IPCC Mythbusting

The latest IPCC report makes the choice that humanity faces yet more stark, both the clarity of the evidence and the urgency to take action. Yet those who have a vested interest in fossil fuel consumption continue to spread doubt and confusion. Here are some of the myths they propagate:

Myth No. 1: Scientists still aren't certain humans are causing climate change

The latest number put on scientists' certainty is 95%. What does 95% certain mean? That they are about as sure as that cigarette smoking causes cancer. And this is a good analogy for more than one reason. The tobacco industry and its paid lobbyists fought desperately to deny this science when it first emerged. Smoking is also a good example of how humans can be very very bad at taking sensible decisions and weighing up risk. But when it comes to cutting carbon emissions, it's not just our own health and wellbeing we're risking, it's all future generations. It really is time to act.


Fracking facts: Ten things you need to know about shale gas

Shale gas is methane (natural gas) which is trapped in impermeable shale rock deep underground. The gas cannot flow through the shale, so simply drilling a well, as you would for conventional natural gas, is not enough. The shale rock must be cracked to free the gas, so large quantities of water, sand, and a range of chemicals are pumped in under high pressure (hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking'). Tens or hundreds as many wells are needed to produce as much gas as in a conventional gas field.

Current government policies, driven in particular by the Chancellor, George Osborne, promote shale gas as a solution to the UK's energy needs. But the facts suggest otherwise:

1. Proven global reserves amount to five times as much fossil fuel as could be burnt between now and 2050 and keep under 2°C of global warming. This basic fact is frustratingly often absent in media discussions about exploiting about yet another source to exploit.

2. Without effective policies to limit carbon emissions there is no reason to think that shale gas in Europe will push out coal – it is just as likely to compete with renewables.

3. There is a big question mark over whether shale gas exploitation is actually any better for the climate than coal burning. It all depends on how much gas leaks out during the process, since methane is a shorter lived but much more powerful greenhouse gas compared to CO2.