October 23, 2009 / 12:41 PM / 8 years ago

London museum confronts climate change skeptics

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - London's Science Museum has waded into the climate change debate with a new exhibition called "Prove It!" that aims to persuade doubters that humans really are behind global warming.

With less than 50 days to go before United Nations climate talks in Denmark, the curators hope to give visitors all the information they need to understand how mankind is warming the planet to dangerous levels.

Near the multimedia displays about the environment and the Copenhagen summit, lies a decidedly low-tech but highly symbolic pile of coal.

Professor Chris Rapley, the museum's director, said the dark heap represents the notional trillionth ton of coal, oil or gas that will be burned for power, probably by 2050. The world reached the half-trillion landmark in the last year.

"To avoid dangerous climate change...we must never release into the atmosphere the carbon dioxide from that trillionth ton," Rapley told a news conference. "If Copenhagen fulfils its historic purpose, the museum will hold this ton forever.

"On the other hand, if the outcome were not successful...our successors here at the museum will ceremoniously take the ton to a power station and burn it."

The Prove It! show was designed to have a low carbon footprint. Instead of large display cases and dozens of exhibits, it has interactive, multimedia screens which lay out the scientific evidence behind man-made climate change.

Visitors are invited to take on the role of one of six characters at the Copenhagen talks, including an economist and a scientist, to help them learn about climate science.

CARS, ROCKETS, STEAM

The museum's nearby exhibits give some idea of where all that energy has gone. To reach the climate show, visitors must walk through the cavernous Energy Hall, packed with coal-fired steam engines, cars such as the Volkswagen Beetle and even a prototype Rover car powered by a gas-turbine engine.

Rapley told Reuters the evidence behind the theory that all these vehicles, along with power stations and other greenhouse gas sources, have added to global warming is beyond doubt, although he sees why some people may not want to accept it.

"It is very threatening and very frightening to people that our whole way of modern life has now confronted a rather serious issue," he said. "Nothing would please me more than to wake up tomorrow and discover we got it all wrong. Unfortunately, all the evidence I have looked at tells me that that's not true.

"I am a scientist, I am a professional skeptic and open-minded," he added. "Every time the contrarians come along with something new, I do take it seriously. I go and ask other experts who will know more about it than me what they think and try to come to a conclusion. There is overwhelming evidence that humanity is having a measurable impact on the climate."

Climate skeptics, however, say the evidence is unconvincing.

Measurements of changing temperatures are unreliable, contradictory and unsupported by solid historic data, they say.

They question the accuracy of computer climate forecasts and point to historic, cyclical changes in the world's temperature as evidence that global temperature changes are natural.

Others say the evidence shows that temperatures have actually stopped rising and that, in any case, the sun plays a far bigger role in the Earth's warming than human activities.

Whichever side its visitors support, the museum's managers are unrepentant about taking sides in the debate.

"We couldn't be neutral about it anymore," its Chairman William Waldegrave said. "Next door is the Natural History Museum. (It) is not neutral about evolution. We are not neutral about this."

Editing by Paul Casciato

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