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Climate Change – skepticism and scientific consensus February 24, 2009

Posted by avk8704 in Climate science, Science & society.

I will recap what I discussed in my presentation with a bit more information. I picked this topic with a strong interest in how our society views climate change as a major environmental threat, though I am also interested in whether we are doing enough to address the issue.

The Wikipedia definition of climate change:

Climate change is the long-term significant change in the expected patterns of average weather of a specific region (or, more relevantly to contemporary socio-political concerns, of the Earth as a whole) over an appropriately significant period of time.

Consensus means “an agreement in opinion or testimony or belief.” The climate skeptics hold that the consensus on whether climate change is mostly caused by humans’ activities is lacking in the scientific community. But scientific organizations themselves have repeatedly rejected this claim and agreed that our current climate is undergoing change that can potentially harm humans.


I found an interesting article written by Naomi Oreskes, Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, where she detailed the evidence of agreed-upon scientific consensus on climate change. She pointed out that “such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change” is most likely to be false. Oreskes also detailed that IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), whose role is to study and analyze the state of climate change “as a basis for informed policy action,” reported clearly that there is scientific consensus on climate change. There followed announcements agreeing with this statement from the National Academy of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. These professional organizations all share the same belief that global warming causes the rises in global temperatures and elevation of ocean level. To add to the list of agreement, 928 different abstracts published in the last 15 years had shown various agreements with the notion of global warming, presenting various evidences proving their claims.

Another article you might find interesting is Joseph Romm’s The cold truth about climate change. He made an interesting argument that while the threats of climate change is real, he wouldn’t go as far doubting there is scientific consensus. Instead, he doubts that the IPCC has communicated how bad the prospects really are. He detailed plentiful evidence supporting climate change: increases in greenhouse gases over the last 50 years or more, intensive studies of climate models that claimed idea of humans’ activities being the primary cause, rise in sea level in last 15 years, the increase in temperature since 1990 by 0.33 degree Celsius, and recent sea-ice retreat from Arctic being larger than expected.


Although despite the flood of claims and evidences that there are solid agreements between scientists regarding to climate change, many people still refused to believe it is so. In Holman W. Jenkins Jr.’s article, The Science of Gore’s Nobel: What if Everyone Believes in Global Warmism Only Because Everyone Believes in Global Warmism, he argued that the scientists are humans and are prone to make mistake such as not waiting for proof while funding and studying to seeks evidences for their hypotheses. Also, he disregarded the consensus as a groupthink.

Interestingly enough, the late Michael Crichton brought up his extremely lengthy argument in his blog, The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming, explaining that while agreeing that environmental awareness is especially important, he believed that the approach to studies on global warming and consensus isn’t the correct scientific method for addressing such issues. He also mirrored Holman W. Jenkins’ argument that scientists “are basing our decisions on speculation, not evidence” and that the “proponents are pressing their views with more PR than scientific data.” Crichton also brought up an interesting history that eerily mirrored the current situation: in 1970’s, the scientists made lot of statements and claims that there will be serious threats of global cooling. Even UC Davis’s Kenneth Watt claimed “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder in 1990, but eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age.” While that never happened, it is interesting to note that the “global cooling” situation was possibly behaved similarly to “global warming” as of today. Although, the “global cooling” crisis only lasted for 5 years after barely any evidence backing it, but same could be said for the current crisis if global warming found to be fictional or not very serious as a global threat.

Also, it important to point out that while there’s lot of focuses and concerns about humans’ activities being the cause of global warming, many felt that scientists aren’t focusing enough on other subjects of interests that are possible contributing factors of global warming. The subjects may included plate tectonics that is possible cause of rises in greenhouse gases, solar variation of the sun that cause the rise in sunlight and is possible contributing factor to increases in temperatures, volcanism being another of possible factor which can cause global cooling with its plume blocking out sunlight, and even orbital variation of Earth in which even slight change in orbital path or axis tilt could cause major changes in climate. 


In conclusion, there’s still serious discussion regarding to the existence and threats of climate change. Also, there are still questions about if agreed scientific consensus on climate change does exist and if disagreeing with accepted scientific consensus is a good method to debate and highlight concerns about other possible factors for climate change. Not to mention that there is concerns about if the current scientific approach to studies, discussion, and consensus on climate changes is the right step for addressing those issues of climate change.



1. ebrister - February 28, 2009

Here is a site that lists the challenges that global warming skeptics have made.
Grist takes the challenges seriously and then shows where they go wrong–by misunderstanding the science, not taking evidence into account, having an unrealistic understanding of the nature of science, and other problems.
It’s especially helpful that the list divides these challenges into those that are trivial or ignorant and those that are more sophisticated.

2. alex o. - February 22, 2010

wondering if i could use the image for a climate change programme.

3. Evelyn Brister - January 17, 2011

Hi Alex, students wrote this blog post, and I’m sure they lifted the image from somewhere. If you’re required to get copyright clearance, I can only suggest that you look for an original source for it. Sorry I can’t help.

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