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UK Royal Society Publishes New Short Guide to Science of Climate Change

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, has published a new short guide to the science of climate change. The guide summarizes the evidence and clarifies the levels of confidence associated with the current scientific understanding of climate change. It delineates what is well-known and established about the climate system; what is widely agreed but with some debate about details; and what is still not well understood.

The document was prepared by a working group chaired by Professor John Pethica, Vice President of the Royal Society and was approved by the Royal Society Council.

Climate change is an important issue affecting everyone. Much of the public debate on climate change is polarised at present, which can make it difficult to get a good overview of the science. This guide explains where the science is clear and established, and also where it is less certain. It is not a simple guide, as this is not a simple issue. This summary has been produced for all who want to understand the full range of the scientific evidence.

—Professor John Pethica

Climate change: a summary of the science, describes how and why the earth is currently warming, and explains the wide range of independent measurements and observations which underpin this understanding. It shows that there is strong evidence that over the last half century, the earth’s warming has been caused largely by human activity. It also explains the uncertainty involved in predicting the size of future temperature increases.

Among the aspects of climate change where there is a wide consensus but continuing debate and discussion, the guide lists:

  • The carbon cycle and climate;
  • The large number of drivers of global climate change—other than greenhouse gases—which are less well characterized;
  • Climate sensitivity;
  • Attribution of climate change;and
  • Future climate change.

Aspects of climate change that are not well understood, according to the guide, are:

  • Some aspects of the evolution of either climate forcing or climate change.
  • The role of clouds.
  • The future strength of the uptake of CO2 by the land and oceans—which together are currently responsible for taking up about half of the emissions from human activity.
  • Understanding of the enhanced melting and retreat of the ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica to predict exactly how much the rate of sea level rise will increase above that observed in the past century for a given temperature increase.
  • Changes in the circulation of the North Atlantic Ocean (this limits the ability to predict with confidence what changes in climate will occur in Western Europe).
  • The ability of the current generation of models to simulate some aspects of regional climate change; there is little confidence in specific projections of future regional climate change, except at continental scales.

The guide concludes that, as in many other areas, policy choices will have to be made in the absence of perfect knowledge, but that the scientific evidence is an essential part of public reasoning in this complex and challenging area.

The guide has been prepared by leading international scientists, mostly drawn from the Fellowship of the Society, and it is based on very extensive published scientific work. The working group drew on input from a wide range of experts and the document was reviewed by both Fellows and others with a broad range of relevant expertise and experience.




With great respect for its membership, the Society was also instrumental in hailing the discovery of Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus dawsoni) in 1912.


The "hailing" of the discovery of Piltdown Man has more to do with cultural bias, with fossils of man's predecessors popping up everywhere else British Nationalism needed this "discovery."

The main reason Piltdown was not spotted as a fraud much earlier was that scientists weren't allowed to see the evidence, which was kept securely locked in the British Museum. Instead of focusing their attention on examining the "facts" more closely with an eye to discovering the fraud, scientists weren't even allowed to examine the physical evidence at all! They had to deal with plaster molds and be satisfied with a quick look at the originals to justify the claim that the models were accurate.

Malcolm Shykles

Dear Sirs

CO2 in the atmosphere has fallen from around 3000ppm to today's levels over the last 1.5 million years:

The proof is in Plant Fossils:

Plants (our only source of atmospheric oxygen) are adapted to much higher levels of CO2:

Lowering CO2 in the atmosphere would have the effect of reducing the world's Oxygen supply and if campaigns to accomplish this were successful then all plant life and animal life would die.

The only way of scientifically proving AGW is to go into space and measure the Sun - Earth radiation system.

This has been done:-

And if you read the above you will find over the years to come the Earth is going to get cooler due to the Sun continuing it's radiation cycles as it has over a vast period of time.


Contained in “Classic Chemistry Demonstrations” published by the Royal Society in 1995 there is an
experiment which is supposed to demonstrate the Greenhouse Effect.

This appears to work, but is reliant on CO2 being 1½ times heavier than air. Carbon dioxide heated in a beaker via an infra red lamp will get hot because its density is too high to get convection going in an atmosphere of air. The equivalent beaker of air stays cool.

What is more worrying is that the author replied to my query as follows “ it does seem that your interpretation of the results may be valid. This did not occur to me at the time, nor to any of the several teachers who trialled the demonstration, and you are the first to point it out."

The Greenhouse Effect cannot be demonstrated in an earthbound laboratory simply because the effect is totally overwhelmed by the transfer of heat by convection currents; as it probably is in the atmosphere itself.

“The sun raises the vapours of the equatorial ocean; they rise, but for a time a vapour screen spreads above and around them. But the higher they rise, the more they come into the presence of pure space; and when, by their levity, they have penetrated the vapour screen, which lies close to the earth’s surface, what must occur?
It has been said that, compared atom for atom, the absorption of an atom of aqueous vapour is 16,000 times that of air. Now the power to absorb and the power to radiate are perfectly reciprocal and proportional. The atom of aqueous vapour will therefore radiate with 16,000 times the energy of an atom of air. Imagine then this powerful radiant in the presence of space, and with no screen above it to check its radiation. Into space it pours its heat, chills itself, condenses, and the tropical torrents are the consequence. The expansion of the air, no doubt, also refrigerates it; but in accounting for those deluges, the chilling of the vapour by its own radiation must play a most important part. The rain quits the ocean as vapour; it returns to it as water. How are the vast stores of heat set free by the change from the vaporous to the liquid condition disposed of? Doubtless in great part they are wasted by radiation into space. Similar remarks apply to the cumuli of our latitudes. The warmed air, charged with vapour, rises in columns, so as to penetrate the vapour screen which hugs the earth; in the presence of space, the head of each pillar wastes its heat by radiation, condenses to a cumulus, which constitutes the visible capital of an invisible column of saturated air.”

John Tynsall, Esq. FRS On Radiation through the Earth’s Atmosphere Royal Institution Lecture. Friday, January 23, 1863

The Royal Society got it right in 1863 - how can it be so wrong in 2010?

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