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A recent UK Department for Transport (DfT) survey provides useful data on attitudes towards climate change and on cutting emissions. The fieldwork was carried out in August 2009 and so will not incorporate any effects from the recent criticisms of the IPPC and the revealing of a large number of emails written by CRU scientists at the University of East Anglia. The most interesting feature of the DfT research is that it continues to show that a very substantial majority of people believe that the climate is changing but that relatively few are prepared to welcome potentially painful changes to lifestyle, such as cutting the number of flights taken. The percentages of people suggesting high levels of concern about global warming are generally down about 3-5% since 2006.

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The malaria life cycle. Source: University of Tuebingen.

A recent press release from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) suggested that millions more people in Kenya are susceptible to malaria as a result of mosquitoes colonising higher ground as global temperatures rise. (‘New evidence of a link between climate change and malaria’, 30.12.09 – see below). The press release was extensively covered in UK newspapers and elsewhere.

Simple analysis shows that the claims of the press release are almost entirely without foundation. The battle against the severe threat from climate change is impeded, not helped, by government departments issuing alarmist and exaggerated alerts based on poor science.

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Image source: The Sydney Institute.

Professor Ian Plimer is one of the most influential global warming sceptics. A university academic in Australia, his trenchant views on climate change have helped persuade opposition politicians in his home country to back away from supporting schemes to reduce emissions. His book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming: The Missing Science (reviewed here last month) remains a best-seller in the UK.

He spoke in central London on 1 December at a meeting organized by the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The material in the talk was largely taken from his book, though his language was even more open and unrestrained. Unsurprisingly, in view of the controversy over the content of recently exposed CRU emails, he repeatedly used the word ‘fraud’ or ‘fraudulent’ to characterize the views of his opponents. He described his critics as ‘rent-seekers’ who spent their time seeking out the next research grant.

This article takes a small number of the more controversial statements made by Professor Plimer and sets them against the standard scientific view.

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Books referred to:

Ian Plimer, Heaven and Earth: Global Warming: The Missing Science, UK edition, Quartet Books, 2009.

Christopher Booker, The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is The Obsession With ‘Climate Change’ Turning Out To Be The Most Costly Scientific Blunder In History?, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009.

The phrase ‘the science is settled’ is regularly used by politicians arguing for meaningful action on climate change. To the majority of the world’s scientists, global warming is a clear and present danger and those who deny it, or argue that its effects will limited or benign, are dangerous lunatics. Nevertheless, an increasing numbers of voters, particularly in the US and the UK, have drifted into the sceptic camp in recent months and years. A Pew Research October survey in the US showed the percentage of people seriously concerned by the climate change issue down from 77% to 65% in two years. An international survey by HSBC showed a fall from 32% to 25% over the past year in the percentage of people from developed markets saying that climate change was the biggest issue that respondents worried about. The overall figure across all 12 countries surveyed fell from 42% in 2008 to 34% in 2009.[*]

A batch of highly successful books from journalists and maverick scientists has provided the intellectual covering fire for this decline. The result of the growing scepticism will be a weakening of national resolutions to take the difficult steps required to shift rich countries away from dependence on fossil fuels.

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The Climate Change Committee (CCC) wrote in its December report that the world could expect about a 2 degree rise in temperature by 2100 if global emissions fell by about 50% by mid-century. It said that the risk of more than a 4 degrees rise is less than 1% if the world achieved this reduction. Because the UK has per capita emissions much higher than the global average, the Committee recommended that the country should cut its emissions by about 80%. This would eventually leave the UK’s emissions per head as about the same as the rest of the world.

The CCC report is thorough, robust and clear. But is its recommendation sufficiently prudent? In four main respects, the Committee has chosen a more optimistic conclusion than I believe is warranted. The implication is that its emissions reductions targets are not severe enough.

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The Heartland Institute, a US free-market think tank, held a conference on climate change in New York in early March. It was a forum for some of the climate change sceptics to discuss their research. The conference got very little coverage in the media and was ignored by the science pages of the newspapers.

This seems a mistake. A large section of the population of the US and the UK, and smaller numbers elsewhere, believe that the apparent scientific consensus on global warming is a result of selective coverage by TV and press. The failure to cover presentations by some of the leading sceptics is support for the accusation that global media, and mainstream climate scientists, are refusing to engage with the dissenting views of reputable scientists who do not share the standard view.

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The IPCC released a 23-page report summarising the work of the fourth phase. Newspaper headlines suggested the document was more apocalyptic than the third summary of 2001. The reality is more complex.

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