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“People are broadly concerned, but not entirely convinced”, concludes the latest poll on public opinion of global warming by social marketing group Ipsos Mori.
Despite the deluge of media reports in the last year documenting the scientific consensus on climate change and the startling rapidity at which impacts are being seen around the world – most notably perhaps the ever-decreasing Arctic sea ice – 60% of the British Public is uncertain that climate change is caused by humans, and many others believe that scientists are overstating the problem.
Writing in Sunday’s Observer, Juliette Jowit provides the following explanation:
There is growing concern that an economic depression and rising fuel and food prices are denting public interest in environmental issues. Some environmentalists blame the public’s doubts on last year’s Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, and on recent books, including one by Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, that question the consensus on climate change.
While it’s reassuring to know that the public questions the status quo, if Jowitt is correct, what’s frustrating is the ability of blatantly misrepresentative arguments to sway public opinion.
The Great Global Warming Swindle resulted in a record 250 complaints to regulatory watchdog Ofcom (including the first ever peer reviewed complaint), but that’s still a fraction of the 2.5 million viewers. Like many of those who saw the Channel 4 documentary, readers of Lawson’s offering on climate change ‘An Appeal to Reason’ are probably unaware it has been scientifically discredited in almost every review, including one on Nature Reports Climate Change by Sir John Houghton, Honorary Scientist at the UK’s Hadley Centre.
As Sir Houghton writes:
Promised as a “rare breath of intellectual rigour” and a “hard headed examination of the realities” of climate change, this offering is neither cool nor rational….and is largely one of misleading messages.
Lawson’s fundamental misunderstanding of basic scientific concepts is first displayed in his interpretation of the temperature records for the first part of this century, with which he attempts to discredit the science of climate change, and the work of many thousands of researchers who’ve dedicated entire careers to the problem. More recently, he repeats this in an amusing attack on the recent Nature paper by NASA’s Cynthia Rosenzweig.
Writing as a guest over on Susan Hills’ blog, Lawson’s piece starts off with a failure to grasp the term ‘meta-analysis’ – he clearly thinks that this is merely a lumping together of existing data. On the contrary, Rosenzweig and colleagues have used a powerful scientific tool to analyze changes in early 30,000 phenomena in the natural world – no mean feat – and in doing so, have shown that warming is aready having a worldwide impacts.
As Houghton rightly points out, Lawson is in need of climate science 101. But then, it seems, he’s not alone – at least on that count.