Well here we are again. The climate change debate is at another cross-road and those who’ve followed this issue, on either side, are once again presented with an opportunity to further the discussion and decide what direction we want to take this country in regards to our position on climate change.
To begin with, the science of climate change is finally settled…again. The first time it was settled was in 2007 with the release of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. For those of us willing and able to understand the scientific process it was a clear benchmark in the debate. Yet much of the country ignored the findings which had as much to do with ideology and politics as it did with simple ignorance.
We know the role ideology plays in assigning value to any political decision, and in terms of climate change the political divide has had an enormous impact on public sentiment. To many Americans, global warming is clearly part of a liberal agenda (as if there exists some neat little package of socialist-driven bullet points that liberals carry around in their wallets), and all too often a practical discussion of topics like energy conservation and efficiency are lost in the political discourse.
Where ignorance plays a role is in the failure of many to understand what an assessment report really is. Many people think the IPCC is a scientific research body which has somehow managed to siphon off tax payer funds in a global conspiracy to push the climate change agenda, thereby ensuring decades of employment for the liberal scientists manning the helm. But an assessment report is just what it says. The IPCC’s report released in 2007 was a definitive assessment of the available evidence collected from the world’s leading climate researchers and others in associated fields. The IPCC compiled the evidence and rated it according to degree of certainty based on the strength of the evidence itself. In other words the IPCC does not conduct science, it simply assesses the work of others and packages the results in a manner that tells the entire story behind the science of climate change. And according to the results of the assessment, the planet has warmed 0.64ºC over the last 50 years, much of it directly related to human activities.
Yet many Americans, including many scientists, doubted the validity of the report and continued to promote skepticism surrounding the debate. One person in particular was Richard Muller, a physics professor from the University of California, Berkeley, and Chair of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project. The project began primarily as a challenge to the rigor of the IPCC’s methods, especially in light of accusations of discarded records and manipulation of available climate data. To address this, the two-year project looked at land temperature data where warming is the greatest, and included over 1.6 billion measurements from more than 39,000 temperature stations around the globe. This study should be then, by all regards, the definitive word on this subject because it looked at every available record, whereas the IPCC discarded thousands of measurements from hundreds of stations because of the “poor” quality of the data. Effectively, the Berkeley EST Project listened to the complaints od the skeptic community and addressed them decisively. So what then did the project find? The results showthat about one-third of the world’s temperature stations have recorded cooling temperatures, while two-thirds have recorded warming. The two-to-one ratio clearly reflects global warming, and the changes at the locations that showed warming were typically between 1-2ºC, much greater than the IPCC’s average of 0.64ºC. They even confirmed the infamous “hockey stick” graph, the much maligned temperature record which shows a sharp increase in temperatures over the last century.
So once again, the science is settled. Even though the Berkeley EST project only looked at warming and did not attempt to assign cause, their results clearly supported, and even strengthened the IPCC results. Americans need to understand that there is no room for ideology in this debate. This is not a Right vs. Left issue, at least not in the eyes of scientists. What this is is the world’s largest and most comprehensive, multi-disciplinary attempt to address the impact of human activity on our global system. We all have a stake in this issue, and we all have a responsibility to address this issue with educated discourse and a true sense of respect for all those involved. Many skeptics have said that they would accept the results of the Berkeley EST Project, no matter what side they fell on. Now that we know the results, maybe it’s time we agree that there really is only one side, and that we’re all in this together.