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New Beginning for the Climate Change Discussion

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Thursday 26th July saw the launch of SciLogs.com, a new English language science blog network. SciLogs.com, the brand-new home for Nature Network bloggers, forms part of the SciLogs international collection of blogs which already exist in German,Spanish and Dutch. To celebrate this addition to the NPG science blogging family,some of the NPG blogs are publishing posts focusing on “Beginnings”.

Participating in this cross-network blogging festival is nature.com’s Soapbox Science blog, Scitable’s Student Voices blog and bloggers from SciLogs.com, SciLogs.de,Scitable and Scientific American’s Blog Network. Join us as we explore the diverse interpretations of beginnings – from scientific examples such as stem cells to first time experiences such as publishing your first paper. You can also follow and contribute to the conversations on social media by using the #BeginScights hashtag.

The discussion surrounding climate-change has reached a precipice, with one of the world’s most respected skeptics public conversion. This weekend, Professor Richard A. Muller publically acknowledged that his analysis of the data shows that climate change is real – and that humans are almost entirely the cause of it.

This is an about-face from Dr. Muller’s previous skeptic stance. One might recall his vocal criticisms of the landmark 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.), which concluded that most of the global warming over the past 50 years could be attributed to humans. But, over the last three years, the UC Berkeley Physics Professor has independently verified the findings presented in the I.P.C.C. report. And, he has systematically evaluated some of the largest concerns in the climate change skeptic community. In his own words:

Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

According to Dr. Muller and his team at the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, years of focused analysis of available data led them to stronger findings than those presented by the I.P.C.C.. In his July 28 NY Times Op-Ed, Dr. Muller states that:

In its 2007 report, the I.P.C.C. concluded only that most of the warming of the prior 50 years could be attributed to humans. It was possible, according to the I.P.C.C. consensus statement, that the warming before 1956 could be because of changes in solar activity, and that even a substantial part of the more recent warming could be natural…

We carefully studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off).”

Their conclusion – none of these potential biases matter in the overarching result that climate change is real, and humans are primarily the cause.

Now, this is not to say that Dr. Muller has removed all of his skepticism regarding claims as to what climate change has and has not caused. The scientist still maintains that “much, if not most, of what is attributed to climate change is speculative, exaggerated or just plain wrong.” But, the scientist maintains that, as carbon dioxide emissions increase so should the earth’s temperature.

For those who believe in the scientific evidence supporting climate change, Dr. Muller’s conclusions bring excitement and great potential. It brings hope of a new beginning for the climate change discussion. One where the nation moves from the discussion from “if” to “what should we do?”

According to Dr. Muller, his team’s analysis of the data has indicated that the next step is to find agreement “across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.”

[To read about the analysis conducted by Dr. Muller and the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, and to obtain full access to the data and computer programs used in the team’s analysis, see the five scientific papers available online at BerkeleyEarth.org]

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. geojellyroll 5:26 pm 07/31/2012

    Some guy in Berkely says something and folks in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brazil, Russia…all climb aboard for ‘Kumbaya’, the new beginning.

    Hint…the ONLY talk in India today is how to get more coal fired generators built and running ASAP.

    Link to this
  2. 2. MoEnergySci 6:15 pm 07/31/2012

    At a minimum, this eliminates one big justification in the US for tabling the climate and energy discussion. And, it shows the importance of having reputable scientists who don’t just say “no I don’t want to believe” but instead analyze the evidence before them in a logical, methodical, and transparent way.

    Link to this
  3. 3. geojellyroll 11:10 pm 07/31/2012

    Moenergy..wrong..it’s

    ‘A New Beginning’…get with the touchy-feely headline. It’s Berkely…soft focus posters of flower and kittens.

    Link to this
  4. 4. singing flea 11:37 pm 07/31/2012

    The links provided at the end of the article are a must read for anyone who who doesn’t understand what this article is all about. The video links make it even easier to visualize. I suggest you deniers have a look-see before you step on your own tongue again.

    BTW, the UC Berkly science program is still among the premiere science schools in the country. For those of you who still think it is back in the 60′s you need a refresher course. The 60′s flower power days happened a generation ago.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Father Theo 6:31 am 08/1/2012

    Actually, geojellyroll is right. What Muller says is not really important. What is important is the 97% of publishing climate scientists who he is now in agreement with, and with the multiple lines of evidence which long ago convinced everybody else in the field–and every major scientific organization on the planet–that climate change was happening and was human-caused. He went back to basics and reinvented the wheel. But what the hey! It’s a good wheel.

