Climate change fatigue

I have just returned from the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) conference in Nashville, Tennessee, and heard no mention of climate change. One might ask why I would expect to hear it discussed in that forum. ASNT’s mission is to advance the field of NDT and, by inference, ‘help create a better world’. NDT methods, materials, processes, equipment and applications are all relevant contributors to global warming.

An article in the publication Aljazeera on 20 October 2022 discussed how a recent string of climate change deniers have sought to downplay the significance of global warming and humanity’s role in driving it.

When climate scientist Peter Stott checked into his flight from London to Moscow in 2004, his excitement gave way to shock when a colleague explained that their agreed schedule had been ripped up. They had expected to compare findings and strengthen ties with counterparts in Russia, but discovered key promoters of the unscientific view that humans have no key role in driving climate change had been invited too.

The meeting at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow in July 2004 had been changed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s then-adviser Andrei Illarionov, an ardent critic of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 United Nations deal to cut emissions, which was awaiting ratification by Russia. Stott and his colleagues were tasked with debating skeptics, including Richard Lindzen, a climate contrarian who was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the time, and controversial British weather forecaster Piers Corbyn.

Stott described the experience of having to defend climate science in Russia as ‘very threatening’. He recounted how he was the first scientist to connect an individual weather event to human-induced climate change when, in 2004, he published a paper in the journal Nature linking greenhouse gas emissions to deadly European heatwaves that had killed more than 70,000 people a year earlier. Such ‘attribution science’ has become a staple in determining how much of a role global warming played in disasters – a change that has helped drive a surge in lawsuits against major climate polluters. A string of climate change deniers, many linked to fossil fuel interests, have challenged the findings of scientists like Stott and sought to downplay the significance of global warming and humanity’s role in driving it. Stott said such scientific developments led to a surge of opposing voices who “choose arguments that suit their agendas and… don’t scrutinise their own arguments.”

According to Stott, one of the biggest setbacks in the battle against climate denial came in 2009 with the scandal known as ‘Climategate’. Hackers broke into the email system of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the UK’s University of East Anglia and posted online thousands of messages sent between scientists. Climate deniers said the messages showed the CRU had conspired to distort or exaggerate the science behind global warming. Several inquiries cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing, but Stott said the scandal contributed to the failure of the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, which took place a few weeks later.

“That should have been the moment when a landmark agreement was reached,” he said. It was years later, with the 2015 Paris Agreement, that governments agreed to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2°C (3.6°F), with an aim of 1.5°C (2.7°F). “We lost at least six years [of progress] in that time,” Stott said – a critical delay with scientists saying still-rising emissions must now plunge by nearly half from current levels by 2030.

Today, he said, scientists increasingly have the ears of political leaders and the public, especially as extreme weather has highlighted the swiftly increasing climate threats. But attention has not translated into sufficient action, he said, and climate denial is still an obstacle, with a range of lobbyists and campaign groups demanding a delay in climate action, which they say puts heavy costs on households and businesses.

A study published in September in the journal Science found that four dangerous planetary tipping points are ‘likely’ above 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial temperatures, a level that could be passed within a decade. One – accelerating melting leading to the eventual collapse of the Greenland ice sheet – may have already been triggered, some believe, setting in motion seven metres (23 ft) of sea level rise over time, enough to swamp key coastal cities.

Tom Elliott published an article, ‘Global warming – fact versus fiction’, in ETH Zurich in which he included the following statement and an accompanying illustration showing the percentage of skepticism: “Last month, YouGov issued the results of their questionnaire surveying the populations of nine countries and their attitudes towards conspiracy theories. Given the above, I was intrigued to see the results of one question in particular: do you believe the following statement to be true? ‘The idea of man-made global warming is a hoax that was invented to deceive people.’

We have highlighted those countries within the upper quartile of the nine countries surveyed. It is perhaps no surprise that the USA stands out in its views on global warming, but I was taken aback by the size of the margin. After removing the other two highest countries, more than double the proportion of the USA population believes global warming is a hoax when compared to any of the remaining six countries. Expressed in real terms, 17% equates to approximately 56 million USA citizens. That would be the sixth largest country in Europe; smaller than Italy, slightly larger than Spain. Within Europe, Poland stands out – which may relate to its position as the largest (per capita) producer of coal in Europe – as well as Swedish men and Hungarian women.

As you might expect, there was a slight positive trend across the ages surveyed (early 20s to 55+), with a higher percentage believing global warming is a hoax among the older generations. This was particularly prevalent in the USA, where an astonishing 27% of 55+ year olds believed the statement to be true.

In order for us to achieve real action on climate change and alter the historic trend line of the IPCC’s graph, I believe the proportion of populations believing this statement needs to be less than 5% across the board. So recognition should go to Portugal for doing just that! We all have a role to play in educating our friends, families and colleagues – and over time that should translate into action!”

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