Responses to the Ruling from
Co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II (2001); Lead Author for the recently completed Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; and Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University.
Professor McCarthy peer reviewed those sections of this complaint that relate to IPCC Working Group II and to the epidemiology and entomology content of the IPCC WG2 reports. He also co-authored some sections, and peer reviewed others, of our submission to Ofcom (which is referred to in the Fairness Ruling) in response to Channel 4’s reply to our Fairness complaint.
Recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments of published climate science conclude that the warming of our planet is unequivocal, and that with 90% confidence they state that human activities are responsible for most of this change in the last half century. Change in climate is now evident at regional scales in precipitation patterns, in storms, in diminished land and ocean ice, and in rising sea level. Furthermore, during the last decade scientific studies have shown that these changes in climate are now affecting the distributions of organisms and the timing of reproductive processes of plants and animals on all continents.
Extrapolations from recent trends in the anthropogenic releases of greenhouse gas can be used to project plausible future conditions in Earth’s climate. Within a few human generations the effect of these climate changes could put the survival of many species at risk. The natural processes that have determined where and when on this planet individual species thrive can now be swamped by the actions of a single species. For more than a million years the roughly hundred thousand year cycle of glacial advance and retreat has altered the geographic ranges of terrestrial and marine species. Rather than cycling through familiar history – the natural processes would now be pointing towards a one hundred thousand year period of cooling – Earth is instead now projected to become warmer than at any time in the past million years. Moreover it is warming at a rate that is 100 times more rapid than the warming that followed the last glacial maximum 18,000 yr BP. As the Arctic warms to conditions perhaps not experienced for tens of millions of years, critical habitat for many species literally evaporates.
If we are unsuccessful in reducing substantially our dependence on sources of energy that release carbon dioxide, it is also abundantly evident that many of the likely projected changes in climate will on average be bad for our species as well. We know from examples over the past decade that many of the current world population of nearly 7 billion people will be adversely affected by the climate of a significantly warmer Earth.
The fundamental science that underpins this understanding of climate has been vetted by preeminent professional societies of geophysicists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and academies of science worldwide, in addition to the IPCC. All of their summary statements are similar. A good example is that of the American Metrological Association: “Despite uncertainties, there is adequate evidence from observations and interpretations of climate simulations to conclude that the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; that humans have significantly contributed to this change; and that further climate change will continue to have important impacts on human societies, on economies, on ecosystems and on wildlife through the 21st century and beyond”.
By analogy, think of the official position statements of the academies of medicine as well as associations and societies of scientists and physicians who devote their lives to the study, prevention, and treatment of lung and heart disease, that cite the evidence that strongly links tobacco smoking to these diseases. Can one find the odd physician or researcher who says that he is not yet convinced of this cause and effect relationship? Of course. After all, some people smoke tobacco all their lives, and die of other causes at advanced age. Think of a film that interviews a group of people who hold this position – a position that flies in the face of an enormous body of good science – that states, as a fact, that this group of interviewees represents the only honest scientists, and claims, moreover, that “you are being lied to” by every scientist who holds the mainstream position. Such a production would be analogous to what Martin Durkin has done on Channel 4.
Unfortunately, when it comes to how such information might be used, the analogy breaks down. If an individual wishes to continue smoking tobacco, this is a choice that, thankfully due to increasing public pressure to ban smoking in public spaces, has negative consequences primarily for the smoker.
Most of us, however, can do very little as individuals that would dramatically diminish our collective fossil fuel “smoking” habit. We need concerted collective action with regulatory pressure and market incentives. Voluntary speed limits are ineffective, and the massive national subsidies supporting the exploration, production, and protection of oil and gas resources have completely distorted the economics of the energy market to the disadvantage of other energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal.
It can be reasonably argued that the public should have the opportunity to hear all views. Let each individual decide whether he wants to believe the accounts of alien landings or purported evidence for a flat Earth.
If the climate problem weren’t so serious, one could simply laugh away the distortions, misinformation, and disinformation of the Channel 4 film. But by manufacturing and marketing doubt about climate science, Durkin and Channel 4 actually do harm – they cause delay in the actions that businesses and governments, from local to national levels, must take now in order to provide consumers with alternatives to the fossil fuels that are altering Earth’s climate in profound ways.
There is an abundance of uncertainty about the future of Earth’s climate. A large part of this is actually uncertainty about the choices that people, all people, will make, and we all deserve the opportunity to make truly informed choices. Intentional efforts to undermine the validity of the message of climate science are crimes against humanity.
Earth’s climate is changing, both in terms of conditions and rates of change, in ways that know no equal in recent climate history, so no one can be certain just what the climate will be like, especially for any specific locality fifty or one hundred years from now. But we do know that it has the potential to be very different, and on average it will be warmer and wetter in some areas and drier in others.
While condemning crass distortions of Durkin and Channel 4, we must also encourage public media efforts that truly help the non-scientist understand climate science and the consequences of inaction. The public deserves to know about the true uncertainties in climate science, and as importantly, the range of options that will enable us to dramatically reduce both our dependence on fossil fuel combustion for energy production and other greenhouse gas producing activities.