Those who make this argument often also imply that greenhouse gases in general aren’t pollutants. In doing so, they ignore the other main greenhouse gases released by human activities like CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide), plus around 60 other gases under the broad categories of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons), HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), PFCs (perfluorinated compounds) such as SF6 (sulfur hexafluoride), fluorinated ethers, perfluoropolyethers, halocarbons and other various other compounds. Many of these synthetic gases are extremely potent greenhouse gases and contribute significantly to the overall human influence on the climate.
False. No-one claims that increased greenhouse gas emissions are the only cause of climate change. Fluctuations in solar activity also influence the world’s climate, but their effects are taken into account by climate scientists and they are not enough to explain the changes we are seeing. A number of recent studies have debunked the notion that solar variations are responsible for the recent warming rather than greenhouse gases produced by humans, concluding:
After 1980 … the Earth's temperature exhibits a remarkably steep rise, while the Sun's irradiance displays at the most a weak secular trend. Hence the Sun cannot be the dominant source of this latest temperature increase, with man-made greenhouse gases being the likely dominant alternative.
Variations in the Sun's total energy output (luminosity) are caused by changing dark (sunspot) and bright structures on the solar disk during the 11-year sunspot cycle. The variations measured from spacecraft since 1978 are too small to have contributed appreciably to accelerated global warming over the past 30 years.
This comparison shows without requiring any recourse to modeling that since roughly 1970 the solar influence on climate (through the channels considered here) cannot have been dominant. In particular, the Sun cannot have contributed more than 30% to the steep temperature increase that has taken place since then, irrespective of which of the three considered channels is the dominant one determining Sun-climate interactions: tropospheric heating caused by changes in total solar irradiance, stratospheric chemistry influenced by changes in the solar UV spectrum, or cloud coverage affected by the cosmic ray flux.
[O]ver the past 20 years, all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth's climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures.
[E]ven large solar irradiance change combined with realistic volcanic forcing over past centuries could not explain the late 20th century warming without inclusion of greenhouse gas forcing. Although solar and volcanic effects appear to dominate most of the slow climate variations within the past thousand years, the impacts of greenhouse gases have dominated since the second half of the last century.
[T]he energy content of the climate system increased between about 1955 and 1995 by about 2 x 1023 J, equivalent to an energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere of 0.3 W/m2. Because incoming solar energy … has not changed, the imbalance must result from increased absorption of outgoing energy, such as by increased greenhouse gases.
Lean and Rind concluded that there was no chance that variation in solar radiation was primarily responsible for the warming witnessed in the 20th century:
For the ninety years from 1906 to 1996, the average slope of the anthropogenic–related temperature change … is 0.045 K per decade … Solar-induced warming is almost an order of magnitude smaller. It contributes 10%, not 65% … of surface warming in the past 100 years and, if anything, a very slight overall cooling in the past 25 years … not 20–30% of the warming.
It has also been shown that solar influences are not well correlated with long-term climatic changes, based on a 9000 year dataset.
Figure 6 shows, there is no strong trend in
solar activity that could explain recent warming, so the variation in
Figure 6. Total solar irradiance
Source: Forster et al. (2007), Fig. 2.17, p. 190. Caption: “Reconstructions of the total solar irradiance time series starting as early as 1600. The upper envelope of the shaded regions shows irradiance variations arising from the 11-year activity cycle. The lower envelope is the total irradiance reconstructed by Lean (2000), in which the long-term trend was inferred from brightness changes in Sun-like stars. In comparison, the recent reconstruction of Y. Wang et al. (2005) is based on solar considerations alone, using a flux transport model to simulate the long-term evolution of the closed flux that generates bright faculae.”
False. Cosmic rays are not really rays, but high-energy particles such as protons and helium nuclei (alpha particles) from the sun and other stars which enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Some studies have purported to show a degree of correlation in some parts of the world between cosmic ray fluxes and increases in low-level cloud cover. From these correlations, some have concluded that cosmic rays are a primary cause of increased cloud cover, which would have a cooling effect due to their greater reflectivity (albedo). When the Sun is more active, its magnetic field deflects more of these fast-moving particles away from the Earth, and so it is postulated that the influence of solar activity has been significantly underestimated since a more active sun would lead to fewer particles, fewer clouds and more warming. Other studies however have shown no correlation between cosmic ray fluxes and cloud cover. For example, an analysis of US data from 1900-1987 found that while solar irradiance variations were correlated with cloud cover changes, cosmic rays were not. Similarly, a 2002 review of the issue concluded:
No meaningful relationship is found between
cosmic ray intensity and cloud cover over tropical and extratropical
back to the 1950s. The high cosmic ray-cloud cover correlation in the
1983–1991 over the
In discussing this issue, the Royal Society concluded:
[O]bservations of clouds and galactic cosmic rays show that, at most, the possible link between cosmic rays and clouds only produces a small effect. Even if cosmic rays were shown to have a more substantial impact, the level of solar activity has changed so little over the last few decades the process could not explain the recent rises in temperature that we have seen.
In somewhat more detail, the IPCC concluded:
[T]he cosmic ray time series does not
correspond to global total cloud cover after 1991 or to global
cover after 1994 … without unproven de-trending … Furthermore, the
is significant with low-level cloud cover based only on infrared (not
detection. Nor do multi-decadal (1952 to 1997) time series of cloud
ship synoptic reports exhibit a relationship to cosmic ray flux.
appears to be a small but statistically significant positive
between cloud over the
Moreover, in assessing the scientific evidence for various climate forcing agents, the IPCC ranked cosmic rays as having ‘insufficient evidence’, ‘insufficient consensus’ and a ‘very low’ level of scientific understanding and a ‘General lack/doubt regarding the physical mechanism; dependence on correlation studies’.
More recently, the first calculations of the magnitude of the cosmic ray effect on clouds were published, with the authors concluding that the effect of cosmic rays was about 100 times too small to account for the observed changes in cloud properties: “Consequently we conclude that the hypothesized effect is too small to play a significant role in current climate change.”
It is possible then that cosmic rays do have some minor effects on the climate. But some people give enormous weight to the supposed effects of cosmic rays, despite their speculative foundations, inadequate evidence and a general view among scientists that they are unlikely to be very important in determining recent and projected climate changes. This stands in stark contrast to the often emphatic rejection of the warming effects of long-lived greenhouse gases by the same people, despite the fact that these gases are given the highest grades possible in each category of the IPCC’s assessment: ‘strong evidence’ for their warming impacts, a ‘good deal of consensus’ among the scientific community and a ‘high’ level of scientific understanding. This ‘uneven’ approach to the scientific evidence on cosmic rays compared with greenhouse gases appears to betray a pre-determined conclusion in a search of support, rather than an honest and rigorous appraisal of the weight of the available scientific evidence.
False. For some years an apparent discrepancy existed between the predictions by climate models that the tropical troposphere would be warming, and certain satellite data which suggested it was not. When a paper by Douglass et al. (2008) was published online in 2007, it was hailed by some as a knock-out blow for climate models in general and even the whole phenomenon of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. But a more recent assessment of the issue found serious flaws in the Douglass paper including a failure to account for natural variability and a flawed statistical test. Santer et al. (2008) concluded that “There is no longer a serious and fundamental discrepancy between modelled and observed trends”.
At the end of the ice ages, variations in the
Earth’s orbit and the angle of its axis warmed the planet again.
began to increase, followed 200 to 2000 years later by rising CO2
concentrations. The fact that warming generally preceded the CO2
increases has often been misrepresented as somehow proving that
increases in CO2
do not contribute to global warming. In fact it proves nothing of the
What it demonstrates is that CO2 was not the
forcing that drove the initial
warming after periods of glaciation. The initial phase of warming
only a fraction of the total warming period. For example, during the
we show that significant warming extends well beyond the
team used satellite observations from 1992
to 2006 covering 86% of
East Antarctica, small glacier losses in Wilkes Land and glacier gains
mouths of the Filchner and Ross ice shelves combine to a near-zero loss
Gt yr-1. In
One of the authors of
study, Eric Rignot, emphasised that, “Without doubt,
recent study found that mountain glaciers
and ice caps in
apparent paradox that is that Antarctic sea ice
cover increased since the late
particularly during autumn, despite warming in both the atmosphere and
The increase has not been uniform. Increases in the
The model shows that an increase in surface air temperature and downward longwave radiation results in an increase in the upper-ocean temperature and a decrease in sea ice growth, leading to a decrease in salt rejection from ice, in the upper-ocean salinity, and in the upper-ocean density. The reduced salt rejection and upper-ocean density and the enhanced thermohaline stratification tend to suppress convective overturning, leading to a decrease in the upward ocean heat transport and the ocean heat flux available to melt sea ice. The ice melting from ocean heat flux decreases faster than the ice growth does in the weakly stratified Southern Ocean, leading to an increase in the net ice production and hence an increase in ice mass. This mechanism is the main reason why the Antarctic sea ice has increased in spite of warming conditions both above and below during the period 1979–2004 and the extended period 1948–2004.
In other words, two opposing factors seem to be at work: The first factor is that warmer temperatures tend to reduce sea-ice growth. The second factor is that the reduction in sea-ice growth reduces salt rejection from the ice, which in turn reduces the salinity (and therefore the density) of the upper-ocean. The less dense upper-ocean water then impedes the upwelling of warmer waters to melt the ice from below. This second factor, impeding the upwelling heat available to melt the sea ice, has been stronger than the first factor, the warmer temperatures impeding ice growth. As a result, there has been a net increase in ice mass.
False. Quite the opposite in fact, for five main reasons:
IPCC noted that “In 2030 macro-economic
costs for multi-gas mitigation, consistent with
emissions trajectories towards stabilization between 445 and 710 ppm CO2-eq,
are estimated at between a 3% decrease of global
Australian Treasury found
similar figures for
Elsewhere, for 2020, the Australian Government’s White Paper states:
GNP is 1.3 per cent to 1.7 per cent below the reference case in 2020 in the CPRS [Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme] scenarios, and up to 2.0 per cent below the reference case in the Garnaut Final Report scenarios. These impacts are equivalent to about four months of economic growth, implying that the level of economic activity achieved in January 2020 in the reference case would be achieved in April 2020 in the CPRS scenarios.
