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article imageStudy shows consensus among scientists about climate change

By JohnThomas Didymus     May 16, 2013 in Environment
A new study has found that although 33 percent of Americans believe there is "widespread disagreement" among scientists that climate change is happening, there is an overwhelming consensus among environment researchers that it is happening.
An April 2013 Yale climate change study found that while 63 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening only 49% believe it is caused by human activities and about 33 percent say there is "widespread disagreement among scientist" that global warming is happening.
However, a team of researchers led by John Cook, a Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, have conducted a study in which they looked at nearly 12,000 abstracts of scientific articles published between 1991 and 2011 to estimate the level of consensus among academic experts on the subject of climate change and on the role of human activity in driving the change.
The team published on Thursday the results of the survey titled: "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature," in the journal Environmental Research Letters. They found that of more than 4,000 abstracts that expressed an opinion on the subject of human-driven climate change, 97 percent agreed that human activity was the driving factor. Only about 3 percent disagreed or were undecided.
The authors write in the abstract of their study:
We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics 'global climate change' or 'global warming'. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming... Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a astonishingly small proportion of the published research.
According to, Cook summarizes the overwhelming scientific consensus: "Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary.
"There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception. It's staggering given the evidence for consensus that less than half of the general public think scientists agree that humans are causing global warming.
"This is significant because when people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they're more likely to support policies that take action on it."
Mark Richardson, of the University of Reading and co-author in the study, said: "We want our scientists to answer questions for us, and there are lots of exciting questions in climate science. One of them is: are we causing global warming? We found over 4000 studies written by 10 000 scientists that stated a position on this, and 97 per cent said that recent warming is mostly man made."
The Huffington Post reports that Cook said the evidence for consensus on the topic among scientists was strong, given that scientific papers endorsing "anthropogenic global warming" (AGW) tend on the average to have more researchers listed as co-authors.
Cook said: "Consequently, among the 10,000 scientists who had expressed a position on AGW in the peer-reviewed literature, 98.4 percent endorsed the consensus."
The Huffington Post notes that the study is the latest in a series seeking to refute the widespread belief that the idea of anthropogenic climate change (AGW) is false because many scientists disagree about it.
In 2012, a conservative group, the Heartland Institute, conducted a billboard campaign, "Do you still believe in global warming?" in which its president John Bast, said:
The most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists.They are Charles Manson, a mass murderer; Fidel Castro, a tyrant; and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Global warming alarmists include Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010).
Bast continued: "The leaders of the global warming movement have one thing in common: They are willing to use force and fraud to advance their fringe theory."
Heartland argued: "The point is that believing in global warming is not 'mainstream,' smart, or sophisticated. In fact, it is just the opposite of those things."
The Huffingotn Post comments: "Studies like Cook's... provide clear evidence that messages like Heartland's -- besides being rather boorish and odd -- are bunkum. Scientists are no more divided on the basic mechanics of the greenhouse effect than they are on questions of evolution or other elementary concepts."
Probably, the biggest problem in the US about the subject of global warming and AGW is its politicization. That the divide between "believers" and "nonbelievers" in AGW coincides with political affiliation is revealing. Objective discussion and thought about the subject of climate change becomes difficult for those who confuse it with issues of political ideology, while ignoring some very basic facts of science, namely, that carbon dioxide, the major emission product of human activity implicated in global warming is a greenhouse gas and thus, the conclusion that increasing atmospheric levels of the gas will tend to be accompanied by rising average global temperatures is inevitable. Apparently, some opponents of AGW fail to grasp that carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas is not speculation but scientific fact.
The questions that apolitical scientists debate after agreeing on the basic facts are how much temperature rise would result from given increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels; what is tipping point, that is, the point at which the climate change effects of increasing greenhouse gases become irreversible (the runaway greenhouse effect for instance) and how would rising temperatures affect the global ecosystem?
The Huffington Post reports a 2009 study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which sought to weed-out those individuals who make public authoritative statements challenging the idea of AGW but who have no recognized expertise in the field. The study found that among an elite group of about 1,000 climate scientists with peer-reviewed publications, between 97 and 98 percent supported the idea that global climate change was being driven by human activity.
An aspect of the global climate change debate, especially among laymen who oppose the idea of AGW, is that which confuses the scientific concepts of climate and weather. The Yale study notes for instance, that conviction among Americans that global warming is happening dropped by "seven points, to 63 percent, over the six months preceding the April 2013 study. The authors concluded that this was most likely due to the cold winter of 2012-13 and an unusually cold March just before the survey was conducted."
Many who reject the idea of climate change and global warming point to recent spates of cold winters. But these are weather phenomena distinct from climate, the large scale averaging of weather. Scientists are unanimous about climatic global warming.
Many analysts point out the element of gambling inherent to denying AGW. At worst we could say that we do not yet have conclusive evidence that global warming is driven by human activity. But even if we acknowledge that the evidence for human-driven climate change is not conclusive would it not be more logical to err on the side of caution given that by the time we have the elusive "conclusive evidence" it might be too late to save the planet?
Think about that.
More about Climate change, Global warming, Greenhouse gases, anthropogenic global warming
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