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Artwork by M. Ryder (M. Ryder)
Artwork by M. Ryder (M. Ryder)

The debate

Facts and fiction on climate change Add to ...

When world leaders meet in Copenhagen to discuss climate change, many issues will be up for debate on how to fight climate change, but there will be broad agreement on at least one topic: climate change is real.

The federal government calls the phenomenon "one of the most important environmental issues of our time," adding that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the primary cause for concern now and into the immediate future.

But that doesn't mean the topic isn't up for fierce debate in other circles. Climate change skeptics say that e-mails obtained by a from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. shed light on a conspiracy to spread the myth of climate change.

Here's a look at scientists on both sides of the debate:

The case for the dangers of climate change

The case against it

Is the planet really warmer?

The Canadian Arctic is experiencing a heat wave it hasn't seen since just after the last ice age ended about 8,000 years ago, says a recent paper. The research was based on the study of sediment found at the bottom of a remote lake on Baffin Island.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says there have been unprecedented increases of some algae types dependent on warmer weather that were almost never found during the preindustrial era.

The Earth has survived many cycles of warming and cooling in the past and now is no different, says University of Guelph economics professor Ross McKitrick.

McKitrick says evidence cited by the International Panel on Climate Change that temperatures spiked in the 20th century is based on flawed data. Skeptics are also doubtful there is any immediate danger from global warming since global temperatures have stayed flat since 1998.

Are the ice caps melting?

A study published last year found that Antarctica's ice sheet is shrinking, at a rate that increased dramatically from 1996 to 2006. The paper, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, warns that the mass loss increased by 75 per cent over the decade studied.

Lead researcher Eric Rignot, principal scientist for the Radar Science and Engineering Section at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, suspects the trend is due to global warming, and isn't part of a normal natural fluctuation.

There have been warm periods in the past which caused ice sheets to shrink, but the change wasn't permanent, says Australian geology professor Ian Plimer. Dr. Plimer says the ice sheets waxed and waned, as they still do today.

In his book, Heaven and Earth, Dr. Plimer argues that human activity hasn't greatly impacted the environment. While manmade atmospheric CO 2 might be increasing, it isn't any threat to the atmosphere.

Other skeptics argue that the arctic ice sheets have actually gotten bigger and thicker in recent years, contrary to the findings of researchers like Dr. Rignot.

Will there be a crisis?

The Lancet, a major British medical journal, and University College London report that a hotter planet could speed the spread of disease. Illnesses like malaria and dengue fever could be carried by mosquitos to new, higher elevation areas that are currently free of the disease, with anywhere from 260 million to 320 million more people affected by 2080.

Skeptics say that while we might be in for some heat and discomfort in coming years, it's nothing our ancestors couldn't survive.

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