All but the extremists on either side agree that the planet is warming and that humanity is at least partly responsible – and that we don’t know how big its contribution is, or what the effects will be.
Of course, it’s much harder to reach conclusions in this area than on the basic science. We will only know for sure whether the Arctic icecap will disappear in summer by 2030, as some top scientists predict, or by 2050, or 2100, when and if it actually happens. Or, as Dr Peiser says, again correctly: “In all likelihood, we will not know for the next 20 or 30 years who is right or wrong on the scale and impact of global warming.”
So we are clearly embroiled in the wrong argument. We should be debating not scientific certainty, but risk – or, more precisely, to what level of risk we are prepared to take with the futures of our children and grandchildren....Given the amount of evidence pointing to a serious level of danger, the onus is on the sceptics is to show that the risk is virtually non-existent. They often assert it – but so far, they have been unable to produce good, peer-reviewed research to back up their case.
They do produce another argument, which is that measures to combat climate change would be economically catastrophic. But again, they rely more on assertion than evidence, and the balance of the economic argument is shifting the other way. There is a growing conviction that the cost of ignoring climate change will be far greater than of tackling it now, that many of the measures to be taken would be beneficial in other ways, and even that developing low-carbon economies may be the key to future growth. Indeed, that’s probably the most productive debate we could now be having.