Although the number of tropical storms and hurricanes has remained roughly constant in the last thirty years, there has been an increase in their intensity, with a rising proportion having wind speeds above 130 miles per hour. This has been shown to be linked to recorded increases in sea-surface temperatures. Some scientists have established a direct link between climate change and the increasing intensity of hurricanes. Global climate change may also affect other weather systems. El Niño is a complex, natural change in weather patterns that occurs every few years, affecting the equatorial Pacific region and beyond. It caused worldwide damage valued at $32 billion in 199798. At present, there is a suspicion, though not yet proof, that El Niño has been made worse by global warming.
Climate science, like any other science, is characterized by intense debates that range from the role of clouds and aerosols in calculating the magnitude of the greenhouse effect, to the difficulty of establishing the extent to which observed climatic changes are attributable to human activity. A small but vocal group of lobbyists, called climate skeptics by the media, has challenged the consensus on climate change and its causes. Typical of the more influential of these was a senior U.S. government official describing man-made global warming as the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. However, groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the American Geophysical Union, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and ten other related leading world bodies support two critical scientifically determined judgments: first, that global warming is happening, and second, that much of the observed warming is human induced. They admit that it is difficult to predict some aspects of this human-induced climate change, such as exactly how fast it is occurring, exactly how much it will change, and exactly where the changes will take place.
The skeptics, on the other hand, who have tended in the past to deny both judgments, are now largely in the habit of denying just the second one, on the grounds that climate science itself is too complex for us to be sure that humans are largely responsible for climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a watchdog group of scientists and citizen advocates, has examined a list of the more prominent of these skeptic groups. Its analysis reveals that the great majority either belong to or are actively sponsored or funded by organizations such as the fossil fuel industries, which have a commercial interest in denying the reality of climate change. Though in a very small minority, they are much better known in the press than in scientific journals, suggesting that they have not been able to prove their case using established scientific methods.
Copyright © 2007 by Mayer Hillman with Tina Fawcett and Sudhir Chella Rajan. All rights reserved.
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