Michael McCarthy: Why let the facts get in the way of a political opportunity?

Share
Related Topics

Polarisation: there is the reason, in a word, why scepticism about climate change, previously fairly muted, is now enjoying its moment in the sun. Tragically, this issue of atmospheric science, which will affect all our futures, has become politically polarised, and it is now broadly the case that, if we leave aside the scientific community, those who think climate change is a mortal threat are on the liberal-left, whereas those who profess it to be all an exaggeration are on the right.

It is fair to say that it was on the left that the polarisation began. With the collapse of socialism, the future of the climate became a substitute issue for young radicals to take up, people who were rebellious in their tenor, did not dress in suits, might eat lentils and came together in climate camps to attack power stations. More seriously, they began to express their conviction as an ideology, and treat those who dissented as heretics. Thus arose the widely-used phrase "climate deniers", which, with its evocations not only of heresy but also of Holocaust denial, seems to me inappropriate; I have never used it. (It's in the headline of a piece I wrote in 2007, but I didn't write the headline).

To this politicisation from the left, there was eventually an instinctive, hostile response from the right. If these long-haired types were supporting the climate change issue, with their unceasing puritan demands that we stop using our cars and cover the countryside in wind turbines, then those on the right were against it. It was a gut feeling as much as anything, but they were emboldened in their opposition by the fact that the warming itself has been on a plateau for the last decade (although 2009 is likely to be at least the 5th hottest year ever recorded globally, perhaps even the 3rd, and the latest forecast from the Met Office suggests that the warming will resume its progress next year).

Most recently, there has been the affair of the UEA emails – messages from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, which is responsible for constructing one of the main records of historical temperatures. Emails sent by the head of the unit, Professor Phil Jones, appear to show him obstructing the efforts of climate sceptics to obtain information, and most damagingly, to conceal an inconvenient piece of data.

This was the fact that tree ring growth, which is used as a proxy for temperatures in the past, ceases to show the rise in atmospheric temperatures observed in the real world after 1960; in fact it appears to show a decline. In a 1999 email, Professor Jones tells a colleague he is using "the trick" of substituting air temperatures for the inconvenient tree ring data, "to hide the decline." The phrase is chilling; no scientist should be in the business of hiding declines. You can read Professor Jones's explanation for yourself on the UEA website, but in the meantime he has stepped aside from the CRU and there will be an independent inquiry into the matter, as is entirely right.

Yet to imply, as climate sceptics are doing, that because of these emails the whole case for the reality and threat of global warming is somehow invalidated, is complete nonsense. The UEA record is not the only one; there are two others in the US, and they all agree that global average temperatures have increased over the last century and that the warming has been particularly rapid since the 1970s.

The political polarisation of the issue is tragic indeed. We should listen to the scientists; whatever you may read on any climate-sceptic blog, in any climate-sceptic comment piece, there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists who are specialists in atmospheric research that the climate is warming dangerously because of human actions, and that this will continue, with potentially catastrophic consequences, unless we move resolutely to stop it.

This analysis is accepted by every government in the world; on 17 November 2007, at a meeting in Valencia, it was even accepted by the administration of George W Bush, the climate-sceptic supreme, who had spent most of his presidency obstructing the world's efforts to cope with global warming. (If you want to see why the Bush government felt they had to accept it, look at georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/11/20071116-21.html)

Hell, it is even accepted by China, one of the most hard-nosed, self-interested nations on the planet. Last week the Chinese announced their first-ever target to cut their carbon emissions. If you're a climate sceptic and you think it's all baloney, what are you saying – that the Chinese are making a Big Mistake? Try telling them that in Beijing.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss