Climate-related controversies and the outcome of the Copenhagen summit widely regarded as a failure have left a sense of hopelessness in climate policy, says Lord Chris Smith. In this week's Green Room, he stresses the soundness of the fundamental climate science and the need to continue pushing for meaningful climate deals.
The worst response to Copenhagen would be to throw up our hands in horror and say nothing was achieved and therefore we should give up
The myth fostered by some parts of the media in recent months - that somehow the scientific evidence for climate change is deeply flawed - needs to be laid to rest, and soon.
Sloppily expressed e-mail exchanges involving researchers from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and a blithe assumption that the Himalayan glaciers may melt by 2035, were both irresponsible and damaging.
But we cannot allow a few errors to undermine the overwhelming strength of evidence that has been painstakingly accumulated, peer-reviewed, tested and tested again.
That evidence shows overwhelmingly that our emissions of greenhouse gases are having a serious impact on the Earth's atmosphere, and that - as a result - climate change is happening and will accelerate.
The damage that has been done by the glee with which sceptics have seized on one or two scientific mistakes and attempted to use them to undermine the whole consensus about the evidence for climate change cannot be underestimated.
Not if but when
In recent years, the public here in the UK, and across much of Europe, had come to accept the reality and the urgency of climate change.
There were still debates about what precisely to do to counter it, but at least the fundamental recognition was there.
I think that is probably less true now than it was four months ago - and that is a tragedy.
We need to take the argument back to the sceptics, and make the powerful, convincing and necessary case about climate change much clearer to everyone.
There may still be a degree of uncertainty, and we need continuously to test the scientific evidence with rigour.
But the uncertainties are not primarily about whether or not climate change is happening, but about how fast the change will come and how bad it will be.
Flooding might not be climate change's smoking gun, but it is part of a trend
The evidence of change is indeed there.
The glaciers of the Alps and the Himalayas are retreating. Weather patterns around the world are becoming more erratic and more extreme.
The most intensive rainfall ever experienced in one location over a 24-hour period in England fell on Cumbria last November, and caused the tragic consequences of the severe flooding that we saw in Cockermouth, Keswick and Workington.
We cannot say for certain that these things - or indeed the intense heat recently experienced in Australia, or the droughts in Kenya - were caused by climate change.
But we can see with our own eyes that climatic, weather and temperature trends are changing, and we know that these hitherto exceptional events are likely to become more frequent over coming years.
Here in England and Wales, the Environment Agency works at the very point where people's lives intersect with environmental change.
We help people prevent and cope with flooding, environmental degradation, water depletion, and pollution.
In our day-to-day work, we can see small things that are happening all around us.
Damselflies and dragonflies are being found much further north than before, as they move with the warming climate.
The rare vendace fish is disappearing from its former stronghold in the Lake District, and is having to be re-introduced into the colder waters of Scotland.
Our yearly water testing over 20 years has shown an average rise in temperature in our rivers of 0.6C (1.1F). These are small signals, but like the canary in the mine, they foretell greater danger in the future.
If we can hold the average global air temperature increase to 2C (3.6F) since pre-industrial times, we have a chance of surviving more or less intact.
But if it ends up being 4C or more, the impacts on population, water resources, sea levels, agriculture, weather patterns, biodiversity, and the quality of human life across the world, will be severe.
The COP15 meeting failed to provide signs of true international resolve
That is why the international discussions on climate change at Copenhagen were so important, and why the outcome was so disappointing.
We always knew that we would not emerge from Copenhagen with a full signed-and-sealed treaty with firm commitments for specific emissions reductions from everyone around the world.
But I did hope that we might emerge with rather more than we did, with at least a set of in-principle commitments and some target dates and a map charting where we were heading.
Instead, we have the Copenhagen Accord, drawn up by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, with some aspirations and agreements, and an earnest of intent to build on this during the coming year.
Build on it we must. The worst response to Copenhagen would be to throw up our hands in horror and say nothing was achieved and therefore we should give up on the search for international commitments and agreement.
We need to continue the drive for an international treaty, and do so with renewed urgency.
There are some useful fundamentals in the Copenhagen Accord - the acknowledgment of a 2C limit on the global average temperature increase; the principle of north-south flows of aid and support in order to ensure that the developing world can grow more sustainably than those of us who have largely caused the problem up to now; and commitments to help combat deforestation.
We should now work as hard as we can to build these up into more specific commitments over the coming months.
Lord Chris Smith is chairman of the UK's Environment Agency
The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Do you agree with Chris Smith? Is the real issue about climate change the when or the if? Have we lost hope in the prospect of truly global binding deals in the wake of recent controversies and conference outcomes?
Anyone in any doubt as to the reality of Climate Change/Global Warming (it doesn't matter what you call it - Global Warming was first mentioned at the end of the 19th Century and Climate Change has been officially used since, at least, the IPCC was set up in 1987), should have a look at the website of any national scientific organisation, e.g. The Royal Society in the UK, the US National Academy of Sciences, the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Network of African Science Academies, the World Meteorological Organisation, the InterAcademy Council, etc., etc. In fact, check the National Science Association/Academy/Society of whatever country you like or happen to live in. They all agree, contain all the science and evidence you could possibly need, and will explain it all to you. If you don't accept what they say, or prefer to get your information and beliefs from blogs, then you don't WANT to accept reality.
