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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 March 2007, 00:49 GMT
Caution urged on climate 'risks'
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

An aircraft flies in front of the sun
Both scientists believe that man's activities are causing global warming

Two leading UK climate researchers say some of their peers are "overplaying" the global warming message and risk confusing the public about the threat.

Professors Paul Hardaker and Chris Collier, both Royal Meteorological Society figures, are voicing their concern at a conference in Oxford.

They say some researchers make claims about possible future impacts that cannot be justified by the science.

The pair believe this damages the credibility of all climate scientists.

Both men hold the mainstream view on climate change - that human activity is the cause.

But they think catastrophism and the "Hollywoodisation" of weather and climate only work to create confusion in the public mind.

They argue for a more sober and reasoned explanation of the uncertainties about possible future changes in the Earth's climate.

I've no doubt that global warming is occurring, but we don't want to undermine that case by crying wolf
Professor Chris Collier

As an example, they point to a recent statement from one of the foremost US science bodies - the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The association released a strongly worded statement at its last annual meeting in San Francisco in February which said: "As expected, intensification of droughts, heatwaves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms is occurring, with a mounting toll on vulnerable ecosystems and societies.

"These events are early warning signs of even more devastating damage to come, some of which will be irreversible."

According to Professors Hardaker and Collier, this may well turn out to be true, but convincing evidence to back the claims has not yet emerged.

"It's certainly a very strong statement," Professor Collier told BBC News.

"I suspect it refers to evidence that hurricanes have increased as a result of global warming; but to make the blanket assumption that all extreme events are increasing is a bit too early yet."

'Scientific basis'

A former president of the Royal Meteorological Society, Professor Collier is concerned that the serious message about the real risks posed by global warming could be undermined by making premature claims.

"I think there is a good chance of that," he said. "We must guard against that - it would be very damaging.

"I've no doubt that global warming is occurring, but we don't want to undermine that case by crying wolf."

Climate demonstration. Image: Getty

This view is shared by Professor Hardaker, the society's chief executive.

"Organisations have been guilty of overplaying the message," he says.

"There's no evidence to show we're all due for very short-term devastating impacts as a result of global warming; so I think these statements can be dangerous where you mix in the science with unscientific assumptions."

The AAAS said it would not be commenting directly on the professors' remarks.

"We feel that the recent consensus statement of the AAAS Board of Directors speaks for itself and stands on its own," a spokesperson explained.

"The AAAS Board statement references (at the end), the scientific basis upon which the conclusions are based, including the joint National Academies' statement and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

The 'right thing'

Professor Hardaker also believes that overblown statements play into the hands of those who say that scientists are wrong on climate change - that global warming is a myth.

We have to stick to what the science is telling us
Professor Paul Hardaker

"I think we do have to be careful as scientists not to overstate the case because it does damage the credibility of the many other things that we have greater certainty about," he said.

"We have to stick to what the science is telling us; and I don't think making that sound more sensational, or more sexy, because it gets us more newspaper columns, is the right thing for us to be doing.

"We have to let the science argument win out."

The pair have contributed to a pamphlet called Making Sense of the Weather and Climate, which will be presented on Saturday at the Garden Quadrangle Auditorium at St John's College, Oxford.

The AAAS position on climate can be read on the organisation's website.

Professor Paul Hardaker on climate change

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