12 December 2009

Week in review: Copenhagen and the sceptics

At some point you have to ask: "Should we be following the money?" Why do you think the Saudi's would prefer to deny that climate change is happening?

Week in review: Copenhagen and the sceptics
Paul Woodward, Online Correspondent
Last Updated: December 11. 2009 11:44AM UAE / December 11. 2009 7:44AM GMT

On Monday the long-awaited Copenhagen climate summit opened amid renewed attacks on the scientific findings that demonstrate climate change.

"The debate, set off by the circulation of several thousand files and e-mail messages stolen from one of the world's foremost climate research institutes, has led some who oppose limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and at least one influential country, Saudi Arabia, to question the scientific basis for the Copenhagen talks," The New York Times said.

"The uproar has threatened to complicate a multiyear diplomatic effort already ensnared in difficult political, technical and financial disputes that have caused leaders to abandon hopes of hammering out a binding international climate treaty this year.

"In recent days, an array of scientists and policy makers have said that nothing so far disclosed - the correspondence and documents include references by prominent climate scientists to deleting potentially embarrassing e-mail messages, keeping papers by competing scientists from publication and making adjustments in research data - undercuts decades of peer-reviewed science."

George Monbiot wrote: "The denial industry, which has no interest in establishing the truth about global warming, insists that these emails, which concern three or four scientists and just one or two lines of evidence, destroy the entire canon of climate science.

"Even if you were to exclude every line of evidence that could possibly be disputed - the proxy records, the computer models, the complex science of clouds and ocean currents - the evidence for man-made global warming would still be unequivocal. You can see it in the measured temperature record, which goes back to 1850; in the shrinkage of glaciers and the thinning of sea ice; in the responses of wild animals and plants and the rapidly changing crop zones.

"No other explanation for these shifts makes sense. Solar cycles have been out of synch with the temperature record for 40 years. The Milankovic cycle, which describes variations in the Earth's orbit, doesn't explain it either. But the warming trend is closely correlated with the accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. The impact of these gases can be demonstrated in the laboratory. To assert that they do not have the same effect in the atmosphere, a novel and radical theory would be required. No such theory exists. The science is not fixed - no science ever is - but it is as firm as science can be. The evidence for man-made global warming remains as strong as the evidence linking smoking to lung cancer or HIV to Aids."

Even so, commentators such as Mona Charen, writing at National Review claimed on Tuesday: "contrary to the dire predictions of climate alarmists, there has been no measurable increase in world temperatures since 1998."

The same day, ABC News reported: "The current decade likely ranks as the hottest since temperature records began in the 1850s, the UN World Meteorological Organization announced today.

"2009 may rank as the fifth-warmest year on record, the WMO said, although the final rank won't be available until next year. 1998 holds the rank as the hottest year. It was characterised by an unusually strong El Nino, a giant patch of warm water along the equator in the Pacific that appears periodically and can strongly affect the wind currents flowing over it."

Characteristic of a popular line of attack - against the messengers rather than the message - Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal believes he has detected a "totalitarian impulse" driving those who call for reductions in carbon emissions.

An editorial in The Washington Post said: "Many - including us - find global warming deniers' claims irresponsible and their heated criticism of climate scientists unconvincing."

The paper then ran a commentary by former Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, who, making no distinction between weather and climate, asserted: "we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes," and went on to say, "any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs."

Meanwhile, in an unexpected development, The National reported on Wednesday: "The UAE made waves at the Copenhagen climate talks yesterday by putting its name to a joint statement calling on developed countries to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

"The document, which was also signed by Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Iceland, Singapore and Slovenia, is one of the strongest statements on climate change to come from an oil-producing nation.

"Members of Opec, the petroleum exporters, have generally sought to downplay the issue of global warming.

"However, yesterday's communique took a definitive stand in what was hailed as a bold departure.

" 'Humankind is confronted with the consequences of its past actions,' the statement read. 'Scientific evidence clearly shows that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions contribute significantly to global warming. The potential risks of unmitigated climate change are enormous.'"

Reporting from the front line of climate change, The Diplomat magazine described the impact already felt in Pacific island nations.

"Chief Bernard Tunim confronts the issue head-on: 'We didn't create global warming but we are its first victims. The industrialised world must take decisive action at the Copenhagen summit before it's too late for everyone.'

"Standing in knee-deep water on Piul Island, Chief Bernard points to a decaying coconut stump nearly 200 metres offshore from the beach we are standing on.

" 'That used to be our shoreline only 10 or 15 years ago,' he says. 'Look how the sea is eating us away. We are only a small island, the king tides have already swamped our gardens and soon we'll have to leave. The future of my island is now only for fish, not people.'

"Piul is one of 5 atolls that make up the Carteret Islands group in Papua New Guinea, where the 3,000 islanders who live on these beautiful yet vulnerable atolls are being recognised as the world's first climate change refugees.

"Preparations are being made to relocate them to nearby Bougainville, a large mountainous island, over the next year or two. For them, talk about climate change and rising seas is not an abstract concept but one that's a hard reality."