Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The human cause of climate change: Where does the burden of proof lie?

Date:
November 3, 2011
Source:
Wiley-Blackwell
Summary:
The debate may largely be drawn along political lines, but the human role in climate change remains one of the most controversial questions in 21st century science. Experts argue that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is now so clear that the burden of proof should lie with research which seeks to disprove the human role.

Polar bear on melting ice. Experts argue that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is now so clear that the burden of proof should lie with research which seeks to disprove the human role.
Credit: iStockphoto/Kristian Septimius Krogh

The debate may largely be drawn along political lines, but the human role in climate change remains one of the most controversial questions in 21st century science. Writing in WIREs Climate Change Dr Kevin Trenberth, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, argues that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is now so clear that the burden of proof should lie with research which seeks to disprove the human role.

Related Articles


In response to Trenberth's argument a second review, by Dr Judith Curry, focuses on the concept of a 'null hypothesis' the default position which is taken when research is carried out. Currently the null hypothesis for climate change attribution research is that humans have no influence.

"Humans are changing our climate. There is no doubt whatsoever," said Trenberth. "Questions remain as to the extent of our collective contribution, but it is clear that the effects are not small and have emerged from the noise of natural variability. So why does the science community continue to do attribution studies and assume that humans have no influence as a null hypothesis?"

To show precedent for his position Trenberth cites the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which states that global warming is "unequivocal," and is "very likely" due to human activities.

Trenberth also focused on climate attribution studies which claim the lack of a human component, and suggested that the assumptions distort results in the direction of finding no human influence, resulting in misleading statements about the causes of climate change that can serve to grossly underestimate the role of humans in climate events.

"Scientists must challenge misconceptions in the difference between weather and climate while attribution studies must include a human component," concluded Trenberth. "The question should no longer be is there a human component, but what is it?"

In a second paper Dr Judith Curry, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, questions this position, but argues that the discussion on the null hypothesis serves to highlight fuzziness surrounding the many hypotheses related to dangerous climate change.

"Regarding attribution studies, rather than trying to reject either hypothesis regardless of which is the null, there should be a debate over the significance of anthropogenic warming relative to forced and unforced natural climate variability," said Curry.

Curry also suggested that the desire to reverse the null hypothesis may have the goal of seeking to marginalise the climate sceptic movement, a vocal group who have challenged the scientific orthodoxy on climate change.

"The proponents of reversing the null hypothesis should be careful of what they wish for," concluded Curry. "One consequence may be that the scientific focus, and therefore funding, would also reverse to attempting to disprove dangerous anthropogenic climate change, which has been a position of many sceptics."

"I doubt Trenberth's suggestion will find much support in the scientific community," said Professor Myles Allen from Oxford University, "but Curry's counter proposal to abandon hypothesis tests is worse. We still have plenty of interesting hypotheses to test: did human influence on climate increase the risk of this event at all? Did it increase it by more than a factor of two?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Kevin E. Trenberth. Attribution of climate variations and trends to human influences and natural variability. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2011; DOI: 10.1002/wcc.142
  2. Judith Curry. Nullifying the climate null hypothesis. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2011; DOI: 10.1002/wcc.141
  3. Myles Allen. In defense of the traditional null hypothesis: remarks on the Trenberth and Curry WIREs opinion articles. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2011; DOI: 10.1002/wcc.145

Cite This Page:

Wiley-Blackwell. "The human cause of climate change: Where does the burden of proof lie?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111103120223.htm>.
Wiley-Blackwell. (2011, November 3). The human cause of climate change: Where does the burden of proof lie?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111103120223.htm
Wiley-Blackwell. "The human cause of climate change: Where does the burden of proof lie?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111103120223.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Scientists Find Invisible Space Shield Protecting Earth

Scientists Find Invisible Space Shield Protecting Earth

Newsy (Nov. 27, 2014) — An invisible barrier is keeping dangerous super fast electrons from interfering with our atmosphere, but scientists aren't entirely sure how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — Innovative recycling project in La Paz separates city waste and converts plastic garbage into school furniture made from 'plastiwood'. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) — Researchers at Northwestern University are repurposing Blu-ray movies for better solar panel technology thanks to the discs' internal structures. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) — Antarctic sea ice isn't only expanding, it's thicker than previously thought, and scientists aren't sure exactly why. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins