Scientists downplay climate crisis?

11,000 scientists warn of "untold suffering" from climate change

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Are scientists downplaying the climate emergency?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

The scientific consensus is that climate change is happening - and accelerating - and action needs to be taken immediately to reduce its catastrophic impacts.

A group of 11,000 scientists have backed a study that warns the climate emergency will cause "untold human suffering".

However, authors of a new book claim that some scientists actually downplay the climate crisis.

The Claim

A group of more than 11,000 scientists have warned that the world is facing a climate emergency, the Guardian reports.

They have backed research, based on 40 years of data and published in the journal BioScience, which says that the climate crisis could cause "untold human suffering".

The scientists warn: "We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.

"To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live.

"[This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems."

They suggest changes on how we use our energy, and applying carbon taxes to cut our fossil fuel use. The experts also recommend stabilising the global population, ending the destruction of nature and restoring forests, and eating most plants - and less meat.

The signatories say that the climate crisis has "arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected".

They add: "It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity."

The Counterclaim

However, Dale Jamieson, Michael Oppenheimer and Naomi Oreskes argue that some scientists actually downplay the risks of climate change.

In an excerpt of their book 'Discerning Experts: The Practices of Scientific Assessment of Environmental Policy', the authors claim that scientists are often "too conservative".

They write: "While climate skeptics and deniers often accuse scientists of exaggerating the threats associated the threats associated with the climate crisis, the available evidence suggests the opposite.

"By and large, scientists have either been right in their assessments, or have been unduly conservative.

"We noticed a clear pattern of underestimation of certain key climate indicators, and therefore underestimation of the threat of climate disruption.

The authors add: "When new observations of the climate system have provided more or better data, or permitted us to re-evaluate earlier conclusions, the findings for ice extent, sea level rise and ocean temperature have generally been worse than previously thought."

They explain that one of the factors is the "perceived need for consensus" with concerns that government officials will "conflate their differences of opinion with ignorance and use this as justification for inaction".

The Facts

In October last year, the United Nations warned that we have 12 years to limit the climate change catastrophe.

A report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), involving 91 authors and editors from 40 countries, said that if global heating increases over 1.5°C, it will significantly worsen the risks of extreme weather - such as drought, floods, and heat - as well as poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service - which analyses temperature data around the world - found that this was the warmest October on record globally.

It was 0.69°C (1.24°F) warmer than the average of all the Octobers between 1981 and 2010.

In Europe alone, it was the third warmest October - behind 2001 and 2006. They add that 2016 to 2018 have been the warmest calendar years on record.

The Earth's average temperature has risen more than 0.8°C (1°F) over the past century - and it is twice that in parts of the Arctic.

At the same time, the ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic are melting. Greenland has lost an average of 281 billion tonnes of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while the Antarctic has lost around 119 billion tonnes of ice.

According to data from the NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, the rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade.

The sea levels continue to rise, increasing by eight inches in the last century. The rate in the last 20 years is nearly double that of the last century, and it is still accelerating every year.

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