- Global warming controversy
Global warming controversy refers to a variety of disputes, significantly more pronounced in the popular media than in the scientific literature, regarding the nature, causes, and consequences of global warming. The disputed issues involve the causes of increased global average air temperature, especially since the mid-20th century, whether such a warming trend is unprecedented or within normal climatic variations, whether humankind has contributed significantly to it, and whether the increase is wholly or partially an artifact of poor measurements. Additional disputes concern estimates of climate sensitivity, predictions of additional warming, and what the consequences of global warming will be.
In the scientific literature, there is a strong consensus that global surface temperatures have increased in recent decades and that the trend is caused mainly by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases. No scientific body of national or international standing disagrees with this view, though a few organisations hold non-committal positions.
Public opinionMain articles: Public opinion on climate change and Media coverage of climate change
The level of coverage that US mass media devoted to global warming "was minimal prior to 1988" but interest increased significantly after the drought of 1988, and related Senate testimony of James E. Hansen "attributing the abnormally hot weather plaguing our nation to global warming". Similarly, incipient coverage of climate change in the British press "changed at the end of 1988 ... stimulated by Margaret Thatcher's appropriation of the risks of climate change to promote nuclear power and dismantle the coal industry ... but also by environmental organizations and political forces in opposition who demanded solutions that contrasted with the government's". All European Union member states ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and many European countries had already been taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions prior to 1990. For example, Margaret Thatcher advocated action against man-made climate change in 1988, and Germany started to take action after the Green Party took seats in Parliament across the 1980s. Substantial activity by NGOs took place as well. Both "global warming" and the more politically neutral "climate change" were listed by the Global Language Monitor as political buzzwords or catchphrases in 2005. In Europe, the notion of human influence on climate gained wide acceptance more rapidly than in many other parts of the world, most notably the United States. A 2009 Eurobarometer survey titled "Europeans' Attitude Toward Climate Change" notes that, on the average, Europeans rate climate change as the second most serious problem facing the world today, between "poverty, the lack of food and drinking water" and "a major global economic downturn". 87% of Europeans consider climate change to be a "very serious" or "serious" problem, while 10% "do not consider it a serious problem".
There has been a debate among public commentators about how much weight and media coverage should be given to each side of the controversy. Andrew Neil of the BBC stated that "There's a great danger that on some issues we're becoming a one-party state in which we're meant to have only one kind of view. You don't have to be a climate-change denier to recognise that there's a great range of opinion on the subject".
The authors of the 2010 book Merchants of Doubt accuse climate change "skeptics" of trying to sow seeds of doubt in public opinion in order to halt any meaningful social or political progress to reduce the impact of human carbon emissions. The fact that only half of the American population believe that global warming is caused by human activity could be seen as a victory for these so-called skeptics. One of the authors' main arguments is that most prominent scientists who have been voicing opposition to the near-universal consensus are being funded by industries, such as automotive and oil, that stand to lose money by government actions to regulate greenhouse gases.
A compendium of poll results on public perceptions about global warming is below.
Statement % agree Year (US) Global Warming is very/extremely important 49 2006 (International) Climate change is a serious problem. 90 2006 (International) Human activity is a significant cause of climate change. 79 2007 (US) It's necessary to take major steps starting very soon. 59 2007 (US) The Earth is getting warmer because of human activity 49 2009
In 2007 a report on public perceptions in the UK by Ipsos MORI reported that
- There is widespread recognition that the climate, irrespective of the cause, is changing—88% believe this to be true.
- However, the public is out of step with the scientific community, with 41% believing that climate change is being caused by both human activity and natural processes. 46% believe human activity is the main cause.
- Only a small minority reject anthropogenic climate change, while almost half (44%) are very concerned. However, there remains a large proportion who are yet to be fully persuaded and hold doubts about the extent of the threat.
- There is still a strong appetite among the public for more information, and 63% say they need this to come to a firm view on the issue and what it means for them.
- The public continue to externalize climate change to other people, places and times. It is increasingly perceived as a major global issue with far-reaching consequences for future generations—45% say it is the most serious threat facing the World today and 53% believe it will impact significantly on future generations. However, the issue features less prominently nationally and locally, indeed only 9% believe climate change will have a significant impact upon them personally.
The Canadian science broadcaster and environmental activist, David Suzuki, reports that focus groups organized by the David Suzuki Foundation showed the public has a poor understanding of the science behind global warming. This is despite publicity through different means, including the films An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour.
An example of the poor understanding is public confusion between global warming and ozone depletion or other environmental problems.
A 15-nation poll conducted in 2006 by Pew Global found that there "is a substantial gap in concern over global warming—roughly two-thirds of Japanese (66%) and Indians (65%) say they personally worry a great deal about global warming. Roughly half of the populations of Spain (51%) and France (46%) also express great concern over global warming, based on those who have heard about the issue. But there is no evidence of alarm over global warming in either the United States or China—the two largest producers of greenhouse gases. Just 19% of Americans and 20% of the Chinese who have heard of the issue say they worry a lot about global warming—the lowest percentages in the 15 countries surveyed. Moreover, nearly half of Americans (47%) and somewhat fewer Chinese (37%) express little or no concern about the problem".
A 47-nation poll by Pew Global Attitudes conducted in 2007 found that "Substantial majorities 25 of 37 countries say global warming is a 'very serious' problem".
There are differences between the opinion of scientists and that of the general public. A 2009 poll by Pew Research Center found that "[w]hile 84% of scientists say the earth is getting warmer because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, just 49% of the public agrees". A 2010 poll in the UK for the BBC showed "Climate scepticism on the rise". Robert Watson found this "very disappointing" and said that "We need the public to understand that climate change is serious so they will change their habits and help us move towards a low carbon economy".
