When climate scientist Peter Stott checked into his flight from London to Moscow in July 2004, his excitement gave strategy to shock when a colleague explained their agreed schedule had been ripped up.
They’d expected to match findings and strengthen ties with counterparts in Russia – but discovered key promoters of the unscientific view that humans don’t have any key role in driving climate change had been invited, too.
“It was an ambush,” Stott said.
The meeting on the Russian Academy of Sciences had been modified by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s then-adviser Andrei Illarionov, an ardent critic of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 United Nations deal to chop emissions, which was awaiting ratification by Russia.
“He was using scientists as tools in his propaganda war,” said Stott, who specialised in identifying man-made and natural causes of climate change at the UK’s Met Office and the University of Exeter.
Stott and his colleagues were tasked with debating sceptics including Richard Lindzen, a climate contrarian who was on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the time, and controversial British weather forecaster Piers Corbyn. Stott described the experience of getting to defend climate science in Russia as “very threatening”.
He detailed the events in his book, Hot Air: The Inside Story of the Battle Against Climate Change Denial, which has been shortlisted for the celebrated Royal Society Science Book Prize.
He recounted how he was the primary scientist to attach a person weather event to human-induced climate change, when, in 2004, he published a paper within the journal Nature linking greenhouse gas emissions to deadly European heatwaves that had killed greater than 70,000 people a 12 months earlier.
Such “attribution science” has develop into a staple in determining how much of a job global warming played in disasters – a change that has helped drive a surge in lawsuits against major climate polluters.
Stott has since devoted many years of labor to raising awareness concerning the connection between human burning of fossil fuels and climate change, particularly in his role as an creator on several assessment reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
A string of climate change deniers – many linked to fossil fuel interests – have challenged the findings of scientists like Stott and sought to downplay the importance of worldwide warming and humanity’s role in driving it.
When Stott was starting within the Nineteen Nineties, the science connecting climate change with human causes was becoming stronger, with a 1995 IPCC report saying “the balance of evidence … suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”.
Stott said such scientific developments led to a surge of opposing voices who “select arguments that suit their agendas and … don’t scrutinise their very own arguments”.
A superb scientist is genuinely sceptical of their very own and other people’s work because “that’s how science works”, he said.
Over time, Stott said he has learned to combat arguments from climate deniers more effectively by defending the science without getting drawn into “zombie arguments”.
“As scientists, we attempt to bat them down they usually come back to life again,” he said. But “the danger is that if we’re just perpetually rebutting arguments, we could never get beyond that.”
The scientific process concentrates on what stays unknown, Stott said, so scientists must state the facts which are clearly established facts about climate change upfront to avoid any public uncertainty.
Considered one of the largest setbacks within the battle against climate denial got here in 2009 with the scandal often called “Climategate”, Stott said.
Hackers broke into the e-mail system of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) on the UK’s University of East Anglia and posted online hundreds of messages sent between scientists.
Climate deniers said the messages showed the CRU had conspired to distort or exaggerate the science behind global warming.
Several inquiries cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing, but Stott said the scandal contributed to the failure of the UN climate conference in Copenhagen which took place just a few weeks later.
“That ought to have been the moment when a landmark agreement was reached,” he said.
It was years later, with the 2015 Paris Agreement, that governments agreed to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with an aim of 1.5C (2.7F).
“We lost a minimum of six years [of progress] in that point,” Stott said – a critical delay with scientists saying still-rising emissions must now plunge by nearly half from current levels by 2030.
Today, he said, scientists increasingly have the ears of political leaders and the general public, especially as extreme weather has highlighted swiftly increasing climate threats.
But attention has not translated into sufficient motion, he said, and climate denial continues to be an obstacle, with a spread of lobbyists and campaign groups demanding a delay in climate motion, which they are saying puts heavy costs on households and businesses.
“In the present context of our climate crisis, that’s really dangerous because we don’t have time,” Stott said.
A study published in September within the journal Science found that 4 dangerous planetary tipping points are “likely” above 1.5C of warming above preindustrial temperatures – a level that could possibly be passed inside a decade.
One – accelerating melting resulting in the eventual collapse of the Greenland ice sheet – could have already been triggered, some consider, setting in motion seven metres (23 feet) of sea level rise over time, enough to swamp key coastal cities.
Despair and hope
On the upcoming COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt, countries must boost their plans to chop emissions, Stott said – something few have thus far done.
Stott said morale within the scientific community is flagging as emissions keep rising and impacts growing. He said he despairs on the destruction of the natural world and the “seeming lack of progress” to make economies more sustainable.
But more people around the globe have begun greening their behaviour lately, from installing solar panels to purchasing electric cars and adopting more sustainable diets.
“There’s this big groundswell of things happening,” Stott said. “So, that’s where the hope is available in.”