Uncertainty and scepticism

Uncertainty and scepticism

Uncertainty in the climate change field can carry a range of meanings. In the scientific context it could refer, for example, to areas where our knowledge is incomplete, or to the fact that measurements and models carry their own inherent lack of precision. Some uncertainty also exists over how effective any suggested or implemented measures will be in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases or augmenting greenhouse gas ‘sinks’. Complicating the scientific picture is uncertainty over the nature and extent of international policy responses, and how these might change in years to come.

It is, of course, normal for science to operate in an atmosphere (pardon the pun) of uncertainty. We can never have all the information, or perceive the whole of reality. The future is always unclear, especially when dealing with a system as complex as Earth’s climate. Part of the process of science involves verification of others’ work and, often, disagreement; this may be over the observations, or over the explanation proposed to account for them. Theories are always subject to amendment as new evidence comes in. This is how science works.

The pages in this section of the web site briefly cover, in simplified terms, some of the main scientific uncertainties and areas of disagreement. This section also deals with some of the common misconceptions among the public about the science of human-induced climate change.

Although there are areas of dispute, climate change scientists agree on much more than they disagree on. The overwhelming consensus is that human actions have been responsible for much if not all of the recent climate change observed across the planet.

Despite this, there are individuals who do not accept either the accumulated observations or the theoretical framework that underpins our understanding of anthropogenic climate change. They offer a range of very different ideas – which may be contentious or, in some cases, completely unscientific. Nevertheless, these views are sometimes promulgated enthusiastically, and we include a page that briefly covers some of the more widely publicized objections to the scientific consensus.

22 October, 2010

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