We are witnessing a frenzy of climate “scepticism”. Following the hacking of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the right are arguing that the science of human-caused global warming is wrong.
Their offensive has a clear purpose—to reverse the growing public belief that rising emissions of greenhouse gases are causing climate change.
Concern about climate change has brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets worldwide. The real target of the climate sceptics is this movement and the demands it is raising.
Climate sceptics claim the leaked emails show that scientists deliberately suppressed evidence contradicting their conclusions. They say that this makes the whole science of human-caused global warming flawed.
US Republican Sarah Palin calls climate scientists a “politicised scientific elite” that “manipulated data” to “hide the decline in global temperatures”.
Yet the leaked emails do not show this. Instead they show the defensive response of a small group of scientists to the pressure they felt from what they described as a “politically motivated climate disinformation machine”.
Many scientists involved had already had their research attacked by individuals motivated by an anti-global warming agenda, rather than genuine scientific debate.
So they refused requests for data from individuals such as Steve McIntyre, editor of the climate sceptic website Climate Audit. And they used the peer review process to marginalise work dedicated to climate scepticism.
Critically, the emails don’t undermine the science of human-caused global warming.
The science of climate change is complicated. It relies upon understanding temperature and climate over thousands of years. For most of this time, evidence can only come from “proxy” data such as tree rings or ice cores, rather than recorded temperatures.
This can produce varying results, which is why climate scientists assess a balance of evidence to reach conclusions. The balance of evidence currently is that we are experiencing a prolonged period of warming which is observable. And this warming matches models of what would happen if the greenhouse effect caused warming—rather than natural events.
The most recent evidence produced by the Met Office, based on 100 studies, confirms this. That’s why human activities such as burning fossil fuels are seen as central to the planet’s climate.
The climate sceptics are not defending the interests of ordinary people or pursuing rigorous scientific debate. Rather, they have presided over 30 years of free market policies.
Ex-Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson is a prominent climate sceptic, as is Lord Monkton, a former advisor to Margaret Thatcher who runs the so called Global Warming Policy Foundation.
They fear that public pressure to deal with climate change will raise demands that challenge the priorities of their system.
One of the reasons climate sceptics have made some headway is because politicians’ rhetoric over climate isn’t matched by radical policies aimed at solving the problem.
Nearly all climate change policy has been based on market mechanisms that have failed to halt emission rises and have redistributed wealth from the poor to rich polluting companies.
It’s no surprise that climate scepticism finds some resonance among ordinary people. They are already cynical towards politicians and find it easy to believe they may have been lied to again.
But working class people have nothing to gain from the sceptics. If they win it will legitimise a lack of action on climate change.
That may be alright for those such as Lawson, rich enough to buy himself protection from the impact of climate change. But it won’t be alright for the poor suffering the consequences of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, floods in Cumbria or drought in Africa.
This is a class argument we need to take up and win.