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Is the climate consensus 97%, 99.9%, or is plate tectonics a hoax?

Is the climate consensus 97%, 99.9%, or is plate tectonics a hoax?, Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli, 3 May 17 

A new study argues the 97% climate consensus estimate is too low, while deniers claim it’s too high 
Four years ago, my colleagues and I published a paper finding a 97% consensus in the peer-reviewed literature on human-caused global warming. Since then, it’s been the subject of constant myths, misinformation, and denial. In fact, last year we teamed up with the authors of six other consensus papers, showing that with a variety of different approaches, we all found the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is 90–100%.

Most of the critiques of our paper claim the consensus is somehow below 97%. For example, in a recent congressional hearing, Lamar Smith (R-TX) claimed we had gone wrong by only considering “a small sample of a small sample” of climate studies, and when estimated his preferred way, it’s less than 1%. But in a paper published last year, James Powell argued that the expert consensus actually higher – well over 99%.

We thus had three quite different estimates of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming: less than 1%, 97%, or 99.99%. So which is right?

Testing the 97% approach with plate tectonics

Yesterday, the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society published our response to Powell, led by Andy Skuce. To determine who’s right, we turned our sights on the theory of plate tectonics………

Does it matter if the climate consensus is 97% or 99.9%?

The title of our paper asked, “Does it matter if the consensus on anthropogenic global warming is 97% or 99.99%?” Either way, the public dramatically underestimates the level of expert consensus. When asked how many climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming, the average answer is between half and two-thirds – a far cry from the 97% reality. Just 12% of Americans realize the consensus is higher than 90%.

We call this discrepancy the “consensus gap,” and it’s important because the expert consensus is a “gateway belief.” When people are aware of the consensus, they’re more likely to accept the scientific reality of human-caused global warming, and to support policies to tackle the problem. Right now, most people consider climate change a low priority because they think scientists are still divided on what’s causing global warming.

In reality that question was settled decades ago, but a fossil fuel-funded misinformation campaign combined with false balance in the media have created this misperception of a divided scientific community. Thus it really doesn’t matter if the expert consensus is 97% or 99.99% – the vast majority of Americans don’t even realize it’s above 90%. That’s in large part because so many Republican Party leaders like Lamar Smith – who rely on campaign funding from the fossil fuel industry – put so much effort into sowing doubt about the expert consensus. As Republican strategist Frank Luntz wrote nearly 20 years ago:

Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.

That means the rest of us need to make communicating the 97% consensus as widely as possible a priority to move “the debate” past consensus denial.


May 5, 2017 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change

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