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Critical Thinking

The Real Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

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Someday, America will undoubtedly have the cleanest and most expensive energy on Earth.

There’s no doubt that our current renewable energy policies and regulations will have dramatic economic and lifestyle effects that will ripple through our families, our businesses, our industries, and our economy for generations to come.

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Wouldn’t it be a good idea to know if we’re doing the right thing before we pull the trigger on this?

On Monday, Barack Obama used executive authority to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The regulation, authored and administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, circumvents Congress, which failed to pass the administration’s Cap-and-Trade bill in 2010.

And why shouldn’t the president push an aggressive clean energy policy when 97% of scientists agree that global climate change is a man-made crisis we have to fix now or suffer catastrophic consequences. This is a done deal. Anyone who claims otherwise is a denier. A heretic. A reactionary far-right zealot who lives in the dark ages.

But what if that isn’t true. What if there really is no scientific consensus about climate change, its cause, and what, if anything, we should do about it?

Wait … what? But President Obama tweeted this just a few weeks ago:

That’s about as emphatic as you can get. And he said it on Twitter. It has to be true. After all, he’s the President of the United States. It’s not as if he’s ever lied before. Besides, our government would never base public policy on dubious science.

It’s not as if we’re just now finding out that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease and the entire nation has been on the wrong diet for decades – a diet that appears to have done far more harm than good – because of public policy based on botched studies.

Don’t you wish we’d known about that twenty or thirty years ago? I know I do.

All I’m suggesting is this. Before we go down this irrevocable path, let’s try something a little different. Let’s agree to have one open, honest discussion about the science of climate change. No partisan politics, no agenda, no sound bites, no hyperbole. Just you and me.

All I ask is that, for the next two minutes of your life, forget your current beliefs and see the data for what it is. Let’s find out what the scientific community really thinks about climate change. Let’s see what conclusions we can come up with when we exercise our remarkably human ability to think for ourselves.

You never know; you might be surprised.

I’d like to point you to two unbiased scientific surveys. The first is a 2008 Harris Interactive study (on behalf of George Mason University) of 489 random members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the American Geophysical Union. The second was a 2012 George Mason University survey of 1,862 members of the AMS.

Here are some key findings, many of which (in italics) somehow never seem to make the rounds on the Internet. Remember, try not to draw any conclusions until you’re all the way through.

The 2008 survey

97% believe “global average temperatures have increased” during the past century. 84% believe human-induced warming is occurring.

54% believe the warming measured over the last 100 years is not “within the range of natural temperature fluctuation.”

41% believe global climate change poses a great danger over the next 50 to 100 years, while 44% consider it moderately dangerous and 13% see relatively little danger.

29% express a “great deal of confidence” that scientists understand the size and extent of anthropogenic (human) sources of greenhouse gases.” 32% are confident about our understanding of the archeological climate evidence.

Just 5% describe the study of global climate change as “fully mature” science. 51% describe it as “fairly mature” while 40% see it as an “emerging” science.

69% believe there is at least a 50-50 chance that the debate over the role of human activity in global warming will be settled in the next 10 to 20 years.

The 2012 survey

89% said “yes,” they believe global warming is happening.

Of those who answered “yes,” 59% think it’s “mostly” caused by human activity (keep in mind, that’s actually 52% of all respondents).

Of those who answered “yes,” 30% are “very worried” and 42% are “somewhat worried” about global warming.

Of those who answered “yes,” 38% think the effects will be “very harmful” while another 38% said “somewhat harmful” over the next 100 years.

Of those who answered “yes” AND believe there will be at least some harmful effects, just 22% believe that human intervention can prevent “a large amount” of those harmful effects.

53% of all respondents say there is conflict among AMS members on the issues of global warming.

Demographics of respondents: 52% have PhDs. 79% are experts in the fields of meteorology, atmospheric science, or climate science. 55% are primarily involved in research and education. 56% have published in peer-reviewed journals in the past five years. 48% consider themselves to be liberal, 31% moderate, and 21% conservative.


If not for the scientific method, we would all still be living in the dark ages. Our science, our technology, our civilization is built upon the solid pillars of hard science, not scientific consensus or opinion. Clearly, our scientists know the difference.

The data spoke volumes about what we don’t know about climate change, and it’s clearly more than we do know.

To put it in plain terms, while scientists believe that global warming is happening, they’re not at all clear that this isn’t a natural process, that it poses any serious danger, or that attempts to mitigate it will do any good. And perhaps most notably, just 5% describe global climate change as “fully mature” science.

Does that sound like a scientific consensus we should be building energy policy, our economy, and our future upon? Or maybe we should follow the consensus and give scientists a few more decades to figure it out before we change everything and trigger who-knows-what unintended consequences.

I don’t know about you, but I sure wish we’d done that before going fat-free and binging on carbohydrates for the past 40 or 50 years.

What do you think?

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