Controversy over Climate Change Science

The controversy over climate change science should now be over: man-made carbon emissions are largely responsible for global warming

An Economist briefing, Global warming 101, reviewed the scientific data on “The past, present and future of climate change” – which included findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  The briefing listed some of the factors which had allowed doubt on the subject to persist for so long, and came to the conclusion that the warming has been caused by human activity:

“These complexities meant that, for a time, there was doubt about greenhouse warming, which the fossil-fuel lobby deliberately fostered. There is no legitimate doubt today. …The effects of industry are not statistically significant until the 1980s. Now they are indisputable.”

As described later (, there are still people who contest the scientific evidence and who regard the warnings as politically motivated.  One such example is an article in Conservativenewsandviews.com: Globalist Climate Candidate Michael Bloomberg and the Humanitarian Hoax of Climate Change.  The article describes the objective of this “hoax” as “globalized socialism where the assets of productive nations are transferred to non-productive nations”.  It tries to amplify controversy over climate change science, even though there is no longer any room for doubt that global warming is largely driven by man-made carbon emissions.

Climate change has a unique potential for massive social and economic disruption.  The possible cost is unquantifiable, but it could be so great that prudence requires it to be taken very seriously.  The Copenhagen Consensus attempted to rank it among other economic priorities though, and argued that it was less important than many other issues such as free trade and health programmes, in its summary report: The Smartest Targets For The World 2016-2030.

The economic fallacy in the Copenhagen Consensus thinking is that it fails to consider the importance of acting quickly and the scale of the possible consequences of failing to do so:

The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are gradually accumulating.  They do not dissipate of their own accord.  The sooner that the world stops adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, by reaching ‘net zero’, the lower the temperature increase will be.  The cost of adaptation would be reduced accordingly, and there would be less need for the geo-engineering described below (

Exceeding 1.5°C global warming could trigger multiple climate tipping points, according to an article published in science.org.  “Climate tipping points are conditions beyond which changes in a part of the climate system become self-perpetuating. These changes may lead to abrupt, irreversible, and dangerous impacts with serious implications for humanity.”  There are indications that some of them are already beginning to develop.

The continued burning of fossil fuels is releasing carbon that has been stored in the earth’s crust for thousands of years.  As noted in the Economist article referred to above:

“The last time the Earth had a carbon-dioxide level similar to today’s, it was on average about 3°C warmer. Greenland’s hills were green. Parts of Antarctica were fringed with forest. The water now frozen over those landscapes was in the oceans, providing sea levels 20 metres higher than today’s.”

As noted earlier (, it is economically prudent for governments to act fast.  The economic controversy over climate change science should not be about whether to take action, but how best to take it – as described in the following sub-sections.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/3571c.htm