JMurphy, LONDON, UK
Its all about money and can be summed up by two words "Carbon Trading" case closed.
I keep thinking of the Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill and his defence of free speech - if a case is strong enough (which in the case of climate change/AGW I think it is), it will stand up to public discussion. So let's have a public debate between sceptics and climate scientists and let the full panoply of climate science be brought to bear before the public. Let's also see the sceptics put some hard work into the process, and come up with databases just as robust and capable of scrutiny as the Hadley Centre or GISS databases. Let's also note that regardless of climate, the challenges of environmental sustainability on a 9 billion-plus inhabited world in 2050 are not going to just disappear. And if the sceptics feel it's all about taxes, perhaps they could answer what they would do to avoid a situation of mass resource depletion and shortage, with even a hypothetical chance this could be made far worse by changes in temperature. Fortress Europe anyone? Don't bet on it working. Those seeking to address even the risk of climate change have got the long term interest of these British Isles as well as those who live a more deprived lifestyle at heart - bau (business as usual) increasingly won't cut it. Nor will sticking our collective fingers in our collective ears.
Jim Watts, London
Who cares what I, or any of these other people, think? I'm not a climate scientist, and maybe I'm just naive, but I believe that if every single major scientific body in the world believes that AGW is a problem, then it probably is. This man-on-the-street opinion stuff is nonsense and demonstrates a real lack of spine for the BBC.
Chris Smith is perfectly right. To give up on this issue would be suicidal. The consequences of our negligence would hit our innocent descendants with full force. They could only curse us.
Andreas Jaffe, Krefeld, Germany
Chris Smith is making the classic mistake of using short term weather events to support his argument. e.g. The most intensive rainfall ever experienced in one location over a 24-hour period in England fell on Cumbria last November, and caused the tragic consequences of the severe flooding that we saw in Cockermouth, Keswick and Workington. I challenge him to produce the evidence that global warming caused this event.
jwilbye, Bristol UK
Lord Smith is absolutely right, and people in the UK and elsewhere need to rally behind him. Also, if we are to believe the so-called skeptics, it is high time the BCC and others place their scientific hypotheses under very close scrutiny and hold them accountable for the misinformation and attacks on science and scientists. AGW is a real, and is going to become more and more of an issue in coming decades. Unfortunately, it is like a slow, creeping cancer that cannot go unchecked for much longer. People seem to expect the scenarios predicted by 2100 to be happening now and also erroneously expect a monotonic increase in global temperatures. That is not the reality. Just like cancer (for example), ignoring AGW and going into denial is not going to make the problem go away. As a scientists I wish that AGW was a hoax and that we did not have to worry about the impacts on the biosphere and its inhabitants (including us), but like oncologists, climate scientists are not paid to protect us from inconvenient realities. They speak to the facts and observations, and those are telling us that the cryosphere, oceans and atmosphere are already undergoing marked changes, and this is still early days.
Julian, Edmonton, Canada
The need for 100% scientific certainty before anyone will accept that something has to be done to prevent climate change is ridiculous. How about we don't spend billions of dollars on defence spending until we are 100% sure that we are about to be attacked. Or perhaps I won't insure my house until i'm 100% certain that it's about to burn down! Sceptics simply don't want it to be true and are prepared to drag us all down with them. I really do despair for the intelligence of the human race.
David Castle, Melbourne, Australia
I wonder how the citizens of the South Pacific, especially those who live in the Fiji group which has just experienced the worst cyclone ever recorded, would interpret the comments made above by those who say there is no issue. Would they say that it was just another one-off aberration in a cyclical weather pattern (I don't think that we are in the hurricane season) or another dot to be joined.
Maunganui, New Zealand
I have mixed feelings in this story. By any measure, Copenhagen has been a disappointment. There was, as ever, a lot of talking but very little of the concrete and binding agreements that we need so badly. There is no agreement over the level of emissions that must be cut and by when. There was no clarity on where the money is to come from to finance the adaptation to the changing climate that all agree is critical and there was no binding agreement on how to preserve the world's remaining rain-forests. As a South Asian Social Engineer, I am happy to see that there was little of the blame game in this article. In a positive sense, I would like to say that in Copenhagen summit, poor countries like Bangladesh got an opportunity to raise their problems. I hope that developing and poor countries can be expected to prioritize carbon emission cuts over the well-being of their populations. On these benches, we have always seen the development of a sustainable green economy as part and parcel of building a strong economy in the future. There need be no conflict between strong growth and sustainable growth.
Engr Salam Sheikh, LGED, Joypurhat, Bangladesh
I have a question for all those out there who have made an opinion, actually do some research into the science behind what is being said. There are a few issues that people need to grasp: 1. Climate change is a natural occurance 2. It is caused by a build up primarily of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 3. Carbon dioxide stores heat (this is a fact) 4. Due to humans, more carbon dioxide in atmosphere, means the planet heats up faster. 5. Combine with logging of trees, which are the primary source of converting CO2 into oxygen. 6. Logical Conclusion - world will heat up faster due to human interference However this is based of my own research and has been simplified for the uninformed, so make up your own mind about it, just remember it will be your children who have to deal with it later on.
Morgan, Wollongong, Australia
I'm afraid Lord Smith's article will do nothing to convince the unconvinced - just the oposite in fact. How can he refer unabashedly to events such as Cockermouth but conveniently ignore more recent events such as the coldest winter on record. Now, I'm not saying that that is evidence that AGW is not happening but it is as scientifically correct as saying that Cockermouth is evidence that it is. This type of politicised selection of facts that fit the case and ignore the rest is what gives the GW hypothesis a bad name.
So many "sceptics" here convinced that if they disbelieve strong enough they can change reality. Tragedy of democracy in action. People who know nothing of the science or the math are convinced by the oratory of those opposed to any environmental regulation. Polluters and oil lobbyists delay what must be done, and millions pay the price. We humans deserve the misery that is coming, but our children will curse us for all the beauty that disappears, and the suffering that results is on the hands of the "sceptics". Shame on you.
Mikko Rintasaari, Turku, Finland
In the buildup to Copenhagen, vast numbers of people had confidence in what the scientists were saying; with good reason. So what was it that changed public perception of the validity of the problem so dramatically? It was the media. I think it saw a great opportunity to make money; without the slightest concern that the welfare of humanity lay in the balance. By giving the few climate change nay-sayers prime time exposure on many talk shows, the damage to public confidence was irrevocable. So when a few minor mistakes showed up in the overall truly solid scientific evidence, the public was primed to respond with disbelief.
Kris Jacques, Brisbane Australia
I agree with Chris Smith I live in central U.S.A and notice dramatic changes in our weather since i moved hear from Europe ,50 years ago.The only people that don't believe in Global warming are industries that have billions to loose in profit and they will do anything to dispute it's existence I don't if you read about the tabacco companies off the 1980's and 1990's how they lied about tabacco and cancer and they even got doctors to testify on there behalf.This is the same thing that oil coal and gas industries are doing.Don't believe there lies!
germjoe, chicago il.,usa
55% of the US believes in angels, but only 36% believes that human activity is causing global warming. I suspect that there may be a negative correlation between these two groups; whereas there would probably be a fairly positive correlation between believers in global warming and the very similar number who believe in evolution. I would be interested to know if anyone has investigated these and other beliefs among BBC website commentators?
Reading a selection of the above comments I'm struck by the similarities of some of the current debate to that seen in fundamentalist religious exchanges and I mean from both sides of the debate. Perhaps this would be an area worthy of investigation by suitably trained anthropologists. It also seems that the debate is much simpler than many realise and that it's all too easy to get caught up in our own circular arguments before tripping disillusioned over our own feet. As humans we are part of nature, that great test bed which allows many life forms to try their luck. Anyone who opens their eyes can see that our human life form may be facing a few crises in the not too distant future.
David White, Leeds
When "unadjusted" data is "lost" alarm bells start ringing. I MEAN, SERIOUSLY, HOW GULLIBLE DO YOU THINK WE ARE?
Shane , Torquay, Australia
Why do you think this goverment accepted cutting co2 by the highest yet unachievable level,for them it is a made in heaven, money making machine,last winter was the norm when i was young,1950s. climate always changes,believe it,dont be conned by the establishment...
Absolute rubbish. You only have to compare the careful and logical explanations by leading sceptics, such as Lord Monckton, with what has become the angry arm-waving and shouting by the warmists along the lines of: 'Look - we've done the resarch, we've had our stuff peer-reviewed, we are just RIGHT..' This has become a religion - jumped on gleefully by governments (especially in the UK) as a tax opportunity - and by the likes of Al Gore who will make a fortune trading a non-existing commodity ('carbon credits') with heavy-polluting industries in countries such as India - why do you think Tata shut down the Corus plant at Redcar..? Chris Smith also falls into the classic trap of using 'weather' as examples of climate change - when we have been told repeatedly that weather is not climate. Can't have it both ways.
David, Cambridge UK
Earth atmosphere and its natural resources have been seriously affected during last 2-5 years and the major reason behind this is continuous erosion of natural resources by every country to strengthen their economy in order to support their mass population. The leaders from this countries are not able to understand the seriousness of the situation BECASUE they are not the normal human beings who are spending their time in the outside. In the name of ECONOMY,the major construction/mining giants lobbies with the govt and do the maximum harm to the environment.Countries like China/India/US should make and follow strick norms for environment safeguards.
surendra singh, singrauli,india
The last time I looked we lived in a democratic society. If I have not been convinced by the science so far that himans are responsible for our climate change through 1.7% of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere then I don't have to buy into it. If you believe the theory, then do what is expected of you by the eco-politicians. Don't drive, don't use electricity, don't fly and don't breath out, of and pay large amounts to developing countries through an ETS on a regular basis. I mean, where is the common sense - with the ETS the funds raised don't even go to the organisations that need to convert to non carbon emissions - the funds go to people and organisations that have little need to convert. So this big money-go-round does very little to help organisations to convert therefore having little effect on the environment.
Global warming-up is an objective fact happening now. If one is skeptic of such fact, he should refer to the year by the local and globe-wise year by year climate rocords and research results by responsible scientists. Based on my personal experience, when I moved to Xi'an , a city in Western Chinain 1950s last century, people enjoyed rather cool weather in summer and colder days wich much snow in winter. But with a little more half a century elapsed, things have changed largely. Xi'an has become a "furnace" with the temperature often topping across the country, and in winter, snow falling is so rare just like finding the blue moon. For example, in the past winter, we have had two snows. What we can make certain is that the increasing population and the human activities (industiral smog, car exhaust emissions, other kinds of pollultions, etc.) have contributed to the current terrible situation.
Guangfu Zhou, Xi'an China
Pollution is bad. People get that. Hysteria is everywhere. People also seem to understand that. Trust is hard to come bye. The average person is more than a bit skeptical of corporations, science, government, news media, etc. So what happens? People understand the basic ideas but can't trust the hysteria. It also doesn't help when scientists from various schools of learning keep saying things with conviction and then being shown to be wrong. Remember, the general public is still trying to get over foolish science/technical hysteria over cold fusion, re-designating Pluto and Y2K. The average person is NOT going to be convinced when some "expert" says there is a change of 1 degree! Especially if that expert (or his or her cohorts) are shown to be using questionable sources to draw conclusions.
Victor Nazarian, Washington D.C. USA
Chris Smith's hyperbole just plays into the hands of the "sceptics". Cherry picking instances of unusual weather. Talking of a "consensus" of scientists. The scientific method should determine what we do. It does not rely on a "consensus". If you prove something in science, no amount of consensus can prove you wrong. All I would like to see is a testable, falsifiable hypothesis, followed by a prediction and then an experiment. Is that too much to ask? Scepticism is not a bad thing. And it can be demolished with hard evidence. So please please please Climate experts; Make a prediction and then test it.
S Smith, Nottingham
What troubles me is that China India US are allowed to massively increase their emissions while we give up our economies. And then taxes are increased constantly - all just 'manufacturing consent'.
¨Sloppily expressed e-mail exchanges¨. I get sick of suggestions that this was the sum total of the hack/leak. The documents leaked were damning. If anyone wants to find out how solid the science is, enjoy the primary school level computer programming of the CRU exposed in: Harry_Read_Me.txt. Enjoy the demons of ¨Big oil¨ discussing interest in Carbon trading, see the CRU propaganda campaign and enjoy the spreadsheets showing Mr Jones 13 million pounds plus of grants. Al Gore´s Nobel should be taken off him and given to the hacker/leaker.
David, Noosa Australia
Ah, it's great to see Andrew Montford delivering the perfect 6 line riposte to Lord Chris Smith's regurgitated mantra, presented in the usual breathless manner by the heroically biased BBC. I live in hope that, maybe one day, our political masters and their compliant unquestioning media will stop taking the great unwashed for fools. Keep up the good work yer Grace.
Steve Yeates, Brighton
Chris Smith is absolutely right. But there are too many people who simply don't want to believe that there's a problem with climate change, who aren't interested in solving it, and who will clutch at any straw that appears to let them off the hook.
Ben Murray, Edinburgh
Climate change is happening. It has always happened, and always will. Lying about the cause of it to raise taxes, and use the lies as a basis for wealth redistribution must be stopped.
S. Blyth, London, England
'Climate change' changed from 'Global warming' because it didn't stack up. 'Reducing speed' we were told necessary initially to reduce fuel consumption, now under the 'Speed Kills' mantra, its used as an excuse to reduce accidents severity and frequency.
Both equally don't work. Both are an attempt to reduce individual freedoms to enjoy life, through raising taxes. We need to see for ourselves the repugnancy of such deceptive attempts to social engineer us all!
Im sorry but Lord Smith's statement that "the overwhelming strength of evidence that has been painstakingly accumulated, peer-reviewed, tested and tested again" is manifestly the equivalent of the political ostrich putting his head in the sand. I recommend Smith reads The Hockey Stick Illusion by Andrew Montford. From my perspective, it is the very quality of the science that is being questioned and that needs to be addressed. Until the climate science establishment stop hiding/cherry picking their data, and their code used to recreate and extrapolate climate trends, I for one will maintain a sceptical attitude. Note: I do not consider myself to be dyed-in-the-wool sceptic, but I do insist on being led by the scientific method and process and not by environmental hyperbole. (By the way, since when did Global Warming morph into Climate Change? These arent actually the same thing.)
Would it be possible for the Environment Agency to adopt renewable friendly measures to allow for easier installation of anaerobic digesters etc. as is happening in Germany and the Netherlands? Current arrangements for regulatory implementation are very difficult for small businesses and farms, hence we have very few installations.
Tom Langdon-Davies, Exeter Devon
The people that rubbished claims that several weeks of unseasonal snowfall were not evidence of warming but just weather variation cannot use the example of 1 day a rainfall as evidence of climate change.
If they want to demonstrate to people the reality of climate change they need to move away from the catchy soundbites and get back to what they do best - solid scientific analysis. If they had done this all along, we wouldn't have seen the glacier debacle because it would have been rejected through peer review before they ever made it a headline.
Paul R, Dorset
I think that a debate should be organised between the main proponents and deniers of man-made climate change. There are so many arguments put forward involving cosmic rays, sun-spot activity and the medieval warming period, to name a few. Also CO2 occupies a very samll percentage of the atmosphere with most of it being water vapour. Some people say that excessive CO2 causes increased plant growth.
So what is the truth ?. The public needs to know.
Let's have an agenda containing bullet points for component of climate change and let's get the arguments thrashed out.
Dave Roberts, North Yorkshire
I agree entirely with Chris Smith. I have worked in climate change mitigation in the UK and my native Australia since 2004. Too often recently I have been challenged by friends and acquaintences who remark that they were close to being conned into the 'climate change hoax' and take the recent cold weather in the UK as 'evidence' that climate change is a myth. It is important to dispel such localised and unscientific assessments to demonstrate what is really happening at a global level. Then perhaps there might be the public impetus to drive political will towards a concerted effort to invest in future technologies that can avert the worst possible outcomes of climate change-related weather events in future. Electric cars are often mentioned as the way to partial resolution of our problems, but until the source of that electricity is renewable and low or zero carbon, they only add to the problem with less efficient conversion of energy to motion. Someone close: please explain this to Boris Johnson!
Jenny Klein, London, England
Overstating and exaggerating the case for anything ultimately alienates those it is meant to convince. An apparent 1degree rise in global temeperature does not unequivocally equal climate change ( 2 degrees is mentioned in the above article). Science is usually about probabilities rather than certainties. The 'milennium bug' nonsensense and the over-hyping of swine-flu make people justifiably sceptical about the 'next big disaster'.
Peter Richards, Lincoln
The real problem is that human greed will always dominate the world. Therefore if there is money to be made, the environment and climate will always take a backseat. Big businesses tend to rule the roost and governments tend to cave in to short term demands - especially if the economy needs taxes from these businesses in the short term. As most democratically elected governments have a maximum 5 year term (depending on the country) then the shorter term targets are the ones that get the most focus. Anything required a long term strategy - such as climate change - are subject to the whim of the next government and any financial backing which may have existed to help battle climate change can easily be removed for 'cost cutting' purposes. Sad really - but to assist real change the attitude of the majority of the population would need to change. The government needs to give consistent messages to the population to shore up opinion, and minimise the chances for people to distrupt change.
Chris, Lincoln, UK
There has been far too much recent emphasis placed on a few silly errors that, even lumped together, make zero difference to a branch of science that first emerged in the 1800s. Some sections of our media, especially certain newspapers, are parroting downright misinformation, presumably for political purposes. This will be seen in the long term as a massive crime against humanity. The important point everyone needs to remember is that opinion, however forthrightly expressed, does not and will not change the laws of physics.
John Mason, Machynlleth, Powys
Chris Smith himself falls into the trap that adds grist to the mill of the sceptics, by referencing the flooding at Cockermouth. It is no more evidence of climate change than any other, normal, day.
The fact is that any rational person must acknowledge the consensus of man-made climate change. What needs to happen, however, is a much more rational debate about the outcomes and how we deal with them. I am not a sceptic of the fact of man made climate change, but I am absolutely a sceptic of the range of outcomes and how we should deal with them. I already knew how Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace wanted me to live my life before we really knew about climate change, and I disagreed with them then. They are hardly impartial or scientific, therefore, now that the gift of climate change has fallen upon them from the sky. That does not make me a 'denier'. But expensive, unworkable solutions with overt political intent are most definitely not the answer.
Tobias, London, UK
"The myth fostered by some parts of the media in recent months - that somehow the scientific evidence for climate change is deeply flawed - needs to be laid to rest, and soon."
Headline comments like this are exactly why the debate IS flawed and why no one trusts what the politicians and scientists say any more. Wishing to properly debate the data & wanting to critically scrutinise it for accuracy is not heresy it is good scientific process.
Richard Tonge, Aberdeenshire
I couldn't agree more with the above article. I've always found it hard to believe that there are those who still reject the idea that the climate is changing at an uncontrollable rate - how many winters like the last one will it take before people realise something is happening?
One thing I think has always been a problem is essentially one of mistaken branding; people find it hard to believe 'global warming' is occuring when they can't get to work because of snow. But that makes the need to convince the waverers and the sceptics - mistaken as they are - all the more urgent. We need to act decisively, and act now. Do we really want to have to tell future generations that the terrible world they live in could have been avoided?
Jon Barton, Camberley
Like most educated people, I am tired of pseudo-scientists masquerading as "climate change experts". The scientific method employed by these climate fanatics is flawed; their logic if flawed and they are clearly biased beyond the point at which intelligent people will listen. Yes, the 'debate is over; the results are in'. Mostly because only a fool argues with a fool. This new eugenics-like pseudo-science will fall further into the disrepute it so wholeheartedly deserves. Yes, witnessing the winter we have just experienced means you are right about one thing - we can sense for ourselves that your theories are the simple dogma of a religious fanatic. We are not buying your baloney anymore.
Robert Shields, London
I disagree with Lord Smith. The idea that mankind can somehow control the global increase in temperature is clearly preposterous. Linking one-off severe weather events such as Cockermouth to "climate change" is just daft. Increased CO2 may well have some small but unquantifiable effect on temperature but the Earth's climate is cyclical and driven by far stronger influences. Far better that we concentrate resources on things we can control such as overpopulation and pollution and mitigate against any predicted climate changes. Hopefully Climategate together with the growing realisation that the climate is not following the model predictions will bring about a change in policy in the years to come.
Bill Hickling, Tonbridge
As long as capitalism is the main driver of society, and the media denounce and ridicule anything that gets in the way of this, nothing will change.
Climate change proponents are in many ways the architects of these problems. By shouting that they knew it all about climate change so many years ago, when clearly they didn't, they have instilled a level of disbelief in people. Al Gore's politically motivated and scientifically flawed film could only harm, in the long run, genuine scientific efforts. The fact that the pro's/media have labelled the other side 'sceptics', a seemingly negative term, has only served to harden the lines of both sides. As someone with a scientific background I try to keep an open mind and wait for the evidence to support the theories, unfortunately too many on both sides seem to have predetermined their belief and then gone looking for supporting evidence.
Willow, Warwick, UK
The people are fed up with these lies - and the extortion going on. What about the huge amount of money the BBC pension fund has 'invested' in climate change stock as well has all the other organisations that are milking the public with this gravy train? Something is rising big time and it isn't the sea levels. We don't have to believe inthe lies and the propaganda any more. Power to the people.
Les Richards, Ely
The 'record' rainfall in Cumbria was 12.5% higher than the previous record in 1955. Was it a one off or part of a pattern? I'm not convinced either way, partly because our records don't go back far enough to disprove these instances as part of a natural cycle. There's lots of work to be done before either side can convince the public at large.
David Quinn, Staffs, UK
The problem is that the media will often present both sides of the argument, giving a false sense of equality to the view of those who deny that climate change is happening. The truth is that in the scientific community the overwhelming majority believe the climate change is happening.
John Ruddy, Montrose, UK
I do agree. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to matter how much evidence one puts before the sceptics: people will believe whatever they want to believe, and certain newspapers are all too willing to feed their prejudices. Governments such as those of China and Saudi Arabia can then use the prevailing air of scepticism as an excuse to sit on their hands. Perhaps the best thing we could do would be to gag Jeremy Clarkson: that would be one less source of hot gas escaping into the atmosphere.
Chris Whitrow, London
The activities of so-called 'sceptics' (more accurately, pseudo-sceptics and conspiracy theorists) and those in the media who amplify the significance of IPCC errors and of the stolen CRU emails have distracted the public the really important issue - the failure at Copenhagen. Obviously, I agree with Chris Smith that we need to build on what was achieved at Copenhagen, but we also have to recognise the scale of the political obstacles. Obama might genuinely want the US to take action to curb emissions, but there are limits to what a US President can achieve. Unlike Obama the Chinese leadership have almost unlimited political power, but their priority seems to be to catch up economically with the West. We have to keep pressing for a deal, but I'm not optimistic. Maybe, for the individual, buying a plot of land in Greenland is the best option.
Paul A, London
Funny to see Chris Smith talking about "evidence that has been painstakingly accumulated, peer-reviewed, tested and tested again", just a day after a senior climatologist, Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, told Discover Magazine that climatology's handling of statistics is sloppy and that we are being asked to change our lifestyles when climatology hasn't even prepared a scientific uncertainty analysis.
Andrew Montford, Scotland
Chris Smith is right. But this is more a clash of worldviews, less a debate about evidence. We cannot afford to write off those who disagree. "We" do not win by being right and beating "them". We all only win if together we take action to keep below 2 deg of warming. That means we have to persuade, which starts with listening.
How to make an expensive, wasteful and inedible climate cake.
1. Science gets mixed up with advocacy.
2. Fear is added by NGOs and environmental groups.
3. Policy makers and politicians work out how much people have to stump up.
4. The public don't buy it.
Many people now believe that they have been delibrately lied to about the consequences of Climate Change. The UK government have even been forced to pull misleading TV ads on Climate Change. The Climate Change narrative has to change. What people like Lord Chris Smith fail to realise that simply repeating what many consider now to be green propaganda help proves the arguements of skeptics.
Malcolm McCandless, Dundee
Lord Chris Smith is absolutely right when he says that the question is 'when' and 'how bad' rather than 'if'. Present deals, including Copenhagen, seem to be more indicative of lack of political will to tackle the climate change, and therefore, it seems to me that there is no hope of truly global binding deal! Add the factor of economics, which is likely to get affected due to these bindings, and the chances of binding deals become bleaker!!
Rajan Tendolkar, Mumbai, India
No-one seriously questions that climate is changing in various ways but, despite Lord Smith's assertions, the only evidence that this is caused primarily by anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions is circumstantial. Put simply, the hypothesis is that the expected small contribution of carbon dioxide is magnified by positive feedback mechanisms. The hypothesis is deemed to be correct because computer modelling (based on an incomplete knowledge of the complexities of global climate) produces results consistent with this. QED. But, rather than accept that "a few errors" demonstrate a lack of open-mindedness among the clique of scientists who effectively control the IPCC, the establishment has chosen to defend the current received wisdom with renewed vigor and will not allow rational, scientific questioning. Whether or not the current hypothesis is right, this is not good news for the future of scientific research in any controversial area.
Martin Livermore, Cambridge
I totally agree with Chris Smith. I have been increasingly annoyed recently by the unjustified backlash against the recognition of climate change. This is very short-sighted by a number of selfish vested interests, and has been doing a genuine disservice to hard working scientists everywhere. It is my belief that the only motivation of climate scientists has been to try and make sense of a large amount of complex data.
No Chris Smith is not right, he is confusing weather trends with climate and ignoring the real cooling trend that is happening now in the Pacific that will end this obsessive CO2 witch hunt. Give it another few years and we'll all be asking for all our green taxes back...
Karl Bentley, Ashford UK
I'm not entirely convinced that global warming warming is man made, I wonder if it is not part of a natural cycle. However, even if we are not responsible for global warming, surely reducing carbon emissions and any other affordable measures we can take to improve our environment is good policy for the future. I think the problem is the Government has hijacked the issue and made it political in an attempt to garner popularity.
Gavin Ridout, Winchester, England
He is right and we all need to try. But I am not hopeful when governments world wide cannot agree on financial systems, war, human rights, let alone critical survival with food and water. To me UK energy security is the angle to take - self-interest is a stronger political driver.
Chris G, Bristol
These arguments are massively flawed and tend to play to the sceptics tune if you ask me. Scepticism is not to be avoided, defeated or marginalised, it should be embraced. If climate change is truly a science then scientists should be queuing up to address sceptical arguments, because by doing so they will at long last be lending a sadly missing credibility to what still remains a theory. If it's a science then let's see the scientific method at work. This is just the same old politics isn't it?
I think that the media hot air about 'climategate' was reinforced by the recent north atlantic cold snap. Unfortunately many people tend to have short memories, and don't understand (or don't want to understand) the difference between isolated data points and long-term trends. Statements like 'the coldest winter in 30 years' will conjure up different images in people's heads depending on their biases - there are various different paths you can take between those end-points. In reality, the statement itself can't be used to infer anything terribly meaningful but it doesn't stop people from drawing their own inferences.
Chris, Thanet, UK
The AGW house of cards is collapsing, but the establishment, including the BBC, still push the same old lies.
Bruce Holloway, The Hague, The Netherlands
Given the abject bias held by the BBC on this subject I doubt this will be published, but the fact is that the science is based upon flawed data, the scientists are working for their own ends, and the IPCC is a corrupt organisation which would cease to exist if anthropomorphic climate change was disproved. We need proper scientific review of the data and modelling tool. And we need to step back and apply common sense. Using less resources and stopping deforestation are hugely important to the world. We should be seeking to move to newer, less damaging power sources. But such projects as deliberately poisoning the oceans to absorb CO2 are the work of knee-jerk insanity. Mankind has lost his collective mind over this nonsense, led by Nobel Prize winning climate billionaire Al Gore, and a load of MPs looking for more excuses to raise taxes.
Simon Gregory, Chesterfield
Hopefully, once all the enquiries, etc. are finished, and the facts of Climate Change are acknowledged by all but the most irrational (just as the Theory of Evolution is accepted by all but the most religious), we can move on and actually do something. I fear, though, that the vested interests behind denial will hold us back enough (as it did over the link between tobacco and cancer) that too many will suffer and die in the meantime.
JMurphy, LONDON, UK
Nice article. Unfortunately, climate change has shown how poor our systems are. It has shown how scientific work is constantly misquoted, misrepresented, misunderstood and ignored, mainly and sadly, by the media. It has shown how our various systems of governance throughout the world are incapable of tackling a global problem. However, most of all, in the light of the current financial crash, it has shown us a depressing truth; vast amounts of money can be found to bail out a flawed economy, but we obviously don't value the only planet in the universe we know to support life as much. How small the human's horizons are!
Chris , Bristol
There are so many errors of fact and presumptions of proof in Chris Smith's piece that it is difficult to know where to start. That statement of mine does not, of course, deny AGW, as it will be taken to, it just means that Smith talks a load of rubbish in there which weakens acceptance of AGW.
"Weather patterns around the world are becoming more erratic and more extreme." - no. see hurricane or flood studies.
"The glaciers of the Alps are retreating." - evidence of the GW that no-one denies, not AGW.
And so on.
"The rare vendace fish is disappearing ...." I feel sorry for the fish, as I felt sorry for the pterodactyl, which did disappear. Just be calm, be rational, in analysis, and in response. Every exaggeration and elision loses you your audience. This is in fact one of the calmer pieces, but even this is cavalier with the facts and the logic.
Roddy Campbell, London
No, its still an if. In fact its still a majorly unproven, ever more dubious looking IF. Given that the majority of people in the UK are either undecided or disbelieving of the 'science' involved here, when will the BBC do its public service thing and allow those with skeptical equal space to put forward their opinions ? For that matter where is the in depth Panorama investigation into the IPCC ? Where is the reporting of the new mistakes that have been found ? Where is the balance debate on Newsnight ? Where is the scientific challenge of Horizon ? Those of us who don't believe this stuff deserve a place in our taxpayer funded media too.
The key prediction of well-founded science is that rising levels of "greenhouse gasses", notably carbon dioxide, will lead to more extreme weather events. The changes to global weather patterns are predicted to be associated with melting ice caps and glaciers. All of these events are visible (apologies to Roddy, all the actuarial studies show increasing extreme events, and they're reliable because they're about money). As Chris Smith says, the scientific uncertainty is over the speed of change, not the direction or the driver. But of course there's politics too. Lots of people would find it more profitable or more comfortable to go on as we do now. They have jumped on the sceptical bandwagon. Let's be clear: the consensus among serious scientists remains nearly, though not quite, complete. And we have a political choice: do we act prudently now to prevent a likely disaster, or gamble that we can go on being self-indulgent and if we're wrong it'll be the next generation that pays anyway.
There is no doubt that climate change is contentious. Rather than focussing on that, we should be focussing on the fact that the UK has very little energy security - relying on gas from Russia, electricity from France etc. Therefore we need taxes, incentives, etc to promote renewable energy. Resources (minerals/oil) are limited so why not make the most of renewables, which will have the added benefit of creating jobs.
Cullum Alexander, London
It is easy to feel a bit sorry for anthropogenic climate change (AGW) proponents now that the case for AGW is falling apart at the seams, however let us not forget that for two decades ordinary people pursuing perfectly harmless activities have been treated like criminals, everything from steam railways to vintage motorbikes has been "selfish" and "destroying future generations", so lets not be too kind when AGW'ers see their life's work come tumbling down around their ears.
Whether you are a sceptic or not - we are running out of natural resources. So we have to change anyway - we cant carry on as we are there simply isn't the capacity.
James, Fyn, Denmark
To say that the entire set of evidence of climate change is undermined by a few errors in an IPCC report is like saying that because of a single foul in one football match the whole of the FA cup is null and void and has to be re-played from scratch.
As to people saying that more proof is needed that climate change is a threat - lets turn this argument around. The greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (whatever its source) is accepted by everyone - that is pure physics, not opinion. So, those saying anthropogenic climate change is not an issue should demonstrate in what circumstances CO2 could increase dramatically *without* global temperatures increasing. Given that there is a potential risk, those groups wanting to emit more CO2 should be made to prove it is safe to do so, rather than those wanting to stop it being made to prove it is dangerous. Other chemicals/processes are only approved once they are proved safe for general use, rather than an assumption of safety, so why should things be any different for this type of air pollution?
John, West Wales
I agree with Chris Smith, and find it amazing the skeptics are still in denial. It was the same with tobacco and asbestos, it took time until people came round and accepted the evidence despite the efforts of a few to deny the issues.
Paul W, Alton, UK
"That evidence shows overwhelmingly that our emissions of greenhouse gases are having a serious impact on the Earth's atmosphere, and that - as a result - climate change is happening and will accelerate."
This is purely and simply a pack of lies.
There may be evidence that warming is occurring, but there is no evidence whatsoever - repeat, not one shred - that it is mankind's emissions that are causing it.
For anyone interested in the real facts, as distinct from the fantasies that the scientists and poiticians would like you to believe, please mail [email address withheld] for a free fact sheet on the subject. Let's see if they publish this!
Ed Addis, Cheltenham, UK
Environmental groups and some Governments are playing into the hands of sceptics and pressure groups by narrowly focussing on climate change. The causes and effects of climate change are uncertain and the average person's scepticism can easily be exploited by those wanting to maintain the current status quo. What is certain are the detrimental effects of pollution, deforestation, habitat destruction and the loss of finite resources, all quite clearly caused by human activity. The climate change argument needs to be more clearly focussed along the lines of sustainability, not on the science of climate forecasts. The climate is liable to change anyway, but we need to adapt and live sustainably within our environment.
Jon, Newport, South Wales
It still remains the way of modern western society to be reactive rather than pre-emptive. To pre-empt would require each and every one us to forgoe things which we see ourselves as 'needing,' and 'deserving.' THAT is why so many people and organisations argue against the concept of Climate change and seek to besmirch the science behind it, because we do not want to accept ourselves are directly complicit in it through our everyday actions. To accept resonsibility would demand that we change our own lifestyles for the sake of 'Others,' people we may never meet. What a ludicrously altruistic notion that would be.
I'm sceptical about the statistical information that has been gathered proving or disproving anything: it all seems to be a matter of individual opinion. I think most people will have an open mind on this issue and could be persuaded either way but the debate does not seem to have been honestly lead with argument against being vociferously disputed. It is well known that the earth has had cyclical changes in the past and will do in the future and I feel that the influence of humans has and will be minimal
jim burnley lancs, burnley lancs england
If Chris Smith is correct, then do we include in those "few errors" the fact that the required subtropical mid-tropospheric greenhouse gas warming signal is entirely absent? Are we to conclude that the greenhouse warming theory is incorrect when a key requirement of it is not fulfilled? Is not, why not? Is so, mustn't we conclude that the science of climate change is not settled and there is no real evidence that carbon dioxide (or any other greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere poses no real risks to the planet? Consider that carbon dioxide contributes at most 4% to greenhouse warming with water vapor contributing 95%. At 24 times the contributor to greenhouse warming as carbon dioxide, doesn't that make water vapor a far more suitable emission to control if we believe that changes in greenhouse warming dominate climate change (a condition never before experienced on Earth)?
R D Webster, Vero Beach, Florida, USA
There are two varieties of scepticism in the above comments which need to be treated differently. Some say warming isn't happening at all - and while I accept it might be possible for media to confuse humans into believing it is (as we are easily led), I'm less sure how the media or Government convince a bird to migrate earlier, or a dragonfly to move north into new terriroties, or a glacier to melt faster and retreat. But we are recording them all.
Others accept the warming (and the above points start to suggest it is hard to deny) but say it is not down to mankind. Presumably these people do not deny we've burned a lot of oil, gas and coal, and so added carbon dioxide to the atmosphere around the world. As we know this is the equivalent of a putting thicker duvet on our bed, this ought to make us warmer. This means this group of sceptics need to have an explanation of two things. First, why is this thicker duvet not making us warmer. And second, given they accept we are warming but its not the CO2, what is causing the warming?
Martyn, London, UK