Global warming: a load of hot air?

– Here’s a well written middle-of-the-road review of the pros and cons of Global Warming from Australia. There’s something here for both skeptics and supporters. Personally, I think the vast preponderance of data backs the global warming supporters but both sides have good points.

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Despite freak weather and looming extinctions, scientists are divided by a new row over whether global warming matters – a row the world’s politicians have been quick to exploit as the Kyoto treaty approaches deadline. By Stephen Cauchi.

It is 2070 and the Pacific nations of Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Palau, Tonga and French Polynesia are but a memory, swamped decades ago by rising sea levels.

Up north, the Arctic is now little more than an oversized iceberg, and the Inuit and polar bears are long gone. What is left of it will melt by century’s end, allowing ships to sail over the North Pole all year round.

In Melbourne, storm surges have been given a lethal edge thanks to rising sea levels. Lowlying areas such Elwood, St Kilda, Williamstown, Werribee, Mordialloc and South Melbourne are flooded during bad storms, causing severe damage to homes, Luna Park, St Kilda Marina and the Phillip Island penguin colony.

Snow cover in the Victorian and NSW alps has shrunk 90 per cent since 2000, and skiers are forced to go to New Zealand. Melbourne has double the days over 35 degrees in summer that it once did, and yearly rainfall is two-thirds of what it was. Crop-killing drought in the bush is the norm.

This is the worst-case scenario for global warming, as forecast by the CSIRO and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Recent weather has been ominously supportive of it. Last year was the world’s third-hottest year on record (most of the hottest years on record have happened since 1990; 1998 was the hottest). Victoria has just had its hottest December in 130 years. Europe’s once-in-450 years summer is estimated to have killed 20,000 people and research released this week predicted such heatwaves on the continent every 20 years.

Other forms of life are also expected to die. A paper in Nature last week predicted global warming would kill one million plant and animal species by 2050. Writing in the journal Science, the British Government’s chief scientist, Sir David King, last week warned that global warming was a more serious threat than global terrorism.

So the 1990s debate about whether global warming theory is a left-wing panic attack is over, right? Wrong.

There have always been scientists, organisations and governments who have remained deeply sceptical of global warming. Now they have received new ammunition with the publication of serious research papers that set out to debunk the whole theory. The debate has not only damaged academic reputations; it has been hijacked for political purposes in a way that threatens to undermine the imperative for science to be objective and value-free.

Conservative politicians in the US, which is refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gases, have leapt on the research. “With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people?” asked Senator James Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee in July. “It sure sounds like it.”

Such rhetoric concerns the purists. “Climate science is at its absolutely most political,” says Patrick Michaels, a climatologist at the University of Virginia. Roger Pielke, from the University of Colorado, agrees: “On the climate issue, we appear to be on the brink of having Republican science and Democrat science.”

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