Why climate change deniers believe global warming isn’t a problem, and why experts say they’re wrong

Video: Leading climate scientists say we have no one to blame but ourselves for climate change. Eric Sorensen reports.

TORONTO – The great climate debate is poised to reach new heights after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a summary of its Working Group I (WGI) on Friday.

In the 36-page Summary for Policymakers, its authors found that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.”

It also said that “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850… In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983-2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).”

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
–IPCC Twelfth Session of Working Group I, Summary for Policymakers

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The IPCC uses data from satellites and computer models. It consults over 600 scientists and almost 10,000 scientific papers. It releases a report every six years. As soon as one report is issued, work begins on another.

Video: Michel Jarraud, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organisation, details the findings in the IPCC report

Models used by the IPCC estimate global temperature and precipitation patterns will change throughout the 21st century given current rising greenhouse gas levels. This video depicts a scenario in which carbon dioxide concentrations reach 670 parts per million by 2100, up from around 400 ppm today.
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Even with an abundance of evidence to support their claims, there is no shortage of groups who seek to debunk the findings.

The deniers

One of the most prominent climate-change deniers has been the International Climate Science Coalition. This group claims to be the voice of reason for those seeking the real scoop on climate change.

Just days before the IPCC was slated to release the WGI report, it issued a press release that professed to help the “media to adopt the second more balanced approached [sic].”

Their more “balanced” approach included a 1,200-page report by the Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Change sponsored by the Heartland Institute called Climate Change Reconsidered II.

The Heartland Institute out of the United States, has a long and interesting history that includes claims that cancer from second-hand smoke was junk science.

However, their most recent antic caused even the most right-wing climate-change deniers to jump ship.

In May 2012, the group ran a billboard ad in Chicago with a photo of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, and the words, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?”

It was taken down in less than 24 hours.

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Heartland’s press release after the incident admitted the ad was part of a larger campaign that would include Fidel Castro, mass murderer Charles Manson and even Osama bin Laden. Their reasoning for likening climate change believers to mass murderers?

“Because what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the ‘mainstream’ media, and liberal politicians say about global warming.”

Heartland is also known to receive donations from ExxonMobil and Altria Client Services Inc., the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris.

Deniers’ evidence

Climate change deniers point to the fact that the global warming the IPCC has touted has flatlined.

While it’s true that the average global temperature rise has slowed in the past ten years, it by no means suggests that Earth is “cooling.”

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In fact, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the 20 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1981, and the 10 warmest within the past 12 years.

A graph charting global temperatures from 1880 2002. (NOAA). NOAA

The question becomes: why is this happening? Is it all human-caused?

Climatologist Andrew Weaver said that no one is claiming to fully understand the extent of the effects increased carbon dioxide (CO2) will have. It will take time to see these effects. However, it is clear that humanity is contributing to global warming.

“The Earth has long been naturally varying,” Weaver acknowledged. But humanity is contributing by pumping pollutants into the atmosphere.

Weaver, also a Green Party MLA in British Columbia, called to task the Climate Change Reconsidered II statement that “No evidence exists that current changes in Arctic permafrost are other than natural or that methane released by thawing would significantly affect Earth’s climate.”

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“That’s patently false. We’ve documented evidence that would suggest that it does. So to say that no evidence exists is a denial of the entire scientific literature that’s out there. These are just assertions.”

‘Global COOLING!’

In a recent story from the UK’s Mail on Sunday, David Rose made the claim that Earth was now heading toward global cooling with the headline “And now it’s global COOLING! Record return of Arctic ice cap as it grows by 60% in a year.”

In 2012, a satellite image of the Arctic ice sheet showed the lowest extent of sea ice on record. In 2013, however, the sea ice saw a rebound, measuring 6.09 million square kilometres – still 1.13 million kilometres below the 1981 to 2010 average.

So while 2013 was indeed an increase, it was in no way an indication of a global cooling trend.

Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Co., indicates that the Arctic ice in 2013 did not decline as much as in 2012. (NOAA). NSIDC

Climate models

Many of those who deny climate change claim to have their own climate models. However, Steve Easterbrook, a computer science professor at the University of Toronto, who has studied climate change models, begs to differ.

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“None of the climate skeptics have climate models,” said Easterbrook. “Certainly not sophisticated simulations of the physics of the atmosphere and oceans, which is what goes into a climate model… They might use a statistical model where essentially they take some data and they look for trend lines on it.”

Easterbrook also said that climate models used by the IPCC are run on supercomputers that skeptics don’t have access to.

Watch: 2013 Arctic sea ice

IPCC errors

Some who doubt human-caused climate change point to errors in the last IPCC report.

One was a statement that claimed glaciers in the Himalayas were melting at an unprecedented rate and would be completely gone by 2035. Instead of it coming from a peer-reviewed paper as the IPCC research is supposed to, it was in fact a case of broken telephone. It was taken from a World Wildlife Fund story that had taken it from a 1999 New Scientist story.

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To skeptics, that points to a huge flaw in the IPCC procedures.

Still, Weaver feels that the overall picture of Earth shows that our planet is in a warming trend and that can’t be denied.

“Conspiracy theories aside, you’ve got national governments around the world doing assessments who are pretty clear on this. You’ve got international assessments that are clear of this. You’ve got the scientists publishing in the field who are clear on this.”

Making sense of the climate change debate can be difficult. While the IPCC can say on the one hand that their research makes them 95 percent sure that humanity is contributing to climate change, there is no 100 percent guarantee.

A flooded downtown Calgary is seen from a aerial view of the city Saturday, June 22, 2013. Many cite extreme weather events such as this as proof of climate change. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)
A flooded downtown Calgary is seen from a aerial view of the city Saturday, June 22, 2013. Many cite extreme weather events such as this as proof of climate change. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward). THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

And that’s just what helps to fuel the deniers.


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