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Global warming skepticism

Global warming skepticism is opposition to the global warming hypothesis. This belief has been promoted widely in conservative news media and by a small number of scientists.

Critics of this scepticism, particularly environmentalists, dismiss it entirely, since many of the sceptics have ties to the fossil fuel industry or other industries involved in emissions of greenhouse gases that are believed to cause global warming, and thus are not "disinterested" parties.

Sceptics thus find getting a hearing for their views difficult, especially in Western media such as newspapers, magazines and television.

Table of contents

Prominent skeptics

The most visible critics of the global warming theory from within the scientific community have been Patrick Michaels[?] from the Department of Environmental Services at the University of Virginia; Robert Balling[?] of Arizona State University; Sherwood Idso[?] of the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia; and Richard Lindzen of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Michaels, Balling and Idso all lent their names in 1991 to the scientific advisory panel of the Information Council on the Environment[?] (ICE), an organization created by the National Coal Association, the Western Fuels Association, and Edison Electrical Institute. ICE launched a $500,000 advertising and public relations campaign to, in ICE's words, "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)." Its publicity plan called for placing these three scientists, along with fellow greenhouse skeptic S. Fred Singer, in broadcast appearances, op-ed pages, and newspaper interviews. Bracy Williams & Co., a Washington-based PR firm, did the advance publicity work for the interviews. Another company was contracted to conduct opinion polls, which identified "older, less-educated males from larger households who are not typically active information-seekers" and "younger, lower-income women" as "good targets for radio advertisements" that would "directly attack the proponents of global warming . . . through comparison of global warming to historical or mythical instances of gloom and doom." One print advertisement prepared for the ICE campaign showed a sailing ship about to drop off the edge of a flat world into the jaws of a waiting dragon. The headline read: "Some say the earth is warming. Some also said the earth was flat." Another featured a cowering chicken under the headline "Who Told You the Earth Was Warming . . . Chicken Little?" Another ad was targeted at Minneapolis readers and asked, "If the earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis getting colder?" However, the ICE campaign collapsed after embarrassing internal memoranda related to the PR campaign were leaked to the press. An embarrassed Michaels hastily disassociated himself from ICE, citing what he called its "blatant dishonesty."

Following the collapse of ICE, Michaels, Balling, Idso, and Singer have continued to express their skepticism about the theory of global warming. Singer has been the most visible and vocal of the group. However, Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the most reputable academic among current global warming skeptics. Unlike the other leading skeptics, he continues to publish his research in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he has participated in a number of high-level deliberations involving U.S. government agencies and prominent scientific institutions. Lindzen served on an 11-member panel organized by the National Academy of Sciences. The panel's report, titled Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, has been widely cited as evidence that leading scientists believe in global warming. Indeed, the first paragraph of the report summary states, "Greenhouse gases are accumulated in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability."[1] (http://books.nap.edu/books/0309075742/html/1#pagetop) Subsequently, however, Lindzen wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal (June 11, 2001), which insisted that "there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends or what casues them" and "we are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future."[2] (http://www.eos.ubc.ca/courses/eosc112/2001_notes/lindzen)


Global warming skeptics also displute the claim that a "growing consensus" of scientists support the global warming hypothesis. In fact, they say, the consensus is moving in the opposite direction. To support this claim, the website of S. Fred Singer's Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) lists four separate petitions, the 1992 "Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Greenhouse Warming[?]," the "Heidelberg Appeal" (also from 1992), Singer's own "Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change" (1995 and 1997), and the "Oregon Petition," which was circulated in 1998 by physicist Frederick Seitz. According to SEPP associate Candace Crandall, these petititions show that "the number of scientists refuting global warming is growing."[3] (http://www.sepp.org/glwarm/ccwtltr) However, people who have examinated the petitions challenge that conclusion, pointing out that:

  1. The 1992 "Statement by Atmospheric Scientists" is more than a decade old and only has 46 signers.
  2. The Heidelberg Appeal actually does not say anything about global warming.
  3. Most of the signers of the Leipzig Declarations are non-scientists or lack credentials in the specific field of climate research.
  4. Many of the signers of the Oregon Petition[?] are also non-scientists or lack relevant scientific backgrounds.

Global warming vs. global cooling

Global warming skeptics in the popular press frequently claim that the issue has been fabricated by the same environmentalist "scaremongers" who predicted In the 1970s that global cooling would lead to an imminent ice age. This claim stems from a paper by S. Ichtiaque Rasool and Stephen H. Schneider, published in the journal Science in July 1971. Titled "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate," the paper examined the possible future effects of two types of human environmental emissions: (1) greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide; and (2) particulate pollution such as smog, some of which remains suspended in the atmosphere in aerosol form for years. Greenhouse gases were regarded as likely factors that could promote global warming, while particulate pollution blocks sunlight and contributes to cooling. In their paper, Rasool and Schneider theorized that aerosols were more likely to contribute to climate change in the foreseeable future than greenhouse gases, stating that quadrupling aerosols "could decrease the mean surface temperature (of Earth) by as much as 3.5 degrees K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease could be sufficient to trigger an ice age!" As this passage demonstrates, however, Rasool and Schneider considered global cooling a possible future scenario, but they did not predict it.

Global warming skeptics also claim that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences predicted an "imminent ice age." The basis for this claim is a 1975 NAS report titled "Understanding Climate Change: A Program for Action." Actually, the NAS report made no such prediction, stating in fact that "we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate." Its "program for action" consisted simply of a call for further research, because "it is only through the use of adequately calibrated numerical models that we can hope to acquire the information necessary for a quantitative assessment of the climatic impacts."

At the same time that these discussions were ongoing in scientific circles, a more dramatic account appeared in the popular media, notably an April 28, 1975 article in Newsweek magazine that has been widely cited by global warming skeptics as an example of past "global cooling hysteria." That article, titled "The Cooling World," pointed to "ominous signs that the Earth's weather patterns have begun to change" and pointed to "a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968." Contrary to the claims of current global warming skeptics, however, the Newsweek article did not make "environmentalist" claims regarding the cause of that drop. To the contrary, it stated that "what what causes the onset of major and minor ice ages remains a mystery" and cited the NAS conclusion that "Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions." Rather than proposing environmentalist solutions, the Newsweek article suggested that "simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies" would be appropriate.[4] (http://www.globalclimate.org/Newsweek.htm)

As the NAS report and the article in Newsweek both indicate, the scientific knowledge regarding climate change was more uncertain then than it is today. At the time that Rasool and Schneider wrote their 1971 paper, climatologists had not yet recognized the significance of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, such as methane, nitrous oxide and chloroflourocarbons. As a result, the climatological community was more concerned about possible cooling of the planet by the particulate pollution humanity was injecting into the atmosphere than about greenhouse gas-induced warming. By the mid-1970s, however, scientists became aware of the role of other greenhouse gases, and their concerns began to shift toward warming, where they are focused today.

Global warming and carbon dioxide

One argument against global warming questions the contention that rising levels of carbon dioxide correlate with -- and thus have caused -- global warming.

Global warming and solar activity

Another argument against man-made global warming (or anthropogenic global warming) is the discovery that changes in worldwide average temperature correlate closely with the intensity of solar radiation.

The correlation between global temperature ups and downs, noted by "skeptics", is much closer than the claimed correlation between global temperature rise and carbon dioxide claimed by "warmers".

Global warming and the Kyoto Protocol

Skeptics, believing that carbon dioxide levels have no significant impact on global temperatures, feel that support for the Kyoto Protocol is entirely misguided.


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