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The science is settled and there is a consensus on climate change so what is the point of a climate debate?

The consensus on climate change, as represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is often misunderstood for the single claim that ‘climate change is real’. In fact, the IPCC’s main body of work – Assessment Reports (ARs), of which it has produced six so far – spans three volumes, which attempt to evaluate the state of all kinds of knowledge about climate change, from physics through to social science and policy. For some claims, such as the greenhouse gas properties of CO2, the IPCC states a positive level of confidence and agreement within scientific literature.

For other claims, such as the effect of global warming on flooding, which is of greater concern to people and policymakers, the IPCC attaches significantly less certainty. The IPCC considers thousands of lines of evidence, relating to many different areas of research.

In short, climate change is not a single claim, but a constellation of claims, and the relative strengths of these research lines routinely get omitted in public debate. The consensus on each of these claims is not in each case the same, and indeed, on many issues, the IPCC point to the lack of consensus. Moreover, climate change may well be real, but the problem is a matter of degree, not true-or-false. How to deal with the problem therefore requires debate, across all parts of society that will be affected, by climate change and by policy, not just scientists. 

But there is a climate emergency! There’s no time for debate! 

Despite many public institutions, including the UK Parliament, declaring a ‘climate emergency’ (sometimes also called a ‘climate crisis’), there is no actionable evidence of its existence. This is very easily shown in scientific and statistical records of harm from extreme weather and other climate-related effects. The number of lives lost to extreme weather a century ago was in the order of 100 times greater than it is today, and that was when the population was less than a quarter what it is today. Furthermore, problems such as communicable diseases like malaria, and the effects of poverty, such as diarrhoea and malnutrition, which have been linked to climate, show radical declines since the 1980s. And agricultural production, which some say should be negatively affected by a warming planet, continues to contradict predictions by exceeding records.

This does not mean that climate change is not real or not happening or is not a problem. What it does mean is that some people, mainly climate activists, politicians and journalists, but also some scientists, have greatly exaggerated the problem. And this exaggeration needs to be understood before a sensible policy response to climate change can be formulated. The exaggeration is a problem in itself and can lead to hasty policymaking with profound effects for society that may be as bad, or worse than, climate change itself. Claims that there is a climate emergency seem intended to prevent debate. 

So are you climate change deniers, climate change sceptics, anti science? 

On this site, we unpack all the arguments in the climate debate as faithfully as possible to their authors’ intentions, and explain what the objections to those claims are, so that people can make up their own minds, advance their own research and take part in debate. Some of those claims come from institutional science and the IPCC. Some come from activists such as Extinction Rebellion. And some come from governments.

We do not believe that the climate debate divides into ‘science versus deniers’. We think that this false and misleading framing obscures the debate and is harmful to the democratic process and sound policy. Many people falsely accused of ‘denial’ in fact have positions closer to the scientific consensus (as represented by the IPCC) than some people involved in climate change activism, and even climate scientists. Even people who believe that climate change is a real and serious problem, which needs the IPCC and global political action to solve it, have been called ‘deniers’ because they criticise certain policies or analyses. Such labels do not help anyone to understand the issues at hand.

So are you funded by big oil companies?

Climate Debate is a crowd-sourced and crowd-funded project. Anyone is free to contribute, but none are able to exert any editorial control over our output. We will not reveal any of our funders’ names or their interests. 

The issue of funding in the climate debate has been used to attempt to say that people who are sceptical either of climate science or more alarmist climate politics cannot be trusted. According to this hypothesis, fossil fuel companies have spent vast amounts of money undermining the public’s confidence in the alarming stories of imminent climate change catastrophe. But no campaigning organisations that have created or promoted this story have been able to offer compelling evidence of its existence. Moreover, any sums that they have identified, for example being exchanged between energy companies and think tanks, have not been earmarked for climate change, and do not compare with the many $billions that flow from private interests’ and ‘philanthropic’ foundations to green campaigning organisations. One of the biggest funders of climate change activism in Europe and the UK, for example, the European Climate Foundation, does not reveal either where one third of its funding comes from, nor to where it goes. Nearly all climate change activism, campaigning, and lobbying in the world is funded by just a dozen ‘philanthropic’ foundations. 

What do you want a debate to achieve? 

For many years, the public has been excluded from climate and energy policymaking. Climate policy has been largely negotiated in supranational political bodies that the public has no access to, and no representation within. Much of the basis for this remote form of politics has been provided by research organisations that the public equally has no access to. Meanwhile, only non-governmental organisations which are sympathetic to the agenda, and which have huge budgets and global reach, are granted access to these processes. We believe that it is wholly undemocratic to change society in this way, and that the UK’s unilateral climate and energy policies, intended to make Britain a ‘global leader’, have been expensive and catastrophic failures that put political ambition before the public’s interests. 

A debate that involves the public is necessary to establish what the public believes is in its own interests, what principles should prevail, and what sacrifices are tolerable in the policy response to climate change. The climate debate that ought to have been allowed to have happened was instead characterised by alarmism and often deeply irrational ideas promulgated as ‘facts’ by politicians and journalists. Unfounded stories about the imminence of the catastrophic collapse of society allowed policies to go unchecked, and for special interests to establish themselves above democratic oversight. Debate about climate change is the only way to correct the ideology, interests and elitism that have so far characterised the climate agenda.