Global warning: climate sceptics are winning the battle

Father of the green movement says scientists lack PR skills to make public listen

A A A

Climate sceptics are winning the argument with the public over global warming, the world's most celebrated climate scientist, James Hansen of NASA, said in London yesterday.

It is happening even though climate science itself is becoming ever clearer in showing that the earth is in increasing danger from rising temperatures, said Dr Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, and is widely thought of as "the father of global warming" – his dramatic alert about climate change in US Senate hearings in July 1988 put the issue on the world agenda.

Since then he has been one of the most outspoken advocates of drastic climate action, and yesterday he also publicly criticised Germany's recent decision to abandon its new nuclear power programme, formerly a key part of German climate measures, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan earlier this year.

"I think it was a big mistake," he said. "And I think the Prime Minister [German Chancellor Angela Merkel] knows that, as she's a physicist, but I think the political reality is she couldn't stay in office if she expressed that opinion."

In a briefing at the Royal Society , Dr Hansen, pictured, was frank about the success with public opinion of what he termed "the climate contrarians", in effectively lessening public concern about global warming. He said: "They have been winning the argument for several years, even though the science has become clearer.

"There's been a very strong campaign by those who want to continue fossil fuel 'business as usual', and the scientific story has not been powerful enough to offset that push."

Part of the problem, he said, was that the climate sceptic lobby employed communications professionals, whereas "scientists are just barely competent at communicating with the public and don't have the wherewithal to do it."

The result was, he said, that in recent years "a gap has opened between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community, and what's known by the people who need to know – and that's the public. However there's nothing that has happened to reduce our scientific conclusion that we are pushing the system into very dangerous territory, in fact that conclusion has become stronger over that same time period."

Asked if anything might re-alert the public to the dangers of climate change, Dr Hansen said: "Mother Nature."

Significant climatic "extreme events" were now occurring over 10 to 15 per cent of the planet annually, whereas between 1950 to 1980 they occurred over less than 1 per cent. He added: "So in places like Texas this year, Moscow last year, and Europe in 2003, the climate change is so big that they are undeniable. Within 10 to 15 years they're going to occur over 15 to 20 per cent of the planet, so people have to notice that the climate is changing."

Burning issue: Hansen's evidence that the world is hotting up

Texas, summer 2011

The US state this year has had its driest summer since record-keeping began in 1895, with 75 per cent of the state classified as "exceptional drought", the worst level. Shortages of grass, hay and water have forced ranchers to thin their herds – where this cow died, in the San Angelo area, there has been less than three inches of rain.

Moscow, August 2010

Russia experienced its hottest-ever summer last year – for weeks, a large portion of European Russia was more than 7 °C (12.6 °F) warmer than normal, and a new national record was set of 44 °C (111 °F). Raging forest fires filled Moscow with smoke, forcing the cancellation of air services and obliging people to don face masks.

Northern Europe, 2003

Shrivelled French grapes at the end of Europe's hottest summer on record, in 2003. The heatwave led to health crises in several countries and more than 40,000 people are thought to have died. Britain experienced its first (and so far only) 100+ F air temperature – 101.3°F (38.5°C) recorded at Brogdale, Kent, on 10 August.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project