An inconvenient truth about global warming
The global warming narrative - that mankind's addiction to burning fossil fuels is rapidly changing the climate - may be about to go seriously off message.
Far from suggesting the planet will get warmer, one of the world's leading climate modellers says the latest data indicates we could be in for a significant period of steady temperatures and possibly even a little global cooling.
Professor Mojib Latif, from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University in Germany, has been looking at the influence of cyclical changes to ocean currents and temperatures in the Atlantic, a feature known as the North Atlantic Oscillation. When he factored these natural fluctuations into his global climate model, professor Latif found the results would bring the remorseless rise in average global temperatures to an abrupt halt.
"The strong warming effect that we experienced during the last decades will be interrupted. Temperatures will be more or less steady for some years, and thereafter will pickup again and continue to warm".
With apologies to Al Gore, professor Latif's finding is something of an "inconvenient truth" for the global warming debate.
And the timing couldn't be much worse. World leaders are due to meet in Copenhagen in December to hammer out an agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto Treaty. It certainly won't help if there are a couple of inches of snow on the ground outside the convention centre, and climate models are predicting a sustained period of steady, or even falling, global temperatures.
Professor Philip Stott believes climate sceptics may seize on the research as evidence that the whole global warming hypothesis is fundamentally flawed: If natural cycles can interrupt, or even reverse climate change, maybe we don't need to take it so seriously.
It's not a view shared by professor Latif, who points to the resumption of warming as the cycle completes itself in a few years. The best we can hope for, he says, is a brief respite from global warming.
But the complex message professor Latif's research confronts us with, points up another issue debated on the programme this morning: The thorny issue of the media's handling of science.
The Science Minister Lord Drayson sparked a row when he claimed that the coverage of scientific issues was in rude health at the World Conference of Science journalists. Ben Goldacre, the author of "Bad Science" took exception, arguing that most editors were only interested in revolutionary cures for cancer, or whether coffee made you fat.
After a heated exchange in the blogosphere the two have agreed to debate the issues at the Royal Institution tonight.