Climate experts are downplaying the science to avoid despair and inaction

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Global warming is exaggerated and is just hyped by climate scientists. It's not a big deal. That is what you might think if you listen to the mainstream media and its misinformation, or if you believe in the denier's lies and their anti-science rhetoric about man-made climate change.

But that is so far from the truth that it's absurd as a recent poll among climate experts and scientists clearly show. The poll conducted by the Guardian during the scientific conference in Copenhagen earlier this year shows that 9 out of 10 climate experts don’t believe we will be able to restrict climate change to 2C:

"Almost nine out of 10 climate scientists do not believe political efforts to restrict global warming to 2C will succeed, a Guardian poll reveals today. An average rise of 4-5C by the end of this century is more likely, they say, given soaring carbon emissions and political constraints.

Such a change would disrupt food and water supplies, exterminate thousands of species of plants and animals and trigger massive sea level rises that would swamp the homes of hundreds of millions of people.

The poll of those who follow global warming most closely exposes a widening gulf between political rhetoric and scientific opinions on climate change. While policymakers and campaigners focus on the 2C target, 86% of the experts told the survey they did not think it would be achieved. A continued focus on an unrealistic 2C rise, which the EU defines as dangerous, could even undermine essential efforts to adapt to inevitable higher temperature rises in the coming decades, they warned."

The poll shows that climate experts are not exaggerating the effects of global warming but that they are actually downplaying and toning down their research in an attempt to avoid despair and inaction among the public.

"It blows the lid on a very different sort of conspiracy: that climate scientists have actually been toning down their message lest the worst-case scenario becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As one respondent put it, "Great things can only be achieved by everyone believing it can be done. How do you think the second world war was won? Churchill didn't stand around saying most people think we will lose the war. He said we will fight it on the beaches."

Far from over-playing their hand to swell their research coffers, scientists have been toning down their message in an attempt to avoid public despair and inaction."

And this is a bit tricky. I agree that if people begin to think that it’s over and nothing can be done to halt man-made climate change inaction and hopelessness would most likely prevail. But toning down the science is not the way to go. Political leaders and people around the world needs to know the real size and dangers of the climate crisis. How else would we be able to gain public and political support for the actions that are needed to solve the crisis?

Just like James Randerson, the Guardian’s environment website editor and top UK science journalist, says:

"Scientists must stop sanitising their message. World leaders and their people need to hear the warnings loud and clear and follow through with radical action that matches the scale of the crisis. Only if they do will future generations look back on what is looking decreasingly likely to be our "finest hour"."

George Monbiot , Europe’s leading green commentator, said a few weeks ago that it was all over but argued we can’t afford to abandon our efforts to cut emissions. Because then "our prophecy is bound to come true".

With today’s political inaction the climate experts are correct that it’s over. But with real efforts to curb our emissions we can manage to stabilize the climate at a reasonable and safe level. As Climate Progress writes:

"No one who reads this blog regularly or follows U.S. politics could possibly believe there is a great chance that we will stabilize anywhere near 450 ppm, anywhere near 2°C warming.

But anyone who reads this blog also understand that it is not too late — not only could we stabilize at 450 ppm at a low total cost, one tenth of a penny on the dollar, we could stabilize at 350 ppm for probably no more than double the cost of stabilizing at 450 ppm."

What do you think? Is it right or wrong to downplay the climate science to avoid despair and inaction among the public?


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Simon Leufstedt
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Guest W.B.