Many of the critics of the consensus view on global warming have disagreed, in whole or part, with the scientific consensus regarding other issues, particularly those relating to environmental risks, such as ozone depletion, DDT, and passive smoking. Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, has argued that the appearance of overlapping groups of skeptical scientists, commentators and think tanks in seemingly unrelated controversies results from an organized attempt to replace scientific analysis with political ideology. Mooney says that the promotion of doubt regarding issues that are politically, but not scientifically, controversial became increasingly prevalent under the Bush Administration, which, he says, regularly distorted and/or suppressed scientific research to further its own political aims. This is also the subject of a 2004 book by environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. entitled Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy (ISBN 978-0060746872). Another book on this topic is The Assault on Reason by former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore. Earlier instances of this trend are also covered in the book The Heat Is On by Ross Gelbspan.
Some critics of the scientific consensus on global warming have argued that these issues should not be linked and that reference to them constitutes an unjustified ad hominem attack. Political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr., responding to Mooney, has argued that science is inevitably intertwined with politics.
The mainstream scientific position, and challenges to itMain article: Scientific opinion on climate change
The finding that the climate has warmed in recent decades and that human activities are already contributing adversely to global climate change has been endorsed by every national science academy that has issued a statement on climate change, including the science academies of all of the major industrialized countries.
Attribution of recent climate change discusses how global warming is attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gasses (GHGs).
On the assertion of consensus
Many governmental reports, the media in many countries, and environmental groups, often state that there is virtually unanimous agreement in the scientific community in support of human-caused global warming. Among opponents of the mainstream scientific assessment, some say that there is consensus on humans having an effect on climate without universal agreement about the quantitative magnitude of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) relative to natural forcings and its harm to benefit ratio. Other opponents dismiss it altogether, or highlight the dangers of focusing on only one viewpoint in the context of what they say is unsettled science, or point out that science is based on facts and not on opinion polls.
Environmental journalist George Monbiot revealed that a list titled "500 Scientists Whose Research Contradicts Man-Made Global Warming Scares" published in 2007 by the Hudson Institute and distributed by the Heartland Institute included numerous scientists who had demanded to be removed from the list. The Heartland Institute refused requests by scientists to have their names removed, stating that the scientists "have no right—legally or ethically—to demand that their names be removed from a bibliography composed by researchers with whom they disagree."
A 2010 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analysed "1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers". Judith Curry has said "This is a completely unconvincing analysis", whereas Naomi Oreskes said that the paper shows that "the vast majority of working [climate] research scientists are in agreement [on climate change]... Those who don't agree, are, unfortunately—and this is hard to say without sounding elitist—mostly either not actually climate researchers or not very productive researchers". Jim Prall, one of the coauthors of the study, acknowledged "it would be helpful to have lukewarm [as] a third category".Main article: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The "standard" view of climate change has come to be defined by the reports of the IPCC, which is supported by many other science academies and scientific organizations. In 2001, sixteen of the world's national science academies made a joint-statement on climate change, and gave their support for the IPCC
Opponents have generally attacked either the IPCC's processes, people or the Synthesis and Executive summaries; the scientific reports attract less attention. Some of the controversy and criticism has originated from experts invited by the IPCC to submit reports or serve on its panels. For example, Richard Lindzen has publicly dissented from IPCC positions.
Christopher Landsea, a hurricane researcher, said of "the part of the IPCC to which my expertise is relevant" that "I personally cannot in good faith continue to contribute to a process that I view as both being motivated by pre-conceived agendas and being scientifically unsound", because of comments made at a press conference by Kevin Trenberth of which Landsea disapproved. Trenberth said that "Landsea's comments were not correct"; the IPCC replied that "individual scientists can do what they wish in their own rights, as long as they are not saying anything on behalf of the IPCC" and offered to include Landsea in the review phase of the AR4. Roger Pielke, Jr. commented that "Both Landsea and Trenberth can and should feel vindicated... the IPCC accurately reported the state of scientific understandings of tropical cyclones and climate change in its recent summary for policy makers".
In 2005, the House of Lords Economics Committee wrote that "We have some concerns about the objectivity of the IPCC process, with some of its emissions scenarios and summary documentation apparently influenced by political considerations". It doubted the high emission scenarios and said that the IPCC had "played-down" what the committee called "some positive aspects of global warming". The main statements of the House of Lords Economics Committee were rejected in the response made by the United Kingdom government and by the Stern Review.
Speaking to the difficulty of establishing scientific consensus on the precise extent of human action on climate change, John Christy, a contributing author, wrote:
Contributing authors essentially are asked to contribute a little text at the beginning and to review the first two drafts. We have no control over editing decisions. Even less influence is granted the 2,000 or so reviewers. Thus, to say that 800 contributing authors or 2,000 reviewers reached consensus on anything describes a situation that is not reality.
I’ve written a number of papers about the precision of our climate records. The impact of Kyoto-like proposals will be too small for we scientists to measure due to the natural variations of climate and the lack of precision in our observing system. In other words we will not be able to tell lawmakers with high confidence that specific regulations achieve anything in terms of climate in this country or the world. Additionally, the climate system is immensely complicated and really cannot be tweaked for a predictable outcome.
On 10 December 2008, a report was released by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Minority members, under the leadership of the Senate's most vocal global warming skeptic Jim Inhofe. The timing of the report coincided with the UN global warming conference in Poznań, Poland. It says it summarizes scientific dissent from the IPCC. Many of its statements about the numbers of individuals listed in the report, whether they are actually scientists, and whether they support the positions attributed to them, have been disputed.
While some critics have argued that the IPCC overstates likely global warming, others have made the opposite criticism. David Biello, writing in the Scientific American, argues that, because of the need to secure consensus among governmental representatives, the IPCC reports give conservative estimates of the likely extent and effects of global warming. Science editor Brooks Hanson states in a 2010 editorial: "The IPCC reports have underestimated the pace of climate change while overestimating societies' abilities to curb greenhouse gas emissions". Climate scientist James E. Hansen argues that the IPCC's conservativeness seriously underestimates the risk of sea-level rise on the order of meters—enough to inundate many low-lying areas, such as the southern third of Florida. Roger A. Pielke Sr. has also stated that "Humans are significantly altering the global climate, but in a variety of diverse ways beyond the radiative effect of carbon dioxide. The IPCC assessments have been too conservative in recognizing the importance of these human climate forcings as they alter regional and global climate".
