Oldspeak: “In the wake of the most recent tragic devastating American natural disaster my heart goes out to the victims. As predicted for decades, natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more intense and less predictable. This is yet ANOTHER sign of what’s to come, while we continue to ignore the devastating impact our species is having on our environment, our environment is having a devastating impact on us. Its simple physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. “32.4 million people were forced to flee their homes last year due to natural disasters such as floods, storms and earthquakes. Climate change is believed to play an increasingly significant role in global disasters. …According to the 2012 Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 98% of those uprooted were displaced by climate- and weather-related events” Untold habitats, and the life they support is being wiped out by human activity. In tandem, human habitats and the life they support are being wiped out as well. Yet still, in the face of all this devastation, locally and globally our response has been as it usually is. Reactive. Tepid. Nibbling around the edges. Continuing to dump vital resources into the extractive-energy systems that are causing the problems, while failing to ramp up & largely ignoring regenerative and sustainable energy systems which could help mitigate the problems… The research is clear. Man is causing these calamities. Yet there is little questioning or debating the efficacy of the systems in place that are accelerating global ecological destruction. Our leaders are barely speaking about and making inconsequential actions to counter climate change. Obama will soon be giving a major speech about the U.S. drone assassination program. While important, it is inconsequential when compared to the health of our planet. He’s promised to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it” Continuing to subsidize extractive energy sources like oil, gas and radioactive is not leading. It’s not a logical response. Some argue, he’s already given up on dealing with climate change, with no definitive climate related actions outlined and a 3.5% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency in his latest budget. A Leading, logical response would be making a major policy speech to herald America’s transition from dirty energy to clean energy on a national scale. Expending the same effort that was expended in response to World War 2, because make no mistake, This is an actual war to save our World. We need to start acting like it. Changing whole industries to support the war effort. Requiring all polluters to drastically reduce their toxic emissions and waste. Banning petrochemical based products. Localizing food and energy production. Recycling EVERYTHING. Converting all gasoline powered car plants to produce clean energy powered vehicles. Using all available idle, underutilized, and obsolete energy producing factories to produce solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal power plants, and other regenerative energy systems. Putting solar panels on top of every building in the country. Embedding them in every paved road. Retrofitting all extractive energy using systems for regenerative energy use…. Etc, etc, etc… . Greening our infrastructure. Transformative, and radically different policy is what we need. Not nibbling. The time for grand action is now. ”
Our team of citizen science volunteers at Skeptical Science has published a new survey in the journal Environmental Research Letters of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers, as the Guardian reports today. This is the most comprehensive survey of its kind, and the inspiration of this blog’s name: Climate Consensus – the 97%.
In 2004, Naomi Oreskes performed a survey of 928 peer-reviewed climate papers published between 1993 and 2003, finding none that rejected the human cause of global warming. We decided that it was time to expand upon Oreskes’ work by performing a keyword search of peer-reviewed scientific journal publications for the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘global climate change’ between the years 1991 and 2011.
Our team agreed upon definitions of categories to put the papers in: explicit or implicit endorsement of human-caused global warming, no opinion, and implicit or explicit rejection or minimization of the human influence, and began the long process of rating over 12,000 abstracts.
We decided from the start to take a conservative approach in our ratings. For example, a study which takes it for granted that global warming will continue for the foreseeable future could easily be put into the implicit endorsement category; there is no reason to expect global warming to continue indefinitely unless humans are causing it. However, unless an abstract included language about the cause of the warming, we categorized it as ‘no opinion’.
Each paper was rated by at least two people, and a dozen volunteers completed most of the 24,000 ratings. The volunteers were a very internationally diverse group. Team members’ home countries included Australia, USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Germany, Finland, and Italy.
We also decided that asking the scientists to rate their own papers would be the ideal way to check our results. Who knows what the papers say better than the authors who wrote them? We received responses from 1,200 scientists who rated a total of over 2,100 papers. Unlike our team’s ratings that only considered the summary of each paper presented in the abstract, the scientists considered the entire paper in the self-ratings.
Based on our abstract ratings, we found that just over 4,000 papers took a position on the cause of global warming, 97.1% of which endorsed human-caused global warming. In the scientist self-ratings, nearly 1,400 papers were rated as taking a position, 97.2% of which endorsed human-caused global warming. Many papers captured in our literature search simply investigated an issue related to climate change without taking a position on its cause.
Our survey found that the consensus has grown slowly over time, and reached about 98% as of 2011. Our results are also consistent with several previous surveys finding a 97% consensus amongst climate experts on the human cause of global warming.
The growth of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature from 1991 to 2011
Why is this important?
Several studies have shown that people who are aware of scientific consensus on human-caused global warming are more likely to support government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This was most recently shown by a paper just published in the journal Climatic Change. People will generally defer to the judgment of experts, and they trust climate scientists on the subject of global warming.
However, vested interests have long realized this and engaged in a campaign to misinform the public about the scientific consensus. For example, a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans,
“Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate“
This campaign has been successful. A 2012 poll from US Pew Research Center found less than half of Americans thought scientists agreed humans were causing global warming. The media has assisted in this public misconception, with most climate stories “balanced” with a “skeptic” perspective. However, this results in making the 2–3% seem like 50%. In trying to achieve “balance”, the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what’s causing global warming, and therefore there is not nearly enough public support or motivation to solve the problem.
Check our results for yourself
We chose to submit our paper to Environmental Research Letters because it is a well-respected, high-impact journal, but also because it offers the option of making a paper open access, free for anyone to download.
We have also set up a public ratings system at Skeptical Science where anybody can duplicate our survey. Read and rate as many abstracts as you like, and see what level of consensus you find. You can compare your results to our abstract ratings, and to the author self-ratings.
Human-caused global warming
We fully anticipate that climate contrarians will respond by saying “we don’t dispute that humans cause some global warming.” First, there are a lot of people who do dispute that humans cause any global warming. Our paper shows that their position is not supported in the scientific literature.
Most papers don’t quantify the human contribution to global warming, because it doesn’t take tens of thousands of papers to establish that reality. However, as noted above, if a paper minimized the human contribution, we classified that as a ‘rejection’. For example, if a paper were to say “the sun caused most of the global warming over the past century,” that would be included in the less than 3% of papers rejecting or minimizing human-caused global warming.
Many studies simply defer to the expert summary of climate science research put together by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says that most of the global warming since the mid-20th century has been caused by humans. And according to recent research, that statement is actually too conservative. Of the papers which specifically examine the contributors to global warming, they virtually all conclude that humans are the dominant cause over the past 50 to 100 years.
Summary of results from 8 studies of the causes of global warming.Most studies simply accept this fact and go on to examine the consequences of this human-caused global warming and associated climate change.
Another important point is that once you accept that humans are causing global warming, you must also accept that global warming is still happening. We cause global warming by increasing the greenhouse effect, and our greenhouse gas emissions just keep accelerating. This ties in to the fact that as recent research has showed, global warming is accelerating. If you accept that humans are causing global warming, as over 97% of peer-reviewed scientific papers do, then this conclusion should not be at all controversial. Global warming cannot have suddenly stopped.
Spread the word
Given the importance of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming in peoples’ decisions whether to support action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the public lack of awareness of the consensus, we need to make people aware of these results. To that end, design and advertising firm SJI Associates generously created a website pro-bono, centered around the results of our survey. The website can be viewed at TheConsensusProject.com, and it includes a page where consensus graphics can be shared via social media or email. Skeptical Science also has a new page of consensus graphics.
Quite possibly the most important thing to communicate about climate change is that there is a 97% consensus amongst the scientific experts and scientific research that humans are causing global warming. Let’s spread the word and close the consensus gap.