Leading article: Climate change is not a matter of faith

Friday 05 March 2010 01:00

If opinion polls are right, fewer people "believe" in climate change now than a few months ago, prior to the leak of emails from the University of East Anglia and the emergence of embarrassing errors in one of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The science of global warming, it seems, has taken a severe hit in terms of the public's credulity.

Yet as the latest scientific research makes clear, the evidence is, if anything, stronger than it ever was about the role of humans in the observable increase in global temperatures seen over the past half-century. For scientists it is not a question of "belief", it is a question of observable fact and reasonable inference based on a wealth of scientific data. The latest study by an international team led by the Met Office's Hadley Centre reaffirms this position. The world is warming, it is observed on every continent, and there is no natural explanation that can account for it.

Indeed, the scientists go further by showing that it is only when human activity is put into their computer models of the climate that an explanation becomes evident. Man-made CO2 emissions over the past century or more can explain the recent increase in global temperature. No one has come up with a better explanation.

Some sceptics may dispute the data used in formulating global temperature records. Others may argue that the computer models used in this analysis are not to be trusted, and a few may hypothesise about some undiscovered cause. But there is now so much evidence in favour of man-made global warming, from so many different peer-reviewed studies, that the case is overwhelming.

This is not to say that the science should never be questioned. Scepticism is after all part of the scientific process. But the issue has gone beyond whether we should simply "believe" in climate change. It is not a matter of faith. The evidence for anthropogenic global warming is there for anyone to study. If sceptics are to merit our attention, they need to come up with an equally powerful counter-argument.

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