    Link to this
  6. 6. pokerplyer 10:12 am 08/1/2012

    The change in perspective by Muller does not mean very much in regards to the key issues in the debate.

    You still have idiots like singing flea who stupidly calls people deniers who disagree with their perspective and who want to push their agenda.

    Here are the facts:
    1. Additional atmospheric CO2 will lead to a warming of the planet if all other things remain unchanged. The resulting change is temperature from more CO2 is approximate 1C for a doubling of CO2. This rate of temperature increase in not what is considered a problem. The problem results from what are the feared additional forcings that may result as a byproduct of the initial temperature rise.

    2. Science does not know the net impact of the additional forcings. There are positive forcings such as additional water vapor in the atmosphere as a result of more heat, but the actual impact of more water vapor is unknown because science does not yet understand the amount of additional cloud formation and the impacts these additional clouds will have on transmission of heat to the surface of the planet. Some scientists have argued that the forcing from water vapor should result in a negative forcing while most believe it will be a positive forcing but there is great debate about the magnitude. In addition, there are other changes to the system that will result in changes in forcings that are poorly understood such as aerosols. The bottom line is that scientists do not know the amount of warming that will result from additional atmospheric CO2. It could be anywhere from under 1 C to over 3 C for a doubling of CO2. This range of estimates is very important because the impacts on humanity result largely on the rate of temperature change and how it might impact the lives of people.

    3. Once science understands how much it will warm as a result of all the additional human caused forcings science will begin to better understand what will happen as a result to the future weather conditions that are important to the lives of humans in different countries around the world. Today there is no model that can accurately tell us what will happen. Knowing how much it will rain where is essential in determining where the warmer conditions are harmful or helpful to those living around the world. Some places/people will clearly benefit from it being warmer while others will have to adapt to harsher conditions. The bottom line is we simply do not know what the impacts will be.

    Link to this
  7. 7. econmagic 10:35 am 08/1/2012

    Hate to break this to you guys, but there is no new conversation on climate change. It is the same old. Some people will continue to deny it is real, others will counter. The key here is that many people will continue to side with those who deny it is real. This is in fact the fault of environmentalists, because for decades now they have been pushing for solutions that are not really solutions, because they don’t make a difference. These ideas do harm the ones who agree to them, while actually giving those who do not an economic competitive advantage. Kyoto is the ideal example of it. People are not naive, so they will prefer to believe the other guys as long as such flawed ideas of economic self sacrifice are pushed, to the detriment of the willing and to the benefit of the unwilling.
    If we trully want to start a new discusion on climate change and sustainability, we have to start by adressing this dillema.
    http://zoltansustainableecon.blogspot.com/2012/07/climate-change-frozen-global-village.html

    Link to this
  8. 8. Crasher 6:08 pm 08/1/2012

    One by one the deniers are realising the weight of evidence is too much to ignore…not to mention how silly they are beginning to look in the face of changes that are happening in the world. The debate in science ended 20 years ago…the debate in the media is almost dead. Only the debate in the bloggshere remains but it too is rapidly fading.
    Accept the science and move on to how to fix the problem without destroying economies….before the enviromental changes do that for us!

    Link to this
  9. 9. R.Blakely 9:47 am 08/2/2012

    Apparently, Richard Muller considers temperature measurements as an accurate measure of climate change. But R.M. is wrong because clouds affect climate more than temperature does. We now have fewer clouds. This change is not due to humans. The oceans are capturing less heat, and so we have fewer clouds transporting moisture from the equator to the Earth’s poles. Less moisture at the poles results in glaciers shrinking since they have less snow. Artic ice is disappearing due to a drought in the Artic.
    Apparently, R. M. has ignored the fact that the Earth’s climate resists change. Most systems resist change. Simply using temperature, as a measure of change, is wrong since the Earth is cooling more at the equator and warming at the poles. The average seems to be “warming” but is in fact a “cooling” trend since most people live closer to the equator.
    When global warming really does start then we will enter another ice age, which is the more normal condition for Earth’s climate.

    Link to this

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