To the rational majority, climate change is not an article of faith but an unwelcome statement of fact. Not because of the anecdotal evidence of unprecedented “weather events” – Australian heatwaves, Philippines typhoons, European flooding – battering the globe with steadily increasing regularity. Rather, because scientific study after scientific study has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that not only is the Earth’s temperature rising, but those alterations are almost certainly the result of human activities. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded last year that it is now as sure that we are behind global warming as it is that cigarettes cause cancer.
Yet still there are those who claim climate change can somehow be seen as a political position, instead of the demonstrably measurable reality that it is. And even among policymakers who do not quibble with the evidence, there is a reluctance to face up to the expensive, unpopular choices that must be made to solve the problem. It is against such a backdrop that two of the world’s most august scientific institutions – the US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society in London – today set out their summation of the proof that climate change exists and that human activities are the cause. The motivation could not be more explicit. “We have enough evidence to warrant action being taken,” Sir Paul Nurse, the President of the Royal Society, says. “It is now time for the public debate to move forward.”
How right he is. Yes, there are still any number of questions as to the scale and implications of a rising global temperature. But what is irrefutable is that atmospheric carbon dioxide in now at levels not seen for 800,000 years and, regardless of the recent pause, temperatures have been on the up since the mid-19th century. The politicisation of climate change is one of the more dangerous developments of recent years, with the potential to put a real check on our ability to tackle perhaps the trickiest problem that the human race has ever faced. It can only be hoped that the National Academy and the Royal Society can help tip the balance back towards science.