Wednesday, 21 August 2013

State of the climate

Priya Kurian & Debashish Munshi

Climate change continues to make news with a report last week showing that 2012 was among the ten warmest years on record. The latest State of the Climate in 2012 report, released by the American Meteorological Society on 6 August, presents a picture of a rapidly warming planet with record greenhouse gas emissions, melting Arctic sea ice and rising sea levels. The 23rd annual report shows that concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases reached a global average of 392.7 parts per million; the Arctic warmed at twice the rate of the rest of the world; and the melting icing led to global sea level rise. These alarming developments herald a “new normal” for the climate, and the release of the report received extensive media coverage globally as seen in the LA Times, the Guardian, Indian Express, and the New Zealand Herald, among others. This has not stopped climate change contrarians to argue in recent times that global warming is slowing or reversing. Yet few deniers seem to have the desire to follow scientist Richard Muller of the University of California, Berkley. A self-described climate sceptic, he examined in 2012 the scientific data on climate change and emerged from the process convinced that anthropogenic climate change is in fact real. Another issue in establishing public perception of climate change has been the significant impact of the wording of statements in eliciting responses from people. Australian researchers Murni Greenhill, Zoe Leviston, Rosemary Leonard, and Iain Walker, in an article forthcoming in PUS, assessed “the consistency of people’s responses across questions and the relationship of different climate beliefs on a range of criterion variables” (p. 14). They found that when people were not given the option of attributing climate change to a mix of natural and anthropogenic causes, a majority were split down the middle between the two causes. Climate change beliefs appear to be multi-dimensional and hence can rarely be captured by a single survey item. Despite concerns that climate scientists are losing the public relations battle to climate sceptics, an in-depth study of media coverage of climate issues in the USA, UK, Germany and France by Reiner Grundmann and Mike Scott, forthcoming in an issue of PUS, shows that the dominant voice on climate change in these countries is that of climate advocates, not sceptics. The USA is different in terms of what gets highlighted, the researchers point out: “The USA gives most prominence to entertainment aspects within the discourse. This is evident if we look at the most visible sceptic, the late novelist Michael Crichton and the movie An Inconvenient Truth. The USA also shows weak connotations of central terms (climate change, global warming) with alarm, action or moral frames.”