Henderson-Sellers has collected comments from IPCC authors in a 2007 workshop revealing a number of concerns.
Attribution of recent climate change discusses the evidence for recent global warming. Correlation of CO2 and temperature is not part of this evidence. Nonetheless, one argument against global warming says that rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) do not correlate with global warming.
- Studies of ice cores show that carbon dioxide level variations follow 600 +/- 400 years after temperature variations. Recent warming is followed by carbon dioxide levels with only a 5 months delay. The time lag has been used to argue that the current rise in CO2 is a result of warming and not a cause. While it is generally agreed that variations before the industrial age are mostly timed by astronomical forcing, a main part of current warming is found to be timed by anthropogenic releases of CO2, having a much closer time relation not observed in the past (thus returning the argument to the importance of human CO2 emissions). Analysis of carbon isotopes in atmospheric CO2 shows that the recent observed CO2 increase cannot have come from the oceans, volcanoes, or the biosphere, and thus is not a response to rising temperatures as would be required if the same processes creating past lags were active now.
- Carbon dioxide accounts for about 390 parts per million by volume (ppm) of the Earth's atmosphere, increasing from 284 ppm in the 1830s to 387 ppm in 2009. Carbon dioxide contributes between 9 and 26% of the natural greenhouse effect.
- In the Ordovician period of the Paleozoic era (about 450 million years ago), the Earth had an atmospheric CO2 concentration estimated at 4400ppm (or 0.44% of the atmosphere), while also having evidence of some glaciation. Modeling work has shown that it is possible for local areas at elevations greater than 300–500 meters to contain year-round snow cover even with high atmospheric CO2 concentrations. A 2006 study suggests that the elevated CO2 levels and the glaciation are not synchronous, but rather that weathering associated with the uplift and erosion of the Appalachian Mountains greatly reduced atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and permitted the observed glaciation.
As noted above, climate models are only able to simulate the temperature record of the past century when GHG forcing is included, being consistent with the findings of the IPCC which has stated that: "Greenhouse gas forcing, largely the result of human activities, has very likely caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years"
The "standard" set of scenarios for future atmospheric greenhouse gases are the IPCC SRES scenarios. The purpose of the range of scenarios is not to predict what exact course the future of emissions will take, but what it may take under a range of possible population, economic and societal trends. Climate models can be run using any of the scenarios as inputs to illustrate the different outcomes for climate change. No one scenario is officially preferred, but in practice the "A1b" scenario roughly corresponding to 1%/year growth in atmospheric CO2 is often used for modelling studies.
There is debate about the various scenarios for fossil fuel consumption. Global warming skeptic Fred Singer stated that "some good experts believe" that atmospheric CO2 concentration will not double since economies are becoming less reliant on carbon.
However, The Stern report, like many other reports, notes the past correlation between CO2 emissions and economic growth and then extrapolates using a "business as usual" scenario to predict GDP growth and hence CO2 levels, concluding that:
Increasing scarcity of fossil fuels alone will not stop emissions growth in time. The stocks of hydrocarbons that are profitable to extract are more than enough to take the world to levels of CO2 well beyond 750ppm with very dangerous consequences for climate change impacts.
According to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, "the earth would warm by 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees Fahrenheit) if humans use the entire planet's available fossil fuels by the year 2300".
Solar variationMain article: Solar variation
Scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming express varied opinions concerning the cause of global warming. Some say only that it has not yet been ascertained whether humans are the primary cause of global warming; others attribute global warming to natural variation; ocean currents; increased solar activity or cosmic rays. The consensus position is that solar radiation may have increased by 0.12 W/m² since 1750, compared to 1.6 W/m² for the net anthropogenic forcing. The TAR said, "The combined change in radiative forcing of the two major natural factors (solar variation and volcanic aerosols) is estimated to be negative for the past two, and possibly the past four, decades". The AR4 makes no direct assertions on the recent role of solar forcing, but the previous statement is consistent with the AR4's figure 4.
A few studies say that the present level of solar activity is historically high as determined by sunspot activity and other factors. Solar activity could affect climate either by variation in the Sun's output or, more speculatively, by an indirect effect on the amount of cloud formation. Solanki and co-workers suggest that solar activity for the last 60 to 70 years may be at its highest level in 8,000 years; Muscheler et al. disagree, suggesting that other comparably high levels of activity have occurred several times in the last few thousand years. Muscheler et al. concluded that "solar activity reconstructions tell us that only a minor fraction of the recent global warming can be explained by the variable Sun". Solanki et al. concluded "that solar variability is unlikely to have been the dominant cause of the strong warming during the past three decades", and that "at the most 30% of the strong warming since then can be of solar origin".
Another point of controversy is the correlation of temperature with solar variation.
Mike Lockwood and Claus Fröhlich reject the statement that the warming observed in the global mean surface temperature record since about 1850 is the result of solar variations. Lockwood and Fröhlich conclude that "the observed rapid rise in global mean temperatures seen after 1985 cannot be ascribed to solar variability, whichever of the mechanisms is invoked and no matter how much the solar variation is amplified."
The "pause" in warming from the 1940s to 1960s is generally attributed to cooling effect of sulphate aerosols. More recently, this forcing has (relatively) declined, which may have enhanced warming, though the effect is regionally varying. See global dimming. Another example of this is in Ruckstuhl's paper who found a 60% reduction in aerosol concentrations over Europe causing solar brightening:
[...] the direct aerosol effect had an approximately five times larger impact on climate forcing than the indirect aerosol and other cloud effects. The overall aerosol and cloud induced surface climate forcing is ~+1 W m−2 dec−1 and has most probably strongly contributed to the recent rapid warming in Europe.