Australian Government’s modelling concluded that even reaching a target
emissions reductions below 2000 levels by 2020 (which translates to 24%
1990 levels – the usual baseline used in international negotiations)
economic impact would be likely to be only 0.1 percentage points
real per capita GNP growth. To put that figure into some context, by
If we accept the IPCC’s and Treasury’s modelling then, there are no serious economic impediments to strong action on climate change. But are there reasons to doubt this type of modelling? Yes – but these doubts only make the case for action even more compelling.
The key to the IPCC’s and Treasury’s framework is the ‘baseline’ projections for GNP growth that are used to provide a benchmark against which to compare the ‘costs’ of mitigating climate change. Regrettably, these baselines generally do not take into account the economic costs of letting climate change run its course. The computable-general equilibrium (CGE) models used for this analysis are rarely well-integrated with dynamic climate models.
For example, in the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030, some of the most important sentences in the whole report for understanding the implications of the economic models are tucked away in an appendix:
The OECD Environmental
shows the impact of the global economy’s development on the physical
i.e. the environment. It does not, however, reflect the environmental
back on the economy. Failing to provide this fully integrated picture
implications. First, the Baseline fails to reflect
The ‘Baseline’ projection then, with which all policy responses are compared, does not take into account the likely effects of climate change on the global economy. In Australia, the Garnaut Review and Treasury analysis in Australia’s Low Pollution Future, both used a ‘Garnaut-Treasury Reference Case’ in which emissions and GNP growth were projected as far as 2100. . Critically, as Figure 7 shows, the likely impacts of unmitigated climate change on the economy are again not taken into account in the reference case.
Figure 7. Chart 1 from the Australian Treasury’s analysis
Source: Australian Government (2008a), pp. xii. Box and arrow added.
For example, Treasury says,
The modelling does not include the economic impacts of climate change itself, so does not assess the benefits of reducing climate change risks through mitigation.
The reference scenario … presents a plausible future path for economic growth, population levels, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in a world without climate change. The reference scenario is not a prediction and does not include risks arising from climate change itself.
Nor apparently, are the constraints of natural resources or sinks considered, since global output in the reference case is projected to be 17 times current levels by 2100. The Garnaut Review further noted that, “By the end of the century, the concentration of long-lived greenhouse gases is 1565 ppm CO2-e, and carbon dioxide concentrations are over 1000 ppm – more than 3.5 times higher than pre-industrial concentrations.” The consequences of such a drastic rise in emissions have no impact on economic growth in the reference case.
While it is useful to conduct such a modelling exercise to get a sense of where global economic and emissions trends are leading us, it is quite another matter to suggest that comparison with such a ‘reference case’ constitutes a useful basis for estimating the ‘costs’ of mitigating climate change. The Garnaut Review, to its credit, acknowledged this problem and tried to estimate the costs of climate change on the economy, distinguishing four types of costs, only the first of which could be estimated with any confidence. The Treasury analysis did not do this, instead presenting results as “Overall mitigation cost, 2010-2050” (p. xii) for the various scenarios, with the ‘costs’ of mitigation presented as being around 0.1 percentage points of annual GNP per capita growth. It also asserts:
introduction of emission pricing will reduce
statements however, are quite misleading
presentations of the results. While it is true that in the context of
model, emissions pricing reduces GNP relative to the reference
result cannot be transferred to the real world with any great relevance
the first few years. It cannot be asserted for example, on the basis of
modelling exercise, that
The methodology used in the Treasury analysis guarantees by assumption that any serious mitigation efforts will look like a net cost because they are being compared with an imaginary economic growth trajectory in which climate change does not exist. In fact, the modelling approach used does not allow us to say anything about the real world net costs of mitigation since the exercise must be viewed over a multi-decade time frame, during which unchecked climate change would certainly lead to major economic impacts. The baseline ‘reference case’ cannot occur because it ignores the impacts of climate change on the economy. A model that fully integrated the global economic and climate systems would be far more likely to show that strong mitigation action is the only way to prevent catastrophic climate change and so ensure that we retain a living standard even comparable to today, let alone global output being 17 times greater than today and Australian incomes per capita being US$137,000 in 2100 compared with US$36,000 in 2005 as the Garnaut Review envisages.
In summary, projecting a reference case for economic growth out to 2050 or 2100 based on past experience and ‘business as usual projections’, as if climate change was not happening, does not constitute an adequate basis for comparing the costs and benefits of mitigation measures. It is like deciding whether or not to hose a house down based purely on the cost of the water, ignoring the fact that the house is on fire.
Most economic analysis of climate change simply presumes that economic growth will continue onward and upward, regardless of any impacts climate change might have on economies and societies. Most economic models are not well integrated with biophysical, political or financial models. So they cannot, for example, examine the effects of famines and mass migrations on the stability of governments, the likelihood of conflict and the impacts on investment decisions and financial markets. Neither can they account for the impacts of sea-level rise on coastal property values, financial markets and insurance markets.
once ice sheet dynamics are taken into account, sea-levels are likely
at least 0.8 m and possibly even 2 metres by 2100.
