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There's the problem! Americans are out of touch with scientific consensus on climate change

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (

Global warming is a divisive issue for many Americans, but according to another study it isn't divisive for scientists. Researchers have concluded a study of the studies, aggregating and evaluating over 12,000 scientific papers on the topic. Their finding is that there appears to be a strong consensus supporting the notion that climate change happening.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Science largely depends on peer review and consensus to draw conclusions. We base many of our activities on those conclusions from medical treatment to spaceflight. Our cell phones and computers work because scientists have figured out and agree on the correct principles that make everything behind them work.

It's likewise with all other science, including climatology.

According to researchers, there appears to be virtually no diversion from the scientific consensus that global climate change is occurring because of human activity.

In 2004, a study done by historian Naomi Oreskes reviewed nearly 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies from the previous decade in which the phrase "global climate change" appeared in the title. Of the studies, she found that exactly zero of the papers challenged the notion that human-induced climate change was occurring.

A new, similar study has now concluded and it reviewed 12,000 similar papers. A group of 24 volunteers reviewed each paper, rating them on a seven point scale ranging from "explicit endorsement with quantification" to "explicit rejection with quantification." At least two individuals reviewed each paper and a third person reviewed the work in the event of ties.

So what does the body of 12,000 papers of climate change say? Are humans warming the planet?

Absolutely, yes they are, according to the consensus.

A common argument is that there is no consensus. This argument is demonstrably false.

Researchers found that 33 percent of the studies clearly endorsed anthropogenic global warming as a genuine phenomenon. Only 0.7 percent rejected it.

The remaining papers appeared to be somewhere in the middle so researchers contacted the authors and asked them to rate their own papers on the same criteria. About 1,200 responded to the follow-up survey and of that middle-group 67.2 rated their own work as endorsing the consensus and only 1.8 percent said they were rejecting the consensus.

In aggregate, 97.2 percent endorsed the consensus view that anthropogenic global warming is real and 2.8 percent rejected it.

In science, this is plenty of consensus that something is happening. In fact, we base modern medicine on even less consensus than this, and that involves things we do with our bodies and our health. At this point, there should be no more "is there or isn't there" debate amongst lay persons.

However, the issue of global warming is incredibly divisive, just browse any online forum on the topic. Only slightly more than half of all Americans accept that humans are adversely impacting the climate, despite the obvious scientific consensus.

This matters. The United States is still one of the world largest emitters of various greenhouse gasses, and consumes more than 20 percent to a quarter of the world's resources, while comprising less than 5 percent of the world's population. If half of those people deny there is a problem, then they have the potential to stall progress on finding a solution.

It could be the solution that is creating reluctance to accept the consensus. While specific solutions remain to be defined, it's difficult to imagine a solution that does not include less consumption, and likely a lower standard of living for many people. Comfortable Americans, even the most green and liberal among their number, will certainly find any substantial change virtually unpalatable.

Many conservative Americans, and the tiny cadre of vocal scientists that side with them, are certainly opposed to significant changes.

For many, any discussion of change also touches on profound moral questions, such as the right to reproduce, the right to earn a living, and more. Certainly, these are cherished human rights that nobody should be asked to sacrifice.

How much warming is happening, how bad is it, and what should be done, are questions that remain to be answered. There is no consensus among scholars on what to do and how. All that is acknowledged is that there's a problem.

If Americans can be convinced of this, then perhaps we can make progress on what we should do, if anything at all. However, as we are about to see in the comments below, we just can't get past that first hurdle, even if our scientists have done the work for us.

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