On the reliability of temperature records
Instrumental temperature recordMain articles: Instrumental temperature record and Urban heat island
Skeptics have questioned the accuracy of the instrumental temperature record on the basis of the urban heat island effect, the quality of the surface station network and what they view as unwarranted adjustments to the temperature record.
Skeptics contend that stations located in more populated areas could show warming due to increased heat generated by cities, rather than a global temperature rise. The IPCC Third Assessment Report acknowledges that the urban heat island is an important local effect, but cites analyses of historical data indicating that the effect of the urban heat island on the global temperature trend is no more than 0.05 °C (0.09 °F) degrees through 1990. More recently, Peterson (2003) found no difference between the warming observed in urban and rural areas.
Parker (2006) found that there was no difference in warming between calm and windy nights. Since the urban heat island effect is strongest for calm nights and is weak or absent on windy nights, this was taken as evidence that global temperature trends are not significantly contaminated by urban effects. Pielke and Matsui published a paper disagreeing with Parker's conclusions.
More recently, Roger A. Pielke and Stephen McIntyre have criticized the US instrumental temperature record and adjustments to it, and Pielke and others have criticized the poor quality siting of a number of weather stations in the United States. In response, Anthony Watts began a volunteer effort to photographically document the siting quality of these stations. The Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres subsequently published a study by Menne et al. which examined the record of stations picked out by Watts' Surfacestations.org and found that, if anything, the poorly sited stations showed a slight cool bias rather than the warm bias which Watts had anticipated.
Joe D'Aleo and other climate skeptics have also suggested that the NOAA and GISS temperature records show a warming trend due to the reduction of the number of weather stations used to calculate the average world temperature. He states that this is done by cherry picking weather stations in order to show a warming trend. Specifically, it is stated that large regions of the temperature record are derived from other weather stations in the region. For example, Bolivia, a landlocked and high-altitude country, has its temperature derived from lower-altitude areas in the Amazon Basin and in Peru.
The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group carried out an independent assessment of land temperature records, which examined issues raised by skeptics, such as the urban heat island effect, poor station quality, and the risk of data selection bias. The preliminary results, made public in October 2011, found that these factors had not biased the results obtained by NOAA, the Hadley Centre together with the Climatic Research Unit (HadCRUT) and NASA's GISS in earlier studies. The group also confirmed that over the past 50 years the land surface warmed by 0.911°C, and their results closely matched those obtained from these earlier studies. The four papers they had produced had been submitted for peer review.
Tropospheric temperature record
General circulation models and basic physical considerations predict that in the tropics the temperature of the troposphere should increase more rapidly than the temperature of the surface. A 2006 report to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program noted that models and observations agreed on this amplification for monthly and interannual time scales but not for decadal time scales in most observed data sets. Improved measurement and analysis techniques have reconciled this discrepancy: corrected buoy and satellite surface temperatures are slightly cooler and corrected satellite and radiosonde measurements of the tropical troposphere are slightly warmer. Satellite temperature measurements show that tropospheric temperatures are increasing with "rates similar to those of the surface temperature", leading the IPCC to conclude that this discrepancy is reconciled.
Antarctica coolingMain article: Antarctica cooling controversy
Various individuals, most notably writer Michael Crichton, have asserted that Antarctic temperature measurements contradict global warming. Observations unambiguously show the Peninsula to be warming. The trends elsewhere show both warming and cooling but are smaller and dependent on season and the timespan over which the trend is computed. Climate models predict that future trends in Antarctica are much smaller than in the Arctic.
To the extent that a controversy exists it is confined to the popular press and blogs; there is no evidence of a related controversy within the scientific community. Peter Doran, the lead author of the paper cited by Crichton, stated that "... our results have been misused as "evidence" against global warming by Crichton in his novel 'State of Fear'..." Others, for example RealClimate, agree there is no contradiction.
Equilibrium climate sensitivity refers to the equilibrium change in global mean surface temperature (ΔTs) following a unit change in the radiative forcing(RF).
(ΔTs): ΔTs = λRF, where λ is the climate sensitivity parameter
Climate sensitivity usually is expressed as the increase in global mean temperature resulting from a doubling of atmospheric CO2. This value is estimated by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report as "likely to be in the range 2 to 4.5 °C with a best estimate of about 3 °C".
Using a combination of surface temperature history and ocean heat content, Stephen E. Schwartz has proposed an estimate of climate sensitivity of 1.9 ± 1.0 K for doubled CO2., revised upwards from 1.1 ± 0.5 K. Grant Foster, James Annan, Gavin Schmidt, and Michael E. Mann argue that there are errors in both versions of Schwartz's analysis. Astronomer Nir Shaviv also has computed a value for climate sensitivity of 0.35+/-0.09 °K / (W/m2), which is consistent with a variety of historical datasets. Petr Chylek and co-authors have also proposed low climate sensitivity to doubled CO2, estimated to be 1.6 K ± 0.4 K.
Infrared iris hypothesis
Richard Lindzen proposed an Infrared Iris hypothesis of compensating meteorological processes that tend to stabilize climate change. Roy Spencer et al. discovered "a net reduction in radiative input into the ocean-atmosphere system" in tropical intraseasonal oscillations that "may potentially support" the idea of an "Iris" effect, although they point out that their work is concerned with much shorter time scales. Other analyses have found that the iris effect is a positive feedback rather than the negative feedback proposed by Lindzen.
Internal radiative forcing
Roy Spencer hypothesized in 2008 that there is an "Internal Radiative Forcing" affecting climate variability,[dead link]
[...] mixing up of cause and effect when observing natural climate variability can lead to the mistaken conclusion that the climate system is more sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions than it really is. [...] it provides a quantitative mechanism for the (minority) view that global warming is mostly a manifestation of natural internal climate variability.