one metre sea-level rise would impact around 105 million people in
8. Likely climate impacts in
sea-level issue is particularly important since it is often assumed
sea-level rise represents a slow, progressive inundation that is
straightforward to manage. But one of the greatest dangers from higher
the storm surges which accompany tropical storms and which can often be
metres high. The storm surge accompanying cyclone Nargis in
As the science relating to sea-level rise continues to consolidate over the next decade, the potential for future sea level rises and associated shoreline erosion and storm surges are likely to have very serious implications for coastal property values and insurance premiums around the world. A critical point is that the sea-level rises do not have to have taken place yet for projected rises to have immediate economic effects. Properties used for loan collateral may be devalued by lenders and land taxes may become delinked from falling property values. Over time insurance premiums may also climb across entire economies if losses in coastal areas and from extreme weather events are cross-subsidised by insurance companies from elsewhere. These climate system-financial market links do not appear to be captured by current modeling.
are already being raised in
major international impacts noted by
Key Australian export markets are projected to have significantly lower economic activity as a result of climate change. This is likely to feed back into significantly lower Australian export prices and terms of trade.
extremes and large fluctuations in rainfall and temperatures have the
Climate change can generate security risks through infectious disease. … A study by the World Health Organization (2002) estimated that 154 000 deaths annually were already attributable to the ancillary effects of climate change due mainly to malaria and malnutrition. The study suggests that this number could nearly double by 2020.
In the future … climate refugees could constitute the fastest-growing proportion of refugees globally, with serious consequences for international security.
geopolitical implications of water projections in
With changes in monsoon patterns, glacial
flows and population growth, by the 2050s more than a billion people in
and South Asia could be suffering significant water shortages, and crop
could decrease by 30 per cent.
The Garnaut Review also warned
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (2002) has
that food production in
In 2008 there were food riots in more than 30 countries as the price of food staples skyrocketed due to several factors that included reduced harvests due to drought and diversion of land to first-generation biofuels. Food prices are closely tied to economic and political stability and so can have major economic impacts beyond their first-round effects.
IPCC also noted that
The gross per capita water availability in India will decline from about 1,820 m3/yr in 2001 to as low as about 1,140 m3/yr in 2050 … India will reach a state of water stress before 2025 when the availability falls below 1000 m3 per capita.
is substantial potential for tension between
are enormous humanitarian and security implications of probable
water shortages across
Like most economic analyses which are unable to incorporate the nonlinear effects of major conflicts into their economic models, the Garnaut Review noted these concerns, but downplayed their likely economic impacts:
change may lead to geopolitical instability, which will require an
the capability and requirements of
of course extremely difficult to envisage the economic and social
of geopolitical instability, but the outlook is sobering. Island states
Pacific face increasing pressures, and in
balance it is likely that the total economic costs of future
Another reason much of the discussion about the economic costs of addressing climate change are likely to be overestimated is because the industries lobbying against the changes have every incentive to overestimate the impacts in order to persuade governments to be less stringent with regulations and more generous with assistance packages. Around the world as governments have prepared to introduce emissions trading schemes or carbon taxes, industries have lined up to explain why such measures would ruin them. It is instructive to analyse what actually happened to industries in the past when such measures were introduced.
While fighting the introduction of a new law, companies have every inventive to overstate the compliance costs. Once a new law is introduced resources are at least partially switched to innovating to minimize compliance costs.
Some policymakers and elected officials are concerned that measures to address climate change could be ‘market distorting’ and therefore ‘inefficient’. This perspective needs to be challenged because it rests on an unspoken assumption that the current market environment is efficient. In fact, the entire problem of anthropogenic climate change has been caused by the most colossal market failure in history – the failure of prices to reflect the true costs of emissions for the last 200 years. Our markets and our entire industrial structure are currently distorted by this long-term market failure and also by explicit subsidies to emission-intensive fuels and industries.
Markets do not exist in a vacuum. They rest on complex legal foundations that include standards, regulations, contract and employment law, human rights law, dispute resolution mechanisms and so on. Real-world markets are also characterized by imperfect information and information asymmetries, principal-agent problems (eg. lack of incentives for landlords to improve energy efficiency for tenants), imperfect credit and risk markets, coordination failures, rent-seeking by firms, rapidly evolving technologies, and natural monopolies (such as rail or fibre-optic network infrastructure).
Today, new low-carbon industries are trying to establish themselves and compete with established emissions-intensive industries on a playing field that is severely distorted in favour of heavy emitters. It is entirely appropriate that a raft of policy measures be used to correct this distortion. Such measures should include market measures such as emissions trading, but in the context of a highly distorted market, policymakers should not assume that others measures are ‘market distorting’ or ‘sub-market’.
Measures such as higher efficiency standards, subsidies for low-emissions renewable technologies, public investment in network infrastructure and so on would, in fact, make the market more efficient by enabling the price signals it sends to better reflect the true costs of emissions.
Current markets and industrial structures are highly distorted by the pervasive externality of the historic failure of prices to reflect the true costs of emissions. Correction of these distortions through a combination of market-measures, regulations, subsidies and standards should not be viewed as ‘market-distorting’ but ‘market correcting’, ensuring that prices better reflect the true costs of emissions.
As the true costs of greenhouse gas emissions come to be better reflected in prices, and as energy efficiency standards are tightened we see the emergence of a clean industrial revolution with thousands of new jobs being created. Many of these are labour-intensive, blue collar jobs – both in rural and urban areas: building new distributed renewable energy systems and smart power grids, retrofitting buildings and homes, building new mass transit infrastructure, installing renewable energy systems at large and small scales, and so on.
2009 the US Government released a comprehensive assessment of the
climate change on the
It is clear that climate change is happening now. The observed climate changes we report are not opinions to be debated. They are facts to be dealt with.
