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January 30, 2015
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Scientific consensus

From a political point of view, one of the things that makes it hardest to do anything about climate change and its impacts is the fact that a substantial portion of the general populace refuses to believe the scientific consensus that such a thing is happening. Others concede it is happening, but refuse to believe the scientific consensus that it is related to human activity, especially carbon emissions. This refusal is a boon to the major multinational corporations who benefit from the status quo, like the heavily taxpayer-subsidized fossil fuel industries. And to the extent that it’s comforting to believe that there’s nothing wrong, or that even if there is, it is not related to our own behavior, the general populace is very much inclined to succumb to the propaganda promulgated by these corporate interests.

But whether or not one agrees with the scientific consensus on climate change, one thing is clear: such a consensus exists, and the mention of one or two names of the few that disagree does not invalidate that fact. A number of studies have been done examining peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate, and all conclude the same thing: more than 95% of scientists actively engaged in climate science agree that the planet overall is growing markedly warmer; and that this change is related, among other things, to the sharp increase in C02 emissions by the human race since the start of the industrial age.

An excellent review of the studies done, some of the criticisms that climate change skeptics have leveled against those studies, and rebuttals of those skeptical arguments, can be found at It discusses, for instance, the 2004 Oreskes study, a survey of all peer-reviewed abstracts on global climate change published between 1993 and 2003, which concluded that not one paper rejected the position that global warming is human caused. Seventy-five percent of the papers agreed with that position, while 25% made no comment either way.

Climate skeptic Benny Peiser, a principal critic of this study, originally claimed that he had reviewed the same studies and found 34 that did reject anthropogenic global warming (AGW). But he later printed the following retraction: “Only [a] few abstracts explicitly reject or doubt the AGW consensus… I do not think anyone is questioning that we are in a period of global warming. Neither do I doubt that the overwhelming majority of climatologists is agreed that the current warming period is mostly due to human impact.”

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.