[...] low frequency, internal radiative forcing amounting to little more than 1 W m-2, assumed to be proportional to a weighted average of the Southern Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation indices since 1900, produces ocean temperature behavior similar to that observed: warming from 1900 to 1940, then slight cooling through the 1970s, then resumed warming up to the present, as well as 70% of the observed centennial temperature trend.
Spencer's hypothesis was published in the peer-reviewed journal Remote Sensing in 2011 and following widespread criticism the editor of that journal resigned stating that the paper was "fundamentally flawed" and should not have been published.
Conventional predictions of future temperature rises depend on estimates of future GHG emissions (see SRES) and the climate sensitivity. Models referenced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict that global temperatures are likely to increase by 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) between 1990 and 2100. Others have proposed that temperature increases may be higher than IPCC estimates. One theory is that the climate may reach a "tipping point" where positive feedback effects lead to runaway global warming; such feedbacks include decreased reflection of solar radiation as sea ice melts, exposing darker seawater, and the potential release of large volumes of methane from thawing permafrost.
An example of a prediction that has been tested comes from 1959, when Dr. Bert Bolin, in a speech to the National Academy of Sciences, predicted that by the year 2000, there would be a 25% increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared to the levels in 1859. This prediction has proved to be an underestimate. The actual increase by 2000 was about 29%.
Some scientists, such as David Orrell or Henk Tennekes, say that climate change cannot be accurately predicted. Orrell says that the range of future increase in temperature suggested by the IPCC rather represents a social consensus in the climate community, but adds that "we are having a dangerous effect on the climate".
A 2007 study by David Douglass and coworkers concluded that the 22 most commonly used global climate models used by the IPCC were unable to accurately predict accelerated warming in the troposphere although they did match actual surface warming, concluding that "projections of future climate based on these models should be viewed with much caution". This result contrasts a similar study of 19 models which found that discrepancies between model predictions and actual temperature were likely due to measurement errors.
The IPCC states it has increased confidence in forecasts coming from General Circulation Models or GCMs. Chapter 8 of AR4 reads:
There is considerable confidence that climate models provide credible quantitative estimates of future climate change, particularly at continental scales and above. This confidence comes from the foundation of the models in accepted physical principles and from their ability to reproduce observed features of current climate and past climate changes. Confidence in model estimates is higher for some climate variables (e.g., temperature) than for others (e.g., precipitation). Over several decades of development, models have consistently provided a robust and unambiguous picture of significant climate warming in response to increasing greenhouse gases.
Certain scientists, skeptics and otherwise, believe this confidence in the models’ ability to predict future climate is not earned.
Arctic shrinkageMain article: Arctic shrinkage
One unsettled question related to temperature rises is: "When will the Arctic sea become ice-free in the summer, if at all?" (winter sea ice remains in all scenarios). Mark Serreze, the director of US National Snow and Ice Data Center, following the record low in 2007, stated "If you asked me a couple of years ago when the Arctic could lose all of its ice then I would have said 2100, or 2070 maybe. But now I think that 2030 is a reasonable estimate".
Data archiving and sharing
Scientific journals and funding agencies generally require authors of peer-reviewed research to archive all of the data necessary to reproduce their research. If another scientist attempts to reproduce the research and needs additional data, authors are expected (with few exceptions) to provide the data, metadata, methods and source code that may be necessary.
David Legates has written that Mann, Bradley and Hughes 1998, famous for its hockey stick-shaped historic temperature reconstruction, serves as an example of climate scientists not abiding by these policies and suggested that legislators might ultimately take action to enforce them.
Bets between scientists
A prediction market on climate futures, like other kinds of futures markets, could be used to establish the market consensus on climate change. There has been sporadic betting activity outside of a market framework. British climate scientist James Annan proposed bets with global warming skeptics concerning whether future temperatures will increase. Two Russian solar physicists, Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev, accepted the wager of US$10,000 that the average global temperature during 2012–2017 would be lower than during 1998–2003. Annan first directly challenged Richard Lindzen. Lindzen had been willing to bet that global temperatures would drop over the next 20 years. Annan says that Lindzen wanted odds of 50–1 against falling temperatures. Lindzen, however, says that he asked for 2–1 odds against a temperature rise of over 0.4 °C. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot challenged Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to a GB£5,000 bet of global warming versus global cooling. Annan and other proponents of the consensus state they have challenged other skeptics to bets over global warming that were not accepted, including Annan's attempt in 2005 to accept a bet that had been offered by Patrick Michaels in 1998 that temperatures would be cooler after ten years.
PoliticalSee also: Politics of global warming and Economics of global warming
In the U.S. global warming is often a partisan political issue. Republicans tend to oppose action against a threat that they regard as unproven, while Democrats tend to support actions that they believe will reduce global warming and its effects through the control of greenhouse gas emissions.[dead link] Recently, bipartisan measures have been introduced.
Climatologist Kevin E. Trenberth stated:
The SPM was approved line by line by governments[...] .The argument here is that the scientists determine what can be said, but the governments determine how it can best be said. Negotiations occur over wording to ensure accuracy, balance, clarity of message, and relevance to understanding and policy. The IPCC process is dependent on the good will of the participants in producing a balanced assessment. However, in Shanghai, it appeared that there were attempts to blunt, and perhaps obfuscate, the messages in the report, most notably by Saudi Arabia. This led to very protracted debates over wording on even bland and what should be uncontroversial text... The most contentious paragraph in the IPCC (2001) SPM was the concluding one on attribution. After much debate, the following was carefully crafted: "In the light of new evidence, and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse-gas concentrations".
As more evidence has become available over the existence of global warming debate has moved to further controversial issues, including:
- The social and environmental impacts
- The appropriate response to climate change
- Whether decisions require less uncertainty
The single largest issue is the importance of a few degrees rise in temperature:
Most people say, "A few degrees? So what? If I change my thermostat a few degrees, I'll live fine." ... [The] point is that one or two degrees is about the experience that we have had in the last 10,000 years, the era of human civilization. There haven't been—globally averaged, we're talking—fluctuations of more than a degree or so. So we're actually getting into uncharted territory from the point of view of the relatively benign climate of the last 10,000 years, if we warm up more than a degree or two. (Stephen H. Schneider)
The other point that leads to major controversy—because it could have significant economic impacts—is whether action (usually, restrictions on the use of fossil fuels to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions) should be taken now, or in the near future; and whether those restrictions would have any meaningful effect on global temperature.
