Climate Change: Al Gore, the Evidence, and the Consensus

The opposition to accepting climate change is not justified by the evidence. Most of the resistance comes from partisans who are uninterested in looking past bias-confirming blogs and conspiracy pseudo-news sites. The average person knows very little about the scientific literature, instead assuming it is all a part of a grand worldwide Left-wing conspiracy. It is hard to parse apart the genuinely ignorant from the intentionally deceptive; though of course, most are probably in the middle of that continuum.

Isn’t it all about Al Gore?

Despite it being a common belief among some groups, Al Gore didn’t start the climate change discussion, Svante Arrhenius did in 1896. Arrhenius’s theory was refined by Dr. G. M. B. Dobson in 1937, and confirmed by numerous researchers in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70s, including; Plass (1956); Revelle & Suess (1957); Plass (1959); Kaplan (1960); Manabe & Wetherald (1967); Peterson (1969); Keeling (1970); Sawyer (1972); and Baes, Goeller, Olson & Rotty (1977). All of these scientists said that the Earth had warmed and would likely continue to warm as a result of CO2 from fossil-fuel burning. This convergence was achieved well before the politicization of the topic.

Weren’t the scientists predicting cooling in the 70’s, and haven’t they flip-flopped on their positions since?

As the sizable list above already indicates, there were clearly many papers and scientists supporting existing and future warming. But to make the answer as unambiguous as possible and to prove that those supporting papers weren’t just a minority of the papers released, Peterson, Connolley and Fleck in the September 2008 issue of the American Meteorological Society documented that from 1965 through 1979, only 7 peer-reviewed papers predicted cooling, 20 were neutral, and 44 papers supported and predicted warming.

Summarizing the early consensus, Mitchell (1989) said that “there has been an increase in carbon dioxide and other trace gases since the Industrial Revolution, largely as a result of man’s activities, increasing the radiative heating of the troposphere and surface… This heating is likely to be enhanced by resulting changes in water vapor, snow and sea ice, and cloud.” That is what happened up to that point, and it is what has continued to happen. Further disproving any recent scientific flip-flops, it is also worth noting that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed in 1988, and published their first report in 1990, laying out their consistent evidence-based claims on global warming. “Climate Change” was in their name since they started, so one can hardly say they stopped using “global warming” because their claims didn’t pan out.

Thus, the vast majority of climatologists since the 60’s have supported climate change, and they have not flip-flopped. The stories claiming they have reversed positions all either dishonestly use scientists from the minority to speak for their majority colleagues who disagree, or they use layperson misinterpretations of scientific papers.

Is there in fact a consensus?

There are actually mountains of academic evidence, and it all proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the research and researchers have achieved a consensus. The certainty is stronger now than ever, and the evidence is more overwhelming now than ever.

“97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field surveyed support the conclusions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Anderegg et al. (2010)
  • Stenhouse, Maiback and Cobb (2014) found that among climate scientists and meteorologists, the “Climate science experts who publish mostly on climate change, and climate scientists who publish mostly on other topics were the two groups most likely to be convinced that humans have contributed to global warming, with 93% of each group indicating their concurrence. The two groups least likely to be convinced of this were the nonpublishing climate scientists and nonpublishing meteorologists/ atmospheric scientists, at 65% and 59%, respectively. In the middle were the two groups of publishing meteorologists/atmospheric scientists at 79% and 78%, respectively.” It is no surprise that those with the least expertise in climate science were the least convinced (though still agreeing as a strong majority), and those with the largest amount experience and expertise were the most convinced. This also highlights the misconception that Climatology and Meteorology are nearly identical sciences; they are not.
  • Verheggen et al. (2014) noted that among “scientists studying various aspects of climate change…, 90% of respondents with more than 10 climate-related peer-reviewed publications (about half of all respondents), explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) being the dominant driver of recent global warming.” This data was also published as part of a Netherlands Environmental Agency report.
  • Carlton, Perry-Hill, Huber & Prokopy determined that of biophysical scientists across disciplines at universities in the Big 10 Conference, 93.6% “believe that mean temperatures have risen and most (91.9%) believe in an anthropogenic contribution to rising temperatures.
  • Doran and Zimmerman in a 2009 study surveyed 3146 Earth scientists and found that 90% agree that global temperatures have risen since 1800 and 82% agreement that human activity has been a significant factor in this change. More powerful is that they found that of those who listed climate science as their area of expertise and have published more than 50% of their peer-reviewed papers on climate change, 96.2% said global temperatures have risen, and 97.4% said humans are the main driver.
  • Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter found in 2012 that of 489 respondents from the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union, 97% accepted that global average temperatures have increased in the past 100 years. “There was almost as great a consensus on human-induced warming, with 84% agreeing and only 5% disagreeing that anthropogenic warming is now occurring.

As far as which scientific organizations officially accept the consensus position a short list of American organisations would include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Medical Association, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, American Psychological Association, American Society of Agronomy, American Society of Plant Biologists, American Statistical Association, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, Botanical Society of America, Crop Science Society of America, Ecological Society of America, The Geological Society of America, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Natural Science Collections, NASA, Alliance Organization of Biological Field Stations, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Society of Systematic Biologists, Soil Science Society of America, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The evidence itself; the studies.