Many who describe themselves as ‘skeptics’ however, continue to distort the public debate on climate change, portraying themselves as a courageous band of level-headed rebels struggling against a vast global conspiracy to deceive the world and take away our freedom. If only it were true. If any one of them had been able to offer convincing evidence that anthropogenic greenhouse emissions were not contributing to climate change they would have received the Nobel Prize instead of the IPCC, along with the thanks of a grateful world.
Instead, those who contest the link between anthropogenic emissions and climate change tend to concentrate on CO2, ignoring the other very potent greenhouse gases human beings have released. They also, bizarrely, frequently attribute this fixation to climate scientists, accusing them of focusing solely on CO2 and ignoring factors such as water vapour. Even a cursory examination of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report shows this to be nonsense. They also tend to make a great deal of minor discrepancies in atmospheric temperature data and year-to-year fluctuations, largely ignoring the huge body of other evidence for climate change and its impacts such as:
· The widespread melting of glaciers
accelerated melting of the
· Unexpectedly rapid sea-level rise
· Tens of thousands of observed changes in species ranges and timing of annual ecosystem events
· Rapid Arctic ice melting, well ahead of expectations
· The warming of the oceans
· The acidification of the oceans due to CO2 absorption
· The spread of oxygen-starved dead zones in the oceans
· Changing hydrological and rainfall patterns with more extreme rainfall events
· Changes in the height of the tropopause, the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere
· The cooling of the stratosphere due to more heat being trapped in the troposphere below
· The expansion of the Earth’s tropical belt, and consequent movement of the subtropical dry zones and jet-streams towards the poles
· The greater intensity of cyclones
· Influence of CO2 levels on past climate changes
Those opposed to strong emissions reductions also seem remarkably cavalier about the possibilities of long-term consequences, many of which are irreversible, including:
· Sudden shifts in the climate system
· Dramatic oscillations in the climate system
· A decline in the effectiveness of natural CO2 sinks, accelerating atmospheric CO2 accumulation
· A reinforcement of human-induced emissions by carbon-cycle feedbacks
· The potential for large releases of methane from melting permafrost and marine deposits
· Multi-metre sea-level rises as warming continues after 2100
· The high probability that warming induced by our emissions would last for many thousands of years
· The likelihood of significantly greater insect predation on forests and food supplies
· The likely expansion of the world’s deserts
· Threats to global food security
· Threats to global freshwater supplies
· Threats to human health
· Species extinctions and threats to biodiversity
· The commitment of ecosystems to further deterioration, such as the dieback of the Amazon, for decades after temperatures are stabilised
· A significant, potentially permanent, deterioration in international security and the emergence of major conflicts
· A legacy that could amount to the greatest wholesale violation of the rights of children in human history.
In their book Poles Apart: Beyond the Shouting, Who’s Right About Climate Change, authors Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal set out to weigh the evidence on human contributions to climate change. Trying to be as fair as possible to different views, they engaged two separate panels of expert advisers, one representing mainstream climate scientists, and the other the skeptics, to guide them through the best evidence on both sides. Their conclusion, though polite, was damning:
The Alarmists were right, and we shouldn’t call them alarmists any more – or at least not all of them! And further, it has to be said that only a few of the Sceptics are actually sceptics: too many are mere gadflies and deniers.
the most forceful recent condemnation of those who continue to deny
greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are contributing to
change came from the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics,
Paul Krugman. Writing after the vote on the Waxman-Markey climate
in the US Congress, Krugman considered the implications of unmitigated
change for the
So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement. But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases. And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason – treason against the planet. To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research. The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe – a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable – can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course. …
… if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it – and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial. …
… Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual? Yes, it is – and that’s why it’s unforgivable. … the existential threat from climate change is all too real. Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.
Strong language indeed. But when we consider, as Krugman does, the fact that the most recent scientific projections are considerably more dire than even a few years ago, strong language is justified. The team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for example, recently undertook a comprehensive reassessment of the likely outcomes if we do not act decisively to rein in emissions. In 2003 they had concluded that the median likely outcome (with 50% of projections above and below the median) was 2.4°C of warming above 1990 levels, or 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels. In their recent reassessment, based on a significantly improved model and improved input parameters, they increased this median projection to 5.2°C, with a 90% probability range of 3.5°C to 7.4°C above 1990 levels, or equivalently a 5.7°C median with a 90% range of 4.0°C to 7.9°C above pre-industrial levels. The word ‘disaster’ hardly begins to capture the consequences of warming anywhere close to 5.7°C above pre-industrial levels, let alone 7.9°C.
Science is driven by genuine inquiry and genuine skepticism. But continued denial of overwhelming evidence from multiple sources is not genuine skepticism. Denial is understandable from a psychological point of view – no-one wants the projections of severe climate change to be true. But dressing up denial in scientific obfuscation does not contribute constructively to the public policy debate. Like those who continued to deny the links between smoking and cancer and between HIV and AIDS long after the evidence was in, those continuing to deny the links between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are using specious arguments that have been repeatedly shown to be false, weak or irrelevant in the peer-reviewed scientific literature in order to try to thwart action. Those earlier cases of denial were serious enough. But when we consider what now is at stake for our societies, for the poor, for our children, for the other species on our planet, and for future generations, strong language is not inappropriate. It is time to listen to the warnings of the scientists and to pull together to prevent a catastrophe unparalleled in human history.
I am grateful to Roger Jones, John Finnigan, Christian Jakob, Neville Nichols, Kamal Siddiqui, Brett Inder, Will Steffen, Jeff McLean, Ed Lockhart, Simon Angus, Behrooz Hassani-M., Dave Batten, Simon Angus, Roger Bradbury, Anne-Marie Grisogono, Rachel Coghlan, Gerard Finnigan, Bill Pheasant, Melanie Gow, Paul Ronalds, Tim Costello and David Lansley for useful discussions and particularly to Barry Brook, Andrew Glickson, Dave Griggs, Greame Pearman, Tony Kevin, Mike Raupach, Beth Fulton, Michael Ashley, Chris Shore and Julie Tanaka for comments on an earlier draft. None are responsible for the opinions expressed here, or for any remaining errors.
Brett Parris is a
Research Fellow at
 This is not an idle comparison. See for example the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (2007) documentation of how one oil company’s tactics were virtually identical to those of the tobacco lobby.
 Stern (2007).
 Stern (2009), p. 35.
 Leemans (2008), p. 12.
 Biello (2007).
 Leemans (2008), p. 13.
 Palutikof (2009).
 Thomas et al. (2004), p. 145.
 Palutikof (2009).
 IPCC (2007b), p. 11.
 Biello (2007).
 IPCC (2007d), p. 67.
 IPCC (2007a), p. 13.
 Garnaut (2008), Table 11.2, p. 254.
 Rahmstorf (2007), Pfeffer et al. (2008).
 One reason includes the so-called Kruger-Dunning effect in psychology, whereby less competent people often rate their abilities and understanding more highly than competent people do, since they are blind to the limitations of their own understanding. See an explanation here and Kruger & Dunning (1999) in the reference list.
 Doran & Zimmerman (2009).
 Doran & Zimmerman (2009), p. 23.
 Tyndall (1861).
 Arrhenius (1896).
 Callendar (1938).
 IPCC (2007a), p. 5.
 IPCC (2007a), p. 3.
 IPCC (2007a), p. 5
 IPCC (2007b), p. 19.
 IPCC (2007a), p. 12.
 Ramanathan & Feng (2008), p. 14245.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 287.
 Overpeck et al. (2006), p. 1747.
 Alley et al. (2005), p. 456 ; Pagani et al. (2005).
 Steffensen et al. (2008), pp. 680-681.
 National Research Council (2002), p. 27. See also: Pearce (2007), pp. 149-150; Alley (2000).
 National Research Council (2002), p. 153.
 Alley (2004), p. 64.
 Rohling et al. (2008), p. 38.
 Jansen et al. (2007), FAQ 6.2 Is the Current Climate Change Unusual Compared to Earlier Changes in Earth’s History? p. 465.
 IPCC (2007a) p. 11.
 Gillett et al. (2008), p. 750. See also Post et al. (2009).
 Kerr (2007), p. 1859. See also Rosenzweig et al. (2008).
 Barnett et al. (2005), p. 284.
 Patz et al. (2005), p. 310.
 Stott et al. (2004), p. 610.
Lean & Rind (2008), p. 5,
referring to Allen et al. (2006).
 Alley et al. (2005).
 IPCC (2007b), p. 17.
 Anthoff et al. (2006).
 Hansen et al. (2006), p. 14292.
 Jungclaus (2009), p. 469.
 Archer (2009), p. 62.
 Hansen et al. (1978).
 Schmidt (2007); Randall et al. (2007), FAQ 8.1: How Reliable Are the Models Used to Make Projections of Future Climate Change?, pp. 600-601. For a good recent overview see also Reichler & Kim (2008).
 Smith et al. (2007).
 Crutchfield et al. (1986), p. 41.
 See for example Auyang (1998), one of the best inter-disciplinary introductions to complex systems science.
 I say this as an economist. For an outstanding overview of the limitations of current economic models see DeCanio (2003). Ackerman (2008) is also very good.
 Peterson et al. (2008).
 Easterling & Wehner (2009), p. 1.
 Garnaut, (2008), p. 79.
 AchutaRao et al. (2007); Barnett, et al. (2005); Levitus et al. (2009).
 Lean & Rind (2009), p. 1.
 Trenberth et al. (2007), pp. 286-295.
 See: Wild (2009); Wild et al. (2009).
 Lean & Rind (2009), p. 1.
 See for example, Pecora et al. (1997).
 Tsonis et al. (2007); Swanson & Tsonis (2009).
 Swanson & Tsonis (2009), p. 4.
 See: Pearce (2007); Alley (2004), Lenton et al. (2008).
 Hansen et al. (2007a), p. 1925.
 Taylor et al. (1993).
 On the security implications see: Dupont (2008), Chellaney (2007), Campbell et al. (2007) & Campbell (2008).
 Boko et al. (2007), p. 435.
 Qiu, (2008).
 IPCC, (2007b), p. 13.
 See: Le Treut et al. (2007), FAQ 1.3 What is the Greenhouse Effect?, pp. 115-116.
 Mitchell (1989), p. 116. μm stands for ‘micro-metres’ and equals 10-6 metres, or 0.000001 metres.
 Mitchell (1989), p. 136.
 Mitchell (1989), p. 136.