Because of the economic ramifications of such restrictions, there are those, including the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, who feel strongly that the negative economic effects of emission controls outweigh the environmental benefits. They state that even if global warming is caused solely by the burning of fossil fuels, restricting their use would have more damaging effects on the world economy than the increases in global temperature.
The linkage between coal, electricity, and economic growth in the United States is as clear as it can be. And it is required for the way we live, the way we work, for our economic success, and for our future. Coal-fired electricity generation. It is necessary.(Fred Palmer, President of Western Fuels Association)
Conversely, others feel strongly that early action to reduce emissions would help avoid much greater economic costs later, and would reduce the risk of catastrophic, irreversible change. In his December 2006 book, Hell and High Water, energy technology expert Joseph J. Romm
discusses the urgency to act and the sad fact that America is refusing to do so...
Ultimately, however, a strictly economic argument for or against action on climate change is limited at best, failing to take into consideration other potential impacts of any change.
Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Walter Russell Mead argues that the 2009 Copenhagen Summit failed because environmentalists have changed from "Bambi to Godzilla". According to Mead, environmentalist used to represent the skeptical few who made valid arguments against big government programs which tried to impose simple but massive solutions on complex situations. Environmentalists' more recent advocacy for big economic and social intervention against global warming, according to Mead, has made them, "the voice of the establishment, of the tenured, of the technocrats" and thus has lost them the support of a public which is increasingly skeptical of global warming.
Kyoto ProtocolMain article: Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto protocol is the most prominent international agreement on climate change, and is also highly controversial. Some argue that it goes too far or not nearly far enough in restricting emissions of greenhouse gases. Another area of controversy is the fact that China and India, the world's two most populous countries, both ratified the protocol but are not required to reduce or even limit the growth of carbon emissions under the present agreement even though when listed by greenhouse gas emissions per capita, they have rankings of 121st largest per capita emitter at 3.9 Tonnes of CO2e and 162nd largest per capita emitter at 1.8 Tonnes of CO2e respectively, compared with for example the US at position of the 14th largest per capita CO2e emitter at 22.9 Tonnes of CO2e. Nevertheless, China is the world's second largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, and India 4th (see: countries by greenhouse emissions). Various predictions see China overtaking the US in total greenhouse emissions between late 2007 and 2010, and according to many other estimates, this already occurred in 2006.
Additionally, high costs of decreasing emissions may cause significant production to move to countries that are not covered under the treaty, such as India and China, says Fred Singer. As these countries are less energy efficient, this scenario is said to cause additional carbon emissions.
In May 2010 the Hartwell Paper was published by the London School of Economics in collaboration with the University of Oxford. This paper was written by 14 academics from various disciplines in the sciences and humanities, and also some policies thinkers, and they argued that the Kyoto Protocol crashed in late 2009 and "has failed to produce any discernable real world reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases in fifteen years." They argued that this failure opened an opportunity to set climate policy free from Kyoto and the paper advocates a controversial and piecemeal approach to decarbonization of the global economy. The Hartwell paper proposes that "the organising principle of our effort should be the raising up of human dignity via three overarching objectives: ensuring energy access for all; ensuring that we develop in a manner that does not undermine the essential functioning of the Earth system; ensuring that our societies are adequately equipped to withstand the risks and dangers that come from all the vagaries of climate, whatever their cause may be".
The only major developed nation which has signed but not ratified the Kyoto protocol is the US (see signatories). The countries with no official position on Kyoto are mainly African countries with underdeveloped scientific infrastructure or are oil producers.
Funding for partisansSee also: Global warming denial
Both sides of the controversy have argued that access to funding has played a role in the willingness of credentialed experts to speak out.
According to Greenpeace, documents they obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act show that the Charles G. Koch Foundation gave Willie Soon two grants totaling $175,000 in 2005/6 and again in 2010. Multiple grants from the American Petroleum Institute between 2001 and 2007 totalled $274,000, and grants from Exxon Mobil totalled $335,000 between 2005 and 2010. Other coal and oil industry sources which funded him include the Mobil Foundation, the Texaco Foundation and the Electric Power Research Institute. Soon, acknowledging that he received this money, stated unequivocally that he has "never been motivated by financial reward in any of my scientific research."
The Greenpeace research project ExxonSecrets, and George Monbiot writing in The Guardian, as well as various academics, have linked several skeptical scientists—Fred Singer, Fred Seitz and Patrick Michaels—to organizations funded by ExxonMobil and Philip Morris for the purpose of promoting global warming skepticism. Similarly, groups employing global warming skeptics, such as the George C. Marshall Institute, have been criticized for their ties to fossil fuel companies.
On 2 February 2007, The Guardian stated that Kenneth Green, a Visiting Scholar with AEI, had sent letters to scientists in the UK and the U.S., offering US$10,000 plus travel expenses and other incidental payments in return for essays with the purpose of "highlight[ing] the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC process", specifically regarding the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
A furor was raised when it was revealed that the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (an energy cooperative that draws a significant portion of its electricity from coal-burning plants) donated $100,000 to Patrick Michaels and his group, New Hope Environmental Services, and solicited additional private donations from its members.[unreliable source?]
The Union of Concerned Scientists have produced a report titled 'Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air', that criticizes ExxonMobil for "underwriting the most sophisticated and most successful disinformation campaign since the tobacco industry" and for "funnelling about $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of ideological and advocacy organizations that manufacture uncertainty on the issue". In 2006 Exxon said that it was no longer going to fund these groups though that statement has been challenged by Greenpeace.
