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Global Warming: Snapshot

Global warming – climate change – is surely the most famous and possibly the most serious environmental issue of our time. We aim to throw a sceptical light on it. (By the way, we are not “deniers”.)

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A large majority of climate specialists believe that real-world observations and computer models about the past, present and future of the world’s climate show that man’s industrialised activities have warmed the planet and will continue to do so.

This body of opinion is often called the “consensus” view, and has been sponsored by the UN and World Meteorological Office’s IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change) process. It is supported by most scientists, many European and other governments, and by most environmental NGO’s (Non Governmental Organisations).

Most in the “consensus” believe the effects of global warming will be mostly very bad. Almost all of these scientists believe we should have an intensive global programme to reduce the emissions of the offending “greenhouse gases” by 60, 70, 80 or even 90 percent by 2050. Along with most NGOs they support the Kyoto process. This is an international treaty that binds its signatories to about 5 percent reductions (on 1990 levels) by 2012. Its targets are very unlikely to be met. There have are already international negotiations about targets for after 2012.

There is a great deal of debate about how easy it might be to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gases. Sir Nicholas Stern, for instance, produced a review in 2006 suggesting it might be rather easy. Here’s a clip of Sir Nicholas on BBC News from YouTube.

Some very respected opinion says that some quite or very dire climate change effects are now inevitable.

The “consensus” body of opinion tends to be dismissive of the alternative body of opinion, which is in part supported and funded by the US energy industry, and known – usually by its enemies – as the “sceptical” or “contrarian” view.

One of the most famous contrarians (Bjorn Lomborg) accepts the scientific stances of the IPCC consensus, but suggests that Kyoto is an expensive and ineffective – and politically unsellable – approach to the problem. Many governments – the US, Australia and various Asian countries – incline to this view (and are accused of cynicism for it).

The “sceptics” tend to highlight the large uncertainties surrounding global warming science, and to remind their audience that the effects of global warming will not necessarily be bad for the world’s economy and well-being as a whole.

There is a complicated debate between the sceptics and the contrarians, in which the rival merits and demerits of “adjusting” or “adapting” to the effects of Global Warming are assessed, and compared with those of “mitigating” the warming by reducing man’s emissions of Greenhouse gases. The debate is heated and quite bad-tempered. Each side is inclined to accuse the other of dishonesty. Actually, behind the smoke and fury, there are plenty of instances of people seeing the merit in elements of all the many shades of opinion on this subject.

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