Many at this point will move the goal post. First they denied the consensus, but with the consensus now thoroughly proven, they will say the consensus is just an appeal the authority fallacy. Of course it is not though; I am not claiming anthropogenic climate change is true simply because an authority says so, I am claiming the authorities are reflecting the convergence of evidence itself. Moreover, deferring to an expert in the field is different from appealing to authority, and thus is not a fallacy. You wouldn’t say I was committing a fallacy if I told you I believe I have a brain tumor because my neurosurgeon said so.

So how do we know the evidence proves human-caused climate change? There has been academic meta-analysis done.

In 2004, Naomi Oreskes sifted through the abstracts of 928 scholarly peer-reviewed papers on climate change and found that “of all the papers, 75%… [were] either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; [and] 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change.”

In 2013, Cook et al. reviewed 11,944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 and found “that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position.” Then in a second phase of the same study asked they those scientists to rate their own studies about whether they support the consensus position, and of those scientists, 97.2% said their study supported the consensus position.

Bottom line: what is more probable? That every scientist in the world specializing in climatology and related areas are all participating in a grand conspiracy orchestrated by liberals, or that partisan armchair scientist know less about climatology than those experts?

The petition signed by 32,000 “scientists,” supposedly debunking the consensus.

This myth begins with a petition that was originally sent out to thousands of “scientists” by mail in 1998. The petition package included a letter from physicist Frederick Seitz, who was a former president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1962-69. In the late 70’s Seitz joined a large tobacco company as an adviser, and directed about $45 million of tobacco-financed “research.” Conveniently, none of the research projects he led found tobacco to be harmful. When asked in an interview if he cared where his money came from, he responded it doesn’t matter “as long as it was green.

So the petition begins with a fallacious appeal to authority from a known and unrepentant shill who made a living off of denying and obfuscating science; not a good start. Also in the petition package was what they called a literature review of the scientific evidence, made by 4 people from the Oregon Institute—a think-tank started by chemist and conservative activist Arthur B. Robinson. The review was misleadingly formatted to look like a peer-reviewed scholarly journal article (specifically like that of the NAS), which it was not. The NAS promptly issued a public statement denouncing the so called review for clearly trying to impersonate the NAS , and repudiating their former president for sponsoring such a misrepresentation of science.

Based on this misleading and flawed package, the petition, by 2000, had yielded 17,000 signatures. The petition then included prank names such as “Hawkeye Pierce” (from M*A*S*H), “Ginger Spice,” and “Michael J. Fox,” at which point Dr. Robinson admitted to the Seattle Times that little attempt was made to verify the credentials of those who responded to the petition because it would be to difficult to sift through thousands of people.

In 2007 another petition was mailed out, bringing signatures up to around 32,000. What does it use as criteria for someone to be considered a scientist? “Signatories are approved for inclusion in the Petition Project list if they have obtained formal educational degrees at the level of Bachelor of Science or higher in appropriate scientific fields.” Only a bachelor of science degree (which they say they do little to verify you have) is needed!? Research universities barely higher people with Masters degrees for research, and usually only as research assistants, let alone hiring someone with just a bachelors degree. Having a bachelors in science does not make you a scientists. Regardless, based on this absurdly broad definition, one may wonder how many scientists are in America. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Education keeps relevant stats. Using OISM’s definition of scientists, from 1971-2008, we find 10.6 million people got science degrees in America. That means those 32,000 signatures represent roughly 0.3% of those in America with science degrees; a minuscule number.

What category is the largest group of signatories from? Those with BS degrees unsurprisingly. In all, there are 12,715 people with a BS; 9,029 with PhD; 7,157 with MS; and 2,586 with MD and DVM. What is worse, very few of those supposed degrees are in fields most relevant to climate change. There are 10,102 in engineering or general science; 5,812 in physics and aerospace; 4,822 in chemistry; 3,046 in medicine; 2,965 in biology and agriculture; 935 in computer and math sciences; and 3,805 in the most relevant area of atmospheric, environmental, and Earth sciences. Only 579 of those on the petition are even in the “atmosphere” category, and only 39 of the 32,000 on the petition are in climatology! That is as important as the fact most of the petitioners only have bachelors degrees. I know a layperson may be under the impression that, for example, physicists are almost as qualified to judge climate change as a climatologist, but they aren’t; science is so ultra-specialized at this point that a meteorologist can’t even be assumed to be qualified to have an opinion in climatology. Most scientists barely touch academic literature outside their sliver-sized specialty unless they are also an educator. And even then, they are virtually never as versed and fluent in other fields as the experts in them.

So in sum, the whole petition is a useless sham. The information included in the petition package uses an appeal to a crook in addition to a “summary” giving only cherry-picked data to corral people who are most often not even real scientists (much less climate scientists) into putting their name on a list which doesn’t intend on verifying their credentials, and was caught with fake names in the first round. And this is what partisan skeptics stake their entire position regarding the consensus on. To those of us who prefer facts to dictate our opinion and not the opposite, we accept the mountains of evidence and the expert opinions of those who know the most about climate.


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