The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a skeptic group, when confronted about the funding of a video they put together ($250,000 for "The Greening of Planet Earth" from an oil company) stated, "We applaud Western Fuels for their willingness to publicize a side of the story that we believe to be far more correct than what at one time was 'generally accepted'. But does this mean that they fund The Center? Maybe it means that we fund them!"
Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, has said that skeptics such as Michaels are lobbyists more than researchers, and that "I don't think it's unethical any more than most lobbying is unethical", he said. He said donations to skeptics amounts to "trying to get a political message across".
A number of global warming skeptics, such as the following, assert that grant money is given preferentially to supporters of global warming theory. Atmospheric scientist Reid Bryson said in June 2007 that "There is a lot of money to be made in this... If you want to be an eminent scientist you have to have a lot of grad students and a lot of grants. You can't get grants unless you say, 'Oh global warming, yes, yes, carbon dioxide'." Similar positions have been advanced by climatologist Marcel Leroux, NASA's Roy Spencer, climatologist and IPCC contributor John Christy, University of London biogeographer Philip Stott, Accuracy in Media, and Ian Plimer in his 2009 book Heaven and Earth — Global Warming: The Missing Science.
Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, makes the specific statement that "[in] the winter of 1989 Reginald Newell, a professor of meteorology [at MIT], lost National Science Foundation funding for data analyses that were failing to show net warming over the past century". Lindzen also suggests four other scientists "apparently" lost their funding or positions after questioning the scientific underpinnings of global warming. Lindzen himself, however, has been the recipient of money from energy interests such as OPEC and the Western Fuels Association, including "$2,500 a day for his consulting services", as well as funding from federal sources including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and NASA.
Controversy over most effective response to warming
In recent years some skeptics have changed their positions regarding global warming. Ronald Bailey, author of Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths (published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in 2002), stated in 2005, "Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up". By 2007, he wrote "Details like sea level rise will continue to be debated by researchers, but if the debate over whether or not humanity is contributing to global warming wasn't over before, it is now.... as the new IPCC Summary makes clear, climate change Pollyannaism is no longer looking very tenable".
"There are alternatives to its [(the climate-change crusade's)] insistence that the only appropriate policy response is steep and immediate emissions reductions.... a greenhouse-gas-emissions cap ultimately would constrain energy production. A sensible climate policy would emphasize building resilience into our capacity to adapt to climate changes.... we should consider strategies of adaptation to a changing climate. A rise in the sea level need not be the end of the world, as the Dutch have taught us". says Steven F. Hayward of American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank. Hayward also advocates the use of "orbiting mirrors to rebalance the amounts of solar radiation different parts of the earth receive"—the space sunshade example of so-called geoengineering for solar radiation management.
In 2001 Richard Lindzen in response to the question, "Kyoto aside for a moment, should we be trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions? Do our concerns about global warming require action?" said "We should prioritize our responses. You can't just say, "No matter what the cost, and no matter how little the benefit, we'll do this". If we truly believe in warming, then we've already decided we're going to adjust...The reason we adjust to things far better than Bangladesh is that we're richer. Wouldn't you think it makes sense to make sure we're as robust and wealthy as possible? And that the poor of the world are also as robust and wealthy as possible?"
Others argue that if developing nations reach the wealth level of the United States this could greatly increase CO2 emissions and consumption of fossil fuels. Large developing nations such as India and China are predicted to be major emitters of greenhouse gases in the next few decades as their economies grow.
The conservative National Center for Policy Analysis whose "Environmental Task Force" contains a number of climate change skeptics including Sherwood Idso and S. Fred Singer says, "The growing consensus on climate change policies is that adaptation will protect present and future generations from climate-sensitive risks far more than efforts to restrict CO 2 emissions".
The adaptation-only plan is also endorsed by oil companies like ExxonMobil, "ExxonMobil's plan appears to be to stay the course and try to adjust when changes occur. The company's plan is one that involves adaptation, as opposed to leadership", says this Ceres report.
Gregg Easterbrook characterized himself as having "a long record of opposing alarmism". In 2006, he stated, "based on the data I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert".
The Bush administration also voiced support for an adaptation-only policy. "In a stark shift for the Bush administration, the United States has sent a climate report [U.S. Climate Action Report 2002] to the United Nations detailing specific and far-reaching effects it says global warming will inflict on the American environment. In the report, the administration also for the first time places most of the blame for recent global warming on human actions—mainly the burning of fossil fuels that send heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere". The report however "does not propose any major shift in the administration's policy on greenhouse gases. Instead it recommends adapting to inevitable changes instead of making rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases to limit warming". This position apparently precipitated a similar shift in emphasis at the COP 8 climate talks in New Delhi several months later, "The shift satisfies the Bush administration, which has fought to avoid mandatory cuts in emissions for fear it would harm the economy. 'We're welcoming a focus on more of a balance on adaptation versus mitigation', said a senior American negotiator in New Delhi. 'You don't have enough money to do everything'". see also. The White House emphasis on adaptation was not well received however:
"Despite conceding that our consumption of fossil fuels is causing serious damage and despite implying that current policy is inadequate, the Report fails to take the next step and recommend serious alternatives. Rather, it suggests that we simply need to accommodate to the coming changes. For example, reminiscent of former Interior Secretary Hodel's proposal that the government address the hole in the ozone layer by encouraging Americans to make better use of sunglasses, suntan lotion and broad-brimmed hats, the Report suggests that we can deal with heat-related health impacts by increased use of air-conditioning ... Far from proposing solutions to the climate change problem, the Administration has been adopting energy policies that would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions. Notably, even as the Report identifies increased air conditioner use as one of the 'solutions' to climate change impacts, the Department of Energy has decided to roll back energy efficiency standards for air conditioners". Letter from 11 State Attorneys General to George W. Bush.
