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New Beginning for the Climate Change Discussion

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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]

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

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