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Fact or myth? Most scientists agree humans are cause of climate change

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Do most scientists agree humans are causing climate change?

A new study analysis finds most scientists really do agree climate change is caused by humans, despite myths to the contrary. Why is that important?

In an in depth review of the controversial issue, it was discovered about 97 percent of scientists think human activity is affecting our atmosphere leading to changes in temperature and global warming. So how did the public get swayed into thinking otherwise?

The study authors point out that most of the public thinks the scientific community is split when it comes to why the planet is warming. Some people disbelieve the facts entirely, insisting our temperatures are not changing (especially during cold snaps).

For the investigation, 24 scientists and citizen-scientists from three continents analyzed the abstracts of nearly 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers on climate change that were published between 1991 and 2011.

Why so many people disbelieve humans contribute to global warming

Sarah Green, professor and chair of chemistry at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan participated in the analysis that also include surveys from the scientists to find out if their opinions matched their papers about how climate change has come about.

Green says she got involved in the because of there is an obvious disconnect between scientific evidence and public opinion about global warming. The public isn't concerned, which Green found curious.

She started to explore why so many people refuse to believe is a human factor involved in climate change.

One of the reasons, Green discovered, is because the public thinks even scientists disagree about the cause.

Green went to take a look at the website SkepticalScience.com, which is maintained by John Cook, a climate communications fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia to try to figure things out.

Cook knew there is a dominant myth that scientists disagree about what is causing our climate to change. To find out what the scientific community really things, Cook set up an on-line system that helped SkepticalScience.com authors to rate nearly 12,000 abstracts from the Web of Science database (1991-2011).

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The goal was to see how many of the abstracts reported humans are the main contributors to climate change.

The rating team was organized through the website and consisted of professional and citizen-scientists from Australia, Canada, the UK, Finland, the US and Germany.

The results, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters, not only found 97 percent of scientists agree humans are causing global warming, but that the public is also misinformed about scientific agreement on the reason for climate change.

A 2012 Pew report found less than half of Americans think scientists agree that humans are the most prominent cause of global warming over the last 50 to 100 years.

Despite the evidence, Cook anticipates there will still be skeptics. He says, “Our paper shows that their position is not supported in the scientific literature."

A call for action: Spread the word

What Skeptical Science would like to see as a result of the analysis is a consensus that climate change is real and humans are the main cause. Recognizing that humans really are contributing to global warming could stop the controversy and hopefully spawn more action.

Cook points out even the media has been ‘unbalanced’ in their presentation of climate change stories that often carry at least a hint of skepticism. Yet, the effects of climate change could be devastating.

Green said in a press release, “It is critical to raise public awareness of the scientific consensus on climate change, so the public can make policy decisions based on factual evidence. Typically, the general public thinks that only around 50 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. This research has shown that the reality is 97 percent.”

In 1991 Western Fuels Association conducted a $510,000 media campaign geared at presenting climate change as a ‘theory’ versus a ‘scientific fact’.

Misinformation - in short - means the public will never be motivated to support public policies to help stop climate change; especially if they really believe scientists disagree on the cause. Now is the time to spread the word. Climate change is real, humans are causing most of it, and most scientists do agree humans are the main cause of global warming, despite myths to the contrary. .

Resource: SkepticalScience.com

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons