Climate science denial has emerged simultaneously with key scientific findings about humanity’s impact on our planet, according to a new book.
Professor Peter Stott – author ofHot Air: The Inside Story of the Battle Against Climate Change Denial – started 25 years ago in the then obscure field of climate change detection and attribution.
As scientists saw more and more evidence of global warming – and detected “human fingerprints” as the cause – organized denial of climate change quickly became a powerful force.
Examining how and why this happened, the book indicates that the so-called “climate skeptics” have “harnessed doubt in the service of the fossil fuel industry.”
“In the face of the growing evidence that humans are causing climate change, we have seen a growing determination from a range of pressure groups to deny it,” said Professor Stott, University of Exeter and from the Met Office.
“There was a small group of scientifically trained people who selected data and produced arguments that sounded scientific.”
The book includes some of Professor Stott’s experiences during the fierce debate of the past decades.
He attended a meeting in Moscow in 2004 that became a climate science “show trial”, where the “community of climate deniers” gathered to prevent Russia from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.
On the flight home from Russia, he saw someone reading a British newspaper which described global warming as a “load of poppies”.
“It sounds strange now, but back then some aspects of climate science were still quite obscure, even in academia,” said Professor Stott, who will head the Met Office’s science pavilion at the conference on COP26 climate change in Glasgow next month.
“However, things were starting to change.
“I vividly remember attending a press conference in Paris in 2007, and it really seemed like people were listening.
“The BBC broadcast the evening news live from the conference. We felt we had some momentum.
But in 2009, the Copenhagen climate summit ended in failure – following what the book calls a “vicious attack on science by climate deniers” in the wake of the Climategate scandal.
“We were on trial,” said Professor Stott, a fellow of the Global Systems Institute in Exeter.
“However, despite the negative consequences, this scandal sparked a much greater interest in the scientific details – and this focus helped the media, the public and policymakers understand what the evidence was saying.
“It took time – time that we didn’t have to waste – but in 2015 we reached the Paris talks, in which the goals under discussion were based on scientific evidence.
And this month, two climatologists, Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann, received the Nobel Prize in physics.
It is a recognition that climate science and the detection and attribution of climate change is no longer an obscure area of research as it was 25 years ago.
Professor Stott’s work focuses on extreme weather events, and he believes recent storms, floods, heat waves and droughts have led to a growing acceptance that climate change “is really here.”
“These extreme events have shown us again and again how vulnerable we are, all over the world,” he said.
“This may be the end of outright climate change denial.
“However, we need urgent international action, and there are still many attempts to delay this.”
Professor Stott hopes that agreements can be reached at COP26 to significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
“It is doable and achievable, and the benefits range from protecting the climate to improving human health and improving economies,” he said.
Hot air is now available in hardback format, published by Atlantic Books.
The University of Exeter has launched a “Green Futures” campaign and website to take action on the environment and the climate emergency. To learn more, please visit https://greenfutures.exeter.ac.uk