Some find this shift and attitude disingenuous and indicative of an inherent bias against prevention (i.e. reducing emissions/consumption) and for the prolonging of profits to the oil industry at the expense of the environment. "Now that the dismissal of climate change is no longer fashionable, the professional deniers are trying another means of stopping us from taking action. It would be cheaper, they say, to wait for the impacts of climate change and then adapt to them" says writer and environmental activist George Monbiot in an article addressing the supposed economic hazards of addressing climate change. Others argue that adaptation alone will not be sufficient. See also Copenhagen Consensus.
To be sure, though not emphasized to the same degree as mitigation, adaptation to a climate certain to change has been included as a necessary component in the discussion early as 1992, and has been all along. However it was not to the exclusion, advocated by the skeptics, of preventative mitigation efforts, and therein, say carbon cutting proponents, lies the difference.
Political pressure on scientists
Many climate scientists state that they are put under enormous pressure to distort or hide any scientific results which suggest that human activity is to blame for global warming. A survey of climate scientists which was reported to the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee noted that "Nearly half of all respondents perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words 'climate change', 'global warming' or other similar terms from a variety of communications". These scientists were pressured to tailor their reports on global warming to fit the Bush administration's climate change scepticism. In some cases, this occurred at the request of a former oil-industry lobbyist. In June 2008, a report by NASA's Office of the Inspector General concluded that NASA staff appointed by the White House had censored and suppressed scientific data on global warming in order to protect the Bush administration from controversy close to the 2004 presidential election.
U.S. officials, such as Philip Cooney, have repeatedly edited scientific reports from US government scientists, many of whom, such as Thomas Knutson, have been ordered to refrain from discussing climate change and related topics. Attempts to suppress scientific information on global warming and other issues have been described by journalist Chris Mooney in his book The Republican War on Science.
Climate scientist James E. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in a widely cited New York Times article in 2006 that his superiors at the agency were trying to "censor" information "going out to the public". NASA denied this, saying that it was merely requiring that scientists make a distinction between personal, and official government, views in interviews conducted as part of work done at the agency. Several scientists working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have made similar complaints; once again, government officials said they were enforcing long-standing policies requiring government scientists to clearly identify personal opinions as such when participating in public interviews and forums.
The BBC's long-running current affairs series Panorama recently investigated the issue, and was told that "scientific reports about global warming have been systematically changed and suppressed".
On the other hand, some American climatologists who have expressed doubts regarding the certainty of human influence in climate change have been criticized by politicians and governmental agencies. Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski publicly clarified that Oregon does not officially appoint a "state climatologist" in response to Oregon State University's George Taylor's use of that title.[unreliable source?] As a result of scientific doubts he has expressed regarding global warming, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control reportedly attempted to remove David Legates from his office of Delaware State Climatologist. In late 2006, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D) reportedly began an investigation of Virginia State Climatologist and global warming skeptic Patrick Michaels.
Scientists who agree with the consensus view have sometimes expressed concerns over what they view as sensationalism of global warming by interest groups and the press. For example Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, wrote how increasing use of pejorative terms like "catastrophic", "chaotic" and "irreversible", had altered the public discourse around climate change: "This discourse is now characterised by phrases such as 'climate change is worse than we thought', that we are approaching 'irreversible tipping in the Earth's climate', and that we are 'at the point of no return'. I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric".
According to an Associated Press release on 30 January 2007,
Climate scientists at seven government agencies say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the threat of global warming.
The groups presented a survey that shows two in five of the 279 climate scientists who responded to a questionnaire complained that some of their scientific papers had been edited in a way that changed their meaning. Nearly half of the 279 said in response to another question that at some point they had been told to delete reference to "global warming" or "climate change" from a report".
Critics writing in the Wall Street Journal editorial page state that the survey was itself unscientific.
In addition to the pressure from politicians, many prominent scientists working on climate change issues have reported increasingly severe harassment from members of the public. The harassment has taken several forms. The US FBI told ABC News that it was looking into a spike in threatening emails sent to climate scientists, while a white supremacist website posted pictures of several climate scientists with the word "Jew" next to each image. One climate scientist interviewed by ABC News had a dead animal dumped on his doorstep and now frequently has to travel with bodyguards.
Several lawsuits have been filed over global warming. For example, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency before the Supreme Court of the United States allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. A similar approach was taken by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer who filed a lawsuit California v. General Motors Corp. to force car manufacturers to reduce vehicles' emissions of carbon dioxide. This lawsuit was found to lack legal merit and was tossed out. A third case, Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., a class action lawsuit filed by Gerald Maples, a trial attorney in Mississippi, in an effort to force fossil fuel and chemical companies to pay for damages caused by global warming. Described as a nuisance lawsuit, it was dismissed by District Court. However, the District Court's decision was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which instructed the District Court to reinstate several of the plaintiffs' climate change-related claims on 22 October 2009. The Sierra Club sued the U.S. government over failure to raise automobile fuel efficiency standards, and thereby decrease carbon dioxide emissions.
- Hockey stick controversy
- List of climate scientists
- List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming
- Climatic Research Unit documents
- Climatic Research Unit email controversy
- Criticism of the IPCC AR4
- Science wars
- Attitude polarization
- The Real Global Warming Disaster
- The Hockey Stick Illusion
- Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, an effort to improve the Earth's surface temperature record
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When the IPCC report came out, Seitz, Nierenberg, and now a 4th physicist—a man by the name of S. Fred Singer—launched a highly personal attack on Santer. In an open letter to the IPCC, which they sent to numerous members of the US Congress, Singer, Seitz, and Nierenberg accused Santer of making "unauthorized" changes to the IPCC report [...]
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Now Santer replied, in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, and in the response he explained that he had made changes, but those changes were in response to the peer review process. In other words, totally normal scientific practice...This account was corroborated by the Chairman of the IPCC and by all of the other authors of the chapters. In fact, over 40 scientists were co-authors of this chapter. This letter was signed by Santer and 40 others and published in the Wall Street Journal in June 1996. And Santer was also formally defended by the American Meteorological Society.
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