 Mitchell (1989), p. 118; Dickinson & Cicerone (1986), p. 110; Clough & Iacono (1995), p. 16,523; Hansen et al. (1981), p. 958; Kiehl & Ramanathan (1983), Table 1, p. 5192; Kiehl (1985). Ellingson & Gille (1978) report close agreement between modelled and observed spectral radiance. Original empirical data can be found in McClatchey et al. (1973), Gryvnak et al. (1976), and most recently in the 2008 version of the HITRAN database, described in Rothman et al. (2009) and found at: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/hitran/
 Mitchell (1989), p. 119; Wang et al. (1976), pp. 687-688; Dickinson & Cicerone (1986), p. 110; Donner & Ramanathan (1980).
 Mitchell (1989), p. 119, Table 2. Wave numbers, v, in units of cm-1 are converted to wavelengths, λ, in units of μm, by the following formula: λ = (1/v )* 10,000.
 For a good introduction see Petty (2006).
 Arrhenius (1896). This means that each doubling of CO2 adds a fixed amount of radiative forcing and, to a first approximation, temperature increase (Enting, 2007, p. 41-43).
 The calculation is as follows: ΔTe = TeΔQ/(1- α)S ≈ 1.2°C, where ΔTe = change in equilibrium temperature; Te = initial equilibrium temperature = 288 K; ΔQ = increase of radiative forcing from a doubling of CO2 ≈ 4 W m-2; α = planetary reflectivity or albedo = 0.3; S = solar constant = 1,370 W m-2. Source: Lorius et al. (1990), p. 139.
see this, consider that
the increase of CO2 from 280 to 379 ppm by 2005
has already led to a
best-estimate temperature increase of 0.76°C
is the 90% confidence range]
(IPCC, 2007a, pp. 2 & 5). With a logarithmic relationship
concentrations and radiative forcing (or temperature, roughly) the
forcing factor for a doubling of CO2 =
ln(560/280) = ln(2) =
0.693147. (To get the actual change in radiative forcing in
 IPCC, (2007a), p. 12; and see also Roe & Baker (2007) for a good discussion of why it is difficult to narrow the range of climate sensitivity further than 2 to 4.5°C.
 Hansen et al. (2008).
 Hansen et al. (2008), p. 226.
 The 1000 ppm figure is from Garnaut (2008), p. 246. It is equivalent to about 1600 ppm CO2-e.
 Knutti (2008).
 Forster et al. (2007), pp. 141, 212-213.
 Solanki (2002), p. 5.13.
 Foukal et al. (2006), p. 161.
 Solanki & Krivova (2003), p. 1
 Lockwood & Fröhlich (2007), p. 2447. See also Lockwood & Fröhlich (2008a & b).
 Ammann et al. (2007), p. 3713.
 Duffy et al. (2009), p. 48.
 Lean & Rind (2008), p. 5. See also Lean et al. (2005).
 Turney et al. (2005).
 Udelhofen & Cess (2001).
 Sun & Bradley (2002), p. 1.
 The Royal Society (2008), p. 9.
 Forster et al. (2007), p. 193.
 Forster et al. (2007), p. 202.
 Pierce & Adams (2009), p. 1.
 Forster et al. (2007), p. 201.
 Caillon et al. (2003), p. 1730. See also Timmermann et al. (2009).
 Steig et al. (2009), p. 459.
 Cook et al. (2005), p. 541.
 Pritchard & Vaughan (2007), p. 1.
 Rignot et al. (2008). Gt yr-1 means ‘billion tonnes per year’.
 Kaufman (2008).
 Hock et al. (2009), p. 1.
 Turner et al. (2009), p. 1.
 Turner et al. (2009), p. 1.
 Zhang (2007), p. 2515.
 IPCC (2007c), pp. 11-12.
 Australian Government (2008a), p. xii.
 Australian Government (2008b), p. 4-12. Emphasis added.
 Long, (1973), pp. 5 & 474.
 See Hall & Behl (2006).
 OECD (2008), p. 513.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 59-62; Australian Government (2008a), Chapter 3.
 Australian Government (2008a), p. xi.
 Australian Government (2008a), p. 27.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 69.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 86.
 Garnaut (2008), pp. 247-249.
 Australian Government (2008a), p. 137. Emphasis added.
 Australian Government (2008a), p. 144. Emphasis added.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 130.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 69.
 Rahmstorf (2007); Pfeffer et al. (2008).
 Anthoff et al. (2006).
 Garnaut (2008), p. 148.
 Fritz et al. (2008a, 2009); Luetz (2008), p. 12.
 Fritz et al. (2008b).
 Michael (2007).
 Millar (2008).
 Garnaut (2008), p. 125.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 145.
 Garnaut (2008), 147.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 149.
the Review discusses in Garnaut
 Qiu (2008).
 IPCC (2007b), p. 13.
 Garnaut (2008), p. 146.
 Cruz et al. (2007), p. 484.
 Klare (2001), pp. 182-189. See also Pai (2008).
 IPCC (2007c), Fig 3.5, p. 49.
 Garnaut (2008), Box 6.5, p. 147.
 See Dyer (2008), Schubert et al. (2008), Campbell et al. (2007); Campbell (2008); Chellaney (2007).
 Garnaut (2008), p. 260.
 Hwang & Peak (2006).
 Riedy & Diesendorf (2003).
 For an early discussion see Commons (1924).
more on the clean
industrial revolution strong jobs growth that action on climate change
 See: Karl et al. (2009) and:
 Cook et al. (2005); Ding et
al. (2006); Hock et al.
(2009); Holland et al. (2008);
Howat et al. (2008); Kehrwald et
Meier et al. (2007) ;
Pritchard & Vaughan (2007); Thompson et
al. (2006); UNEP & WGMS (2008); WWF
 Chen et al. (2006); Zwally et al. (2002).
 Rahmstorf et al. (2007); Church & White (2006); Church et al. (2008).
 Rosenzweig et al. (2008); Menzel et al. (2006); Parmesan & Yohe (2003).
 Stroeve et al. (2007); Wang & Overland (2009).
 Barnett et al. (2005b); Domingues et al. (2008); Levitus et al. (2005); Levitus et al. (2009).
 Hoegh-Guldberg et al. (2007); Hofmann & Schellnhuber (2009) ; McNeil & Matear (2008) ; Orr et al. (2005); Riebesell (2008); Silverman et al. (2009); Zeebe et al. (2008).
 Diaz & Rosenberg (2008); Hofmann & Schellnhuber (2009); Huey & Ward (2005); Kiehl & Shields (2005); Meyer & Kump (2008). Shaffer et al. (2009)
 Barnett et al. (2008); Quetelard et al. (2009) ; Rajeevan et al. (2008); Zhang et al. (2007).
 Santer et al. (2003).
 Ramaswamy et al. (2006)
 Seidel et al. (2008); Johansen & Fu (2009).
 Elsner et al. (2008); Emanuel (2005a,b); Lin et al. (2009); Webster et al. (2005); Yu & Wang (2009).
 Came et al. (2007); DeConto & Pollard (2003); Fletcher et al. (2008); Glickson (2008); Lunt (2008); Royer (2006); Royer et al. (2004); Royer et al. (2007).
 Alley et al. (2003); Alley (2004); Bamber et al. (2007); Kobashi et al. (2008); Lenton et al. (2008); MacCracken et al. (2008); Narisma et al. (2007); Pearce (2007); Steffensen et al. (2008); Thompson et al. (2006).
 Meissner et al. (2008); Taylor et al. (1993).
 Arnone et al. (2008); Baker (2007); Baldocchi (2005); Ciais et al. (2005); Le Quéré et al. (2007, 2008); Canadell et al. (2007a); Canadell et al. (2007b); Frieldlingstein et al. (2006); Lenton et al. (2009); Sitch et al. (2008).
 Cox et al. (2000); Friedlingstein et al. (2006); Jones et al. (2003); Matthews & Keith (2007); O'ishi et al. (2009); Torn & Harte (2006).
 Archer (2007, 2009), Archer et al. (2008); Khvorostyanov et al. (2008); Reagan & Moridis (2007); Schuur et al. (2008); Schuur et al. (2009); Solomon et al. (2009) ; Tarnocai et al. (2009); Walter et al. (2006); Walter et al. (2007a); Walter et al. (2007b) ; Westbrook et al. (2009).
 Bamber et al. (2007); Bamber et al. (2009); Charbit et al. (2008); Pollard & DeConto (2009); Rignot & Jacobs (2002); Rohling et al. (2008); Rohling et al. (2009).
 Archer et al. (2008); Archer & Brovkin (2008); Doney & Schimel (2007); Eby et al. (2009); Lowe et al. (2009); Montenegro et al. (2007); Plattner (2009); Solomon et al. (2009).
 Kurz et al. (2008), Currano et al. (2008); DeLucia et al. (2008).
 Zeng & Yoon (2009).
 Battisti & Naylor (2009); Brown & Funk (2008); Challinor et al. (2007); Funk et al. (2008); Lobell & Field (2007); Parris (2008); Parry et al. (2004); Schlenker & Roberts (2009); Schmidhuber & Tubiello (2007).
 Barnett et al. (2005a) ; Barnett et al. (2008); Kehrwald et al. (2008); Levi (2008); Overpeck & Cole (2007); Qiu (2008); Rosenzweig et al. (2004); Singh & Bengtsson (2004).
 Alsop (2007); Bunyavanich et al. (2003); Costello et al. (2009); Epstein & Miles (2005); Haines et al. (2006); Luber & McGeehin (2008); McMichael et al. (2004); McMichael et al. (2006); Patz et al. (2005); Patz et al. (2007); VicHealth (2009).
 Chivian & Bernstein (2008); Colwell et al. (2008); Huey & Ward (2005); Kiehl & Shields (2005); Lovejoy (2009); Meyer & Kump (2008); Møller et al. (2008); Pennisi (2008); Thomas et al. (2004); Vaquer-Sunyer & Duarte (2008).
 Jones et al. (2009).
 Busby (2007); Campbell et al. (2007); Campbell (2008); Chellaney (2007a, b); Dupont (2008); Pai (2008); Reuveny (2007); Schubert et al. (2008); Wallace (2009).
Save the Children (2007, 2008);
UNICEF (2007, 2008), UNICEF
 Morgan & McCrystal (2009), p. 248.
 Krugman (2009).
 Webster et al. (2003).
 Sokolov et al. (2009). For a report on the study, see Chandler (2009).
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