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ARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!! Don't get me started. I've read more research on supposed anthropogenic climate change than I can list, and as a scientist, I can say truthfully that the conclusions that Al Gore and the IPCC have arrived at are based on some awfully shaky data. Climate is always changing. Would it shock Gore to know that during the greatest explosion of biodiversity ever recorded, 530 million years ago, carbon dioxide levels were 5000-7000 ppm, as opposed to 385 ppm today? That oxygen levels were half of what they are today? That during the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs were tromping around, CO2 levels were 1800 ppm, and glaciers were oscillating with periods of time when the average global temp was 30 degrees C? That right now sea level is about as low as it can be without being in an ice age? The only way for them to go is up. It drives me nuts! We see a little climate change that is an order of magnitude smaller than what has happened in the past, and we automatically assume that it's our fault! Species right now are going extinct fast not because of climate change, but because we keep chopping down habitat. Sea level is rising because we are coming out of an ice age. Over 80% of the history of the Earth is ice-free. No glaciers anywhere. Sure we are messing up the ecosystem. But we are not causing large-scale alterations in weather patterns. No way. The episodic oscillations in the output of the sun matched the climate record way better than co2 levels. Google reports in the late 60's and early 70's about the great New Ice Age scare, when the Earth started cooling down, all while CO2 levels were going up. It boggles my mind how self-respecting scientists can say that their computer climate models say that we are to blame, when those models can't reproduce the Little Ice Age of the 1500's, or the cooling trend a few decades ago, or the Younger Dryas period, or the Holocene Maximum. Don't believe everything you see in the media. End of Rant.

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Guest GreenRednecks

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Well to answer the question, I think it is wrong to downplay the climate science to avoid despair and inaction among the public. I'm not sure how downplaying the science avoids inaction, though. I agree with Simon that the science is clear at this point. I think that change is happening - it's just not happening fast enough. Andy

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Guest W.B.

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I don't think your response is fair. Given that I was neither rude nor inflammatory, if you have nothing constructive to respond with I think that just says a lot regarding your position. Refute my claims then insult me, just calling me a troll proves nothing.

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"I don't think your response is fair." And I guess as a "scientist" you came up with that conclusion? Allow me laugh out loud. I don't want to waste my time to refute crazy denialism talk. Or like Al Gore once said:

"I want to be polite to you," Mr. Gore responded. But, no. "The scientific community has gone through this chapter and verse. We have long since passed the time when we should pretend this is a 'on the one hand, on the other hand' issue," he said. "It's not a matter of theory or conjecture, for goodness sake," he added.

The only reason why I did not delete your post was that it was somewhat civil compared to the rest of the deniers posts. But I am always forgetting that you should not feed the trolls.

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"I don't think your response is fair." And I guess as a "scientist" you came up with that conclusion? Allow me to laugh out loud. I don't want to waste my time to refute crazy denialism talk. Or like Al Gore once said:

"I want to be polite to you," Mr. Gore responded. But, no. "The scientific community has gone through this chapter and verse. We have long since passed the time when we should pretend this is a 'on the one hand, on the other hand' issue," he said. "It's not a matter of theory or conjecture, for goodness sake," he added.

The only reason why I did not delete your post was that it was somewhat civil compared to the rest of the deniers posts. But I am always forgetting that you should never feed the trolls.

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We should be happy that man-made climate change isn't happening much faster than it already is! If people feel that the science shows a problem that is too hard to face and deal with they will just give up. But I am also afraid that people in the West won’t understand the severity of the climate crisis because scientists downplay the science. Or that they will not act and put enough pressure on politicians until they actually see the effects of climate change with their own eyes. But then it would be too late!

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Guest Art3mis

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Oh my, so there are still people who cannot see what is going on.. So according to you, WB, cars and industries and waste do not exist at all? How can you deny that humanity has releashed huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, which causes the green-house effect? I don't get it really, that is the first thing they teach us at school. It's called CAUSE and EFFECT. You can go study, mr Scientist, and then please come back to talk with us. Oh, and do mention your age. no offence.

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Guest GreenRednecks

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I agree. What I meant to say is that attitude change and political change is happening, it's just not happening fast enough. I should have chosen different words.

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Guest W.B.

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Fair enough. I'm a geologist, and I'm 36. I know the first thing people do when they hear the term "geologist" is roll their eyes in scorn, but the geological record contains all of the data for past climate that you can't find in ice cores, which only go back about 600, 000 years. Anything further than that, ask a geologist. As to your question, instrumental records suggest a warming of 0.6°C over the past 100 years. Even if you ignore all the recent work that’s been done to suggest there are major siting problems (http://www.surfacestations.org/ across the USHCN), as well as James Hansen’s embarassing blunder this past August (http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=1885#more-1885), that is all that comfortably can be said about recent climate change. Remember, these are errors found in the most high-tech monitoring system in the world, and they were found AFTER the release of AR4 and the trumpeting by the IPCC brass of “The Science Is Settled”, “The Warming is Unequivocal”, “We Must Act Now” etc. etc. The entirety of work done by the second and third working groups are rendered totally useless until these things are ironed out. Further, it can be said with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries. This statement is justified by the consistency of the evidence from a wide variety of geographically diverse proxies. Less confidence can be placed in large-scale surface temperature reconstructions for the period from A.D. 900 to 1600. Presently available proxy evidence indicates that temperatures at many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900. The uncertainties associated with reconstructing hemispheric mean or global mean temperatures from these data increase substantially backward in time through this period and are not yet fully quantified. Very little confidence can be assigned to statements concerning the hemispheric mean or global mean surface temperature prior to about A.D. 900 because of sparse data coverage and because the uncertainties associated with proxy data and the methods used to analyze and combine them are larger than during more recent time periods." -From the NAS report. So I guess what I need to as is "What it would take to convince you that any science, be it for or against AGW, is suspect. And, on the flip-side, what would it take to convince you that the science is credible? And how is it credible?"

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Guest W.B.

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Alright, well, I'm genuinely sorry to have offended you. That looks sarcastic on the internet, but it's not meant to be. And thank you for allowing a dissident opinion to appear on your blog - it does go beyond what is normally found on blogs on either side of this equation. I'm not a close-minded person, but I've just seen so many inconsistencies in the evidence for anthropogenic climate change that I can't with good conscience believe in it. But my mind could always be changed, right?

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Guest W.B.

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Fair enough. I'm a geologist, and I'm 32. On to your next question: Chemically, co2 is a terrible greenhouse gas. As in, very inefficient at causing atmospheric warming. Water vapour is much more effective at inducing warming. Sure waste exists. Nitrogen oxides, and sulphur oxides and various other man-made waste gases are thousands of times more active in trapping heat. They are the problem. Not co2. Carbon dioxide is a natural gas that is regulated by natural feed-back loops. Other, far more potent man-made gases are not regulated by nature. CO2 is not waste. Glaciers have existed during the times in the Mesozoic Era when co2 levels were multiples of what they are today. Conversely, there have been periods in the past when Earth was ice-free, with low co2 and oxygen levels. Sure we are polluting the hell out of our ecosystems. But not with co2. Because the link between co2 and the greenhouse effect is a sham. The fossil record clearly shows that during the past ice ages, the polar ice cap (northern) melted completely and suddenly, at least 4 times, and the polar bears clearly survived. All while the co2 level in the atmosphere was lower than what it is today. What caused that? Not us. We were still climbing trees in Africa to get away from leopards at that time. I think that we can do a lot to preserve natural resources and habitat. But it has nothing to do with co2. Regulating it is hitting a mosquito with a hammer, and it's not the root cause anyway. Regulating the real greenhouse gases will do a lot more good, and cost one-hundredth as much in terms of money and human capital.

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Guest Joseph Smith

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So what do you want to be done with it? The way things are going is not going to change without fundamental change in the minds of the people. You cannot change just one thing. And btw, you can't forecast weather or the future!

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Guest Ares

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People better wake up. We cannot continue to abuse the land that feeds us. By the time most people are willing to accept the truth, we will all be doomed.

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Guest French

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I have been wondering if we humans aren't doing the earth a favor by bringing carbon back above the earth's surface. Think about it: All of that carbon was above the surface to begin with and when those ancient plants/animals died, the ecosystems lost all of that carbon. Furthermore, the earth has been in a 3 million year cooling cycle, and we could be helping to stabilize the temperature by adding our global warming. Just a thought.

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Guest Avi S

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Am I the only one that noticed that WB aged 4 years between his two geological posts?

Well there's no doubt that global warming is happening. How much we are contributing to it is up for debate. What we know for sure is that when it happens, it will cause many of the world's coastal cities to be submerged underwater and widespread economic ruin.

The real question to ask is not whether we're responsible for it, but what we're going to do about it.

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