Smoke and Mirrors in the Climate Debate

When it comes to a number of other important questions, a consensus never existed. The IPCC report provides evidence of that fact, as do surveys from sociologists and climate researchers. Numerous researchers openly admit they harbor significant doubts. The following areas, for example, are considered to be insufficiently researched, despite the fact that they could be decisive factors in determining the future of the climate:

* The development of climate change in the past and how it relates to the climate of tomorrow. * The water cycle. The quantity of water vapor -- a naturally occurring greenhouse gas -- that is present in the air is decisive in terms of the air temperature. * Knowledge of the effect of particles from industry, heating and auto emissions as well as from oceans, volcanoes and from the soil is also "low," according to the IPCC report. These particles serve as seeds for clouds, and some estimates suggest that an increase in the cloud cover by just 1 percent could offset a doubling of the CO2 in the air. * Many climate researchers question the quality of computer models used to forecast climate change.

Despite this considerable uncertainty, however, there is enough data pointing toward drastic climate change that it could still make sense to prepare for it. Yet that hasn't stopped a number of leading scientists from promoting selective research as an attractive, though overly simple, answer to climate-change skeptics. But this behavior actually endangers efforts to protect the environment. At some point, opponents will discover the concealed knowledge -- bringing embarrassment to the researchers. The so-called Climategate scandal involving stolen emails from climate researchers only boiled over because scientists discussed gaps in the science among themselves that they had not shared with the public.

A Perfect Symbiosis

In Germany, prominent scientists travel around the country to espouse views that are popular with their target audiences. In its reporting, SPIEGEL ONLINE found that companies and associations pay leading climate researchers fees as high as €5,000 ($6,606) for their expertise. Scientists who convey unequivocal messages are also in high demand as consultants for lobby groups and political parties.

Indeed, a close partnership has developed between environmental groups and climate researchers, one that benefits both sides. The lobby groups gain scientific credibility, while the researchers increase their influence. The more associations promote the line about a scientific consensus, the better climatologists' positions become established with each message.

The European Climate Foundation was recently established in Berlin. The group says it spends €20 million ($26.4 million) annually on its climate protection programs. With help from scientists, the foundation publishes summaries of the current state of research. The one-sidedness of what is represented should provide plenty of ammunition for skeptics like Vahrenholt. On the other hand, Vahrenholt's own theories draw attention to the foundation. It's a perfect symbiosis.

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