Azara Blog: Global warming being over-hyped

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Date published: 2006/04/20

The BBC says:

Hardly a day goes by without a new dire warning about climate change. But some claims are more extreme than others, giving rise to fears that the problem is being oversold and damaging the issue.

How much has the planet warmed up over the past century? Most people reckon between two and three degrees. They are not even close. The real figure, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is 0.6C.

It's not surprising most people get it wrong. We are bombarded by stories warning us that global warming is out of control. The most extreme warn us we will be living in a tropical Britain where malaria is rife and Norfolk has disappeared altogether.

Dr Hans Von Storch, a leading German climate scientist and fervent believer in global warming, is convinced the effect of climate change is being exaggerated.

"The alarmists think that climate change is something extremely dangerous, extremely bad and that overselling a little bit, if it serves a good purpose, is not that bad."

Why do the stories that reach the public focus only on the most frightening climate change scenarios? We decided to find out for a BBC Radio 4 documentary.

In 2005 the scientific journal Nature published the first results of a study by Climateprediction.net, a group of UK climate scientists. They had been testing what effect doubling the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere would have on temperature.

The vast majority of their results showed that doubling CO2 would lead to a temperature rise of about 3C. Such an increase would have a major impact on the planet. The scientists of Climateprediction.net say that is what you would expect their model to produce, and many other scientists have produced similar results. However a tiny percentage of the models showed very high levels of warming - the highest result was a startling 11C.

When it came to selling the story to journalists, the press release only mentioned one figure - 11C.

The basic problem is that people (including scientists and the media) always have to hype everything just to get any attention. (Just look at British TV these days. Unless you are a one-legged child-molesting porn star with some rare fatal disease who believes you have been kidnapped by aliens, you can forget about getting any air time. It's one big freak show. Everything has to be "extreme".)

Of course people who are anti-consumerist, in particular so-called environmentalists and many academics (although they are some of the biggest consumers), love the threat of global warming (and in particular love the extreme scenarios), because it means they can use this as part of their anti-consumerism crusade. In the old days you could rant against consumerism because God (allegedly) did not like it and so you were saving the world from moral catastrophe, now you can rant against consumerism because climate science allows you to claim you are saving the world from carbon catastrophe.

There are plenty of people (including some otherwise respectable scientists) who believe that if any model shows an 11C increase in temperature then "something must be done today". This is based on the so-called precautionary principle, which is not a principle but just a lazy slogan for people who have no real argument. In short, it says that if there is some catastrophic event that has any probability of occuring, no matter how small, you have to stop its potential cause no matter what, pretty much ignoring the cost of doing this. (Amongst other things, this "justifies" Bush invading any country he wants to, just in case some day it carries out some attack on America. And it "justifies" Blair locking up without trial anybody he doesn't like the look of, in case they are a "terrorist".)

Ignoring those people, the real issue is what is the impact of the more likely medium term temperature rise of 3C, and what to do about it. If you believe the predictions, even that amount of a temperature rise is going to cause lots of bad things to happen.

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