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September 15, 2014
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editorial

Scientific consensus


The Doran study of 2009 showed that 82% of scientists said “yes” when asked the question, “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” When only scientists who were actively publishing climatologists were considered, the agreement was even more overwhelming, with the number jumping to 97.5%. In other words, most scientists who are climate change skeptics—like William Happer of Princeton University, whose field is atomic physics and optics—do not even concentrate in the field on which they are passing judgment. Only a very few, like Richard S. Lindzen of MIT, do specialize in climate science.

And in one more supporting example, the Anderegg study of 2010 finds that between 97% to 98% of climate experts support the consensus that there is climate change, and that it is related to human activity.

Of course, even if you admit there is a scientific consensus, it could be argued that the majority is not always right. And there is at least some merit in this argument. Look at Copernicus, for instance (although of course, back then, Copernicus’s theory was the new one, whereas the minority that espouses “no anthropogenic climate change” is embracing a status quo that prevailed until late last century). But we would ask skeptics this: if you found out you had a life-threatening disease, and consulted with multiple experts, and 97% of them agreed that a certain course of action gave you the best chance of a cure—would you still prefer the opinion of the three percent? On what basis, if you yourself are a layman who does not have years of training in this highly complex science?

And make no mistake, if the planet is sick with climate change, the consequences could be life-threatening, for billions of humans, not to mention other species. There is a scientific consensus that there is climate change. There is scientific consensus that human activity is, at the very least, making it significantly worse. That means that there is scientific consensus that changing our behavior could mitigate the damage.

Odds are, changing that behavior makes a lot more sense than standing on the sidelines scoffing.