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Climate change is real: an open letter from the scientific community

Posted on 14 June 2011 by John Cook

Reposted from The Conversation as the opening article in the two-week Clearing up the climate debate series.

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes.

Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.

Like it or not, humanity is facing a problem that is unparalleled in its scale and complexity. The magnitude of the problem was given a chilling focus in the most recent report of the International Energy Agency, which their chief economist characterised as the “worst news on emissions.”

Limiting global warming to 2°C is now beginning to look like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people.

A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.

At the other extreme, understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.

Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny.

Australians have been exposed to a phony public debate which is not remotely reflected in the scientific literature and community of experts.

Beginning today, The Conversation will bring much-needed and long-overdue accountability to the climate “sceptics.”

For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based.

The individuals who deny the balance of scientific evidence on climate change will impose a heavy future burden on Australians if their unsupported opinions are given undue credence.

The signatories below jointly authored this article, and some may also contribute to the forthcoming series of analyses.


Winthrop Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Australian Professorial Fellow, UWA

Dr. Matthew Hipsey, Research Assistant Professor, School of Earth and Environment, Centre of Excellence for Ecohydrology, UWA

Dr Julie Trotter, Research Assistant Professor, School of Earth and Environment, UWA Oceans Institute, UWA

Winthrop Professor Malcolm McCulloch, F.R.S., Premier’s Research Fellow, UWA Oceans Institute, School of Earth and Environment, UWA

Professor Kevin Judd, School of Mathematics and Statistics, UWA

Dr Thomas Stemler, Assistant Professor, School of Mathematics and Statistics, UWA

Dr. Karl-Heinz Wyrwoll, Senior Lecturer, School of Earth and Environment, UWA

Dr. Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleoclimate scientist, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Research School of Earth Science, Planetary Science Institute, ANU

Prof Michael Ashley, School of Physics, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof David Karoly, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

Prof John Abraham, Associate Professor, School of Engineering, University of St. Thomas

Prof Ian Enting, ARC Centre for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems, University of Melbourne

Prof John Wiseman, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Ben Newell, School of Psychology, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Matthew England, co-Director, Climate Change Research Centre, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Dr Alex Sen Gupta Climate Change Research Centre,Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof. Mike Archer AM, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Steven Sherwood, co-Director, Climate Change Research Centre, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Dr. Katrin Meissner, ARC Future Fellow, Climate Change Research Centre, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Dr Jason Evans, ARC Australian Research Fellow, Climate Change Research Centre,Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Global Change Institute, UQ

Dr Andy Hogg, Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU

Prof John Quiggin, School of Economics, School of Political Science & Intnl Studies, UQ

Prof Chris Turney FRSA FGS FRGS, Climate Change Research Centre and School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW

Dr Gab Abramowitz, Lecturer, Climate Change Research Centre,Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Andy Pitman, Climate Change Research Centre, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Barry Brook, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, University of Adelaide

Prof Mike Sandiford, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

Dr Michael Box, Associate Professor, School of Physics, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Corey Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modelling, The Environment Institute, The University of Adelaide

Dr Paul Dargusch, School of Agriculture & Food Science, UQ

Prof Nigel Tapper, Professor Environmental Science, School of Geography and Environmental Science Monash University

Prof Jason Beringer, Associate Professor & Deputy Dean of Research, School of Geography & Environmental Science, Monash University

Prof Neville Nicholls, Professorial Fellow, School of Geography & Environmental Science, Monash University

Prof Dave Griggs, Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University

Prof Peter Sly, Medicine Faculty, School of Paediatrics & Child Health, UQ

Dr Pauline Grierson, Senior Lecturer, School of Plant Biology, Ecosystems Research Group, Director of West Australian Biogeochemistry Centre, UWA

Prof Jurg Keller, IWA Fellow, Advanced Water Management Centre, UQ

Prof Amanda Lynch, School of Geography & Environmental Science, Monash University

A/Prof Steve Siems, School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University

Prof Justin Brookes, Director, Water Research Centre, The University of Adelaide

Prof Glenn Albrecht, Professor of Sustainability, Director: Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy (ISTP), Murdoch University

Winthrop Professor Steven Smith, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, UWA

Dr Kerrie Unsworth, School of Business, UWA

Dr Pieter Poot, Assistant Professor in Plant Conservation Biology, School of Plant Biology, UWA

Adam McHugh, Lecturer, School of Engineering and Energy, Murdoch University

Dr Louise Bruce, Research Associate, School of Earth and Environment, UWA

UPDATE 14 June 2011: More scientists have requested to be added to the list of signatures:

Dr Ailie Gallant, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

Dr Will J Grant, Australian National Centre for Public Awareness of Science, ANU

Rick A. Baartman, Fellow of the American Physical Society

William GC Raper, Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO (retired)

Dr Chris Riedy, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney

Ben McNeil, Senior Fellow, Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW

Paul Beckwith, Department of Geography, University of Ottawa

Tim Leslie, PhD candidate, Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. John You may want to look at Today's Telegraph where Piers Ackerman has written an article denying the science of Climate Change. He refers to an article written in Quadrant by Bob Carter and 3 other scientists that refutes all the scietific research as overblown and exaggerated. Cater even makes the claim that the peer reviewed scientists are liars.
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    Response: [JC] Link?
  2. I'd guess the Akerman article is this one. It contains a reference to the Carter article in Quadrant. I saw this article cross-posted on ClimateSpectator earlier today. As of now, the comments include the myths "97% of CO2 is natural emissions", "only a tiny % of the atmosphere", "it's natural", and "it's just a theory". I did my best to rebut them, and so did several other posters (which was good to see - many early postings on that site had a barrage of denier comments)
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  3. Carter et al has had a number of articles in Quadrant lately. They are all full of nonsense - even to anyone who knows nothing about climate, provided they read critically. He even postulates in the same article that a) it's warming; b) it's not warming; c:) it's cooling; d) we don't know if it's warming or cooling. I think he's completely lost his marbles. (Does anyone still read Quadrant?)
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  4. This is an excellent letter - harsh, but true. I like how they didn't pull any punches. The whole series should be interesting.
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  5. Great letter - look forward to reading their exposés of how contrarians operate. If this letter's anything to go by, it should be a great read.
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  6. Why did the signatories decide to take collective action now?
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  7. @John Cook Suggest that you add "of Australia" to the title of this post and provide an introductory "set-up" paragraph. Many SkS readers do not reside in Australia and are not on top of what is happening "Down Under" re the politics of climate change. Also explain what the "The Conversation" is.
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  8. "Why did the signatories decide to take collective action now? " Because they're scientists. They've always operated on the belief that other people will see the evidence and look at the analysis and reasoning of scientists and come to similar conclusions. What do they get instead? Rampant denialists raging across talkback radio - which everyone expects, but also expects to die down when the shockjocks move on to a new target. Instead of the public discourse moving towards more acceptance of increasingly convincing evidence, they find themselves, their colleagues and their families subjected to more hate mail and worse. Fed up. That would be why.
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  9. Badgersouth, I suspect the signatories decided to take action now because the climate debate is heating up (pun not intended) here in Australia. We're possibly with days or weeks of the government announcing the introductory price they are going to put on carbon in upcoming legislation. The opposition and many business groups are going ballistic, spreading FUD like it's going out of style. Many of their arguments are core denier arguments, that it's not happening, it's not us, or it's not bad. I'm glad that some scientists are attempting to spread the message about the science. Hopefully they'll get at least a little media coverage. Related to dana's comment above - yes, it pulls no punches, but it needs to be aggressive to get any media attention. If it comes out as a 'smackdown' of the anti brigade, it might get good coverage. Yes, it would alienate the hardcore deniers, but they were never going to be convinced anyway. The mainstream might sit up & take notice, however, and it is they who need to be convinced.
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  10. The frightening thing, the really frightening thing, is that the responses on the web site for this include the same rabid denier responses from the usual run of far-right ideologues (American and home grown) and amateur nutters. You would think a site like this, and a letter like this, would remain free of this rubbish, but there seems to be a collective, perhaps unconscious, decision, that any time scientists actually refer to the science of climate change they will be blanketed by this garbage.
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  11. David Horton: yes, it's the "You don't agree with me, ergo you are evil incarnate" school of thought. The way I look at it is to consider population demographics. For instance, I work in a company staffed almost exclusively by university graduates with at least bachelor-level degrees. I gave a recent presentation on global warming science (which was well received), and was somewhat surprised at the level of maths comprehension - it was quite a bit lower than I had assumed. Yet these people are amongst the brightest 15-20% of the population (or at least their schooling results indicated that). Many of the commenters that we see cropping up are likely in the lower 50% of the demographic pile. That's not to say they disagree because they're stupid - it's to say that climate science isn't an easy thing to understand, and unless it's explained carefully, in the right way, people will misunderstand it, even some very intelligent ones. Combine that with some media & bloggers that either don't understand or deliberately misrepresent climate science, and voila! You've got a large pool of people who not only don't understand climate science, but are actively being told that those 'evil scientists' are somehow part of a giant conspiracy to fool us all. I've heard a number of climate myths repeated here at work, and many people are surprised when they hear what the science actually says. Then, finally, remember that the squeaky wheel gets the grease - i.e. you only pay attention to the ones that shout loudest (or post comments on blogs & articles). The vast majority don't pop up on the radar.
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