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Where we've been

We've known about the possibility that emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere was causing climate change for decades, but concerns were easily dismissed due to the infancy of climate models. The idea of the greenhouse effect from burning fossil fuels was actually one of the many climate ideas mentioned by a Swedish scientist all the way back in 1896. Although warming was noticed throughout the following decades, it was assumed to be from other sources or as a part of natural cycles.

The complexities of climate and the uncertainties of the models limited the actions that were taken
In the 1970s, concern about global cooling as a result of smog and dust particles was raised. At this point it was agreed that humans could have drastic changes on climates, but that we didn't understand climate systems enough to know what the effects would be or what would trigger them.

In the summer of 1988, scientists' claims about climate change got its first real widespread attention when the summer was the hottest on record up until that point. The complexities of climate and the uncertainties of the models limited the actions that were taken, however. More research was done, until the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change established its first consensus report in 2001. Since then, this group has made revisions to its report, issuing stronger statements and more dire predictions. The consensus has grown, but there are still doubters.

History of Skeptics

The conclusion that global warming is caused mainly by human activity and will continue if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced has been endorsed by at least 30 scientific societies and academies of science, including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries, and yet there has been a history of controversy over whether or not there is in fact a scientific consensus on this fact. A 2004 essay by Naomi Oreskes in Science reported a survey of 928 abstracts of peer-reviewed papers related to global climate change found no papers disagreeing with the consensus position. There have been complaints from both sides that there is political and cultural pressure to claim one position or the other or face a loss of funding and there have been claims that scientific journals are rejecting dissenting papers simply because they would question the consensus.

There are still those out there, however, who agree with one or more of the following points:
  • There is no conclusive evidence that climate change is happening
  • The changes we are seeing in temperature are part of natural cycles
  • The changes we are seeing are not necessarily caused by humans
  • Even if the changes are human induced, the scale is not large enough to make changes
  • The economic impact of making substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on the scale suggested by the IPCC or other groups is too large.

One of the most high profile controversy's regarding global warming consensus is the Heartland Institute's list put out on April 29, 2008 that revealed "500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares" that included at least 45 scientists who disagreed with its contents and wanted to be removed from the list, instead, however, the Heartland Institute revised the name of the list to claim that these people's research disagreed with the consensus and that the only reason why these people denied it was to help push through policies that would fund more climate research. In 1997, the "World Scientists Call For Action" petition was presented to the world leaders meeting to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol and declared that "A broad consensus among the world's climatologists is that there is now 'a discernible human influence on global climate.'" It urged governments to make "legally binding commitments to reduce industrial nations' emissions of heat-trapping gases", and called global warming "one of the most serious threats to the planet and to future generations." It was signed by more than 1,500 senior scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in science. However, Fred Singer's Science and Environmental Policy Project lists 4 petitions that claim to show that the number of scientists refuting global warming is growing:

  • The 1992 "Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Greenhouse Warming" was signed by 47 scientists and claims that assumptions of catastrophic global warming follows from the burning of fossil fuels are unsupported.
  • The 1992 "Heidelberg Appeal" signed by over 4000 scientists including 72 Nobel Prize winners asks for policy based on "scientific criteria and not on irrational preconceptions" but does not mention climate change or any other specific issue.
  • Singer has produced 2 "Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change" petitions, in 1995 and 1997, but most of the signatories lack credentials in climate research or even physical science in general, plus twelve of the signatories denied having signed the Declaration or had never heard of it.
  • The "Oregon Petition" is a self-signed petition starting in 1998 and which was circulated again in late 2007 and presented in May 2008 with 31,000 claimed signatories, all of whom they claim are qualified scientists with "technical training suitable for the evaluation of the relevant research data", however, anyone with a degree was entitled to sign the list and the list only mentions "catastrophic heating" not the broader issue of global warming or climate change.

In April 2006, a group of sixty scientists signed an open letter to the Canadian Prime Minister to ask that he revisit the science of global warming, however, as with other petitions, critics point out that many of the signatories are not scientists, only 2 of the 60 actually indicated having current appointments in a university department or a recognized research institute in climate science.

After the IPCC report was released, a joint statement issued by the Australian Academy of Sciences, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Caribbean Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, Indonesian Academy of Sciences, Royal Irish Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Royal Society (UK) said: "The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents the consensus of the international scientific community on climate change science. We recognise IPCC as the world's most reliable source of information on climate change and its causes, and we endorse its method of achieving this consensus. Despite increasing consensus on the science underpinning predictions of global climate change, doubts have been expressed recently about the need to mitigate the risks posed by global climate change. We do not consider such doubts justified."

There are a number of other scientific academies and scientific organizations support the conclusions of the IPCC, and while most governments have accepted this as a truth, there are still those who claim that there is no proof of human-induced climate change and that we have nothing to worry about.

Even more: News and the FAQ
American Institute of Physics - Climate Change Science History
History of the science of climate change.
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American Institute of Physics - Climate Change Science History
History of the science of climate change.
Click now to view
American Institute of Physics - Climate Change Science History
History of the science of climate change.
Click now to view
Wikipedia - Global Warming Controversy
Wikipedia article on global warming controversy
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SourceWatch - Global Warming Skeptics
Overview of